City to discuss proposed tax increases at March 9 public meeting

Yes, it’s budget time again at the City of Markham. That means another season of taxpayers anxiously waiting to see how much their taxes will go up for the coming year.

The typical property owners’ tax bill is made up of two essential parts – the portion levied by the city and the portion from York Region. The city portion is comprised of an operating budget – money that is used to keep the lights on for services across the city such as garbage collection, winter road plowing and utilities and capital costs – used to purchase and upgrade critical infrastructure like roads, buildings, parks and various assets needed to run the city.

For the last number of years, the city has enjoyed good PR over their efforts to keep the city portion low with a 0 per cent increase in the 2021 budget and a relatively modest 1.9 per cent in 2022.

But the proposed 2023 budget that will guide next year’s property tax increases is a different matter altogether with a proposed five per cent increase from the city and 3.8 per cent from the region sending chills up the spines of home and property owners.

Even scarier are numbers city staff have put together that seem to suggest that in order to keep city commitments at present levels across the board, increases over the next four years would see city tax rates go up almost 100 per cent.

This budget planning nightmare is being played out across the province as municipalities strive to navigate a changing fiscal landscape that threatens key revenue sources, thus putting more pressure on property owners.

Local councillors have been quick to put the impending budget crisis at the feet of the provincial government and new legislations that alter how development and related revenues are treated. Of most prominence is Bill 23, otherwise known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, which is designed to dramatically boost new housing in Ontario. It also reconstructs the dollars that flow through to the municipalities, eliminating developer fees for affordable housing and decreasing charges for other development. These development charges are a key source of funds that, if not received, needs to be found somewhere else. Yes you, the property owner.

Of much concern in places such as Markham and Toronto, where green space is limited, is the “in lieu” fund, where builders have to dedicate a certain portion of any development to green space. In the case of a condo development on a small parcel of land where there is no actual “green space,” there is a substantial fee that goes to a fund that would purchase greenspace elsewhere or used for other municipal priorities.

The province has steadfastly defended the legislation but even local councillors who are generally supportive of increasing housing options fast are voicing concern. One noted to the Review that “I think (Bill 23) was done in a bit of a vacuum…. (The provincial government) says ‘we will make you whole’. But there is conflict building as to how our finances will be made whole (without resorting to large property tax increases.)”

Council will no doubt feel the pressure as the new proposed budget goes before the public in an open consultation meeting on March 9 at 7 p.m. that will be in-person at council chambers and live-streamed.

A summary of the proposed budget overview can be found here.

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