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Index for my Toronto Budget 2004 project
Snow Clearing and Property Taxes
16/02/2004

Last week, Toronto Star columnist Royson James wrote about the talk at City Hall of cancelling sidewalk snow clearing. He raised the complaint that property taxes are meant to be for property services, and that if this cut goes through it will be just one more assault on the property services that taxpayers get.

Now, some interesting issues are raised by this, but before I get into them, let's take a look at the snow clearing issue.

Different media outlets have had different reports on the cost of this program. John Barber's column last Thursday said $2.8 million could be saved. Earlier reports in the Star had numbers one tenth that.

Sidewalks are cleared only in those areas where the City deems it easy enough to do so. This means that most of the suburban areas of the City get their sidewalks cleared while most downtowners need to get the shovels out. This is controversial, but James argues it's no big deal since downtowners have better access to other City services, like the subway. According to Barber, it would cost $7 million to bring sidewalk clearing to the downtown neighbourhoods.

Really, as far as I'm concerned, it seems to make more sense to have individuals be responsible for their own sidewalks. Maybe this is a dumb question, but how many employees does the city need to clean sidewalks, and what do they do when it isn't a snow storm? I've never lived in a community where sidewalks were cleared by the government and it seems perfectly normal to me to count on citizens to do their own clearing. It's not a basic right you should expect from paying your property taxes.

But the real issue I want to write about here is James' complaint about the role of property taxes. In a follow-up column today, he writes:

Property taxes now pay for social housing, dentures for seniors, child care, hostels, welfare, rent supplement, public health, ambulances and many programs not particularly associated with property.

Most citizens tolerate, if not welcome, this as a hallmark of a caring society. But as soon as you rob from basic core services to property to pay for the social services, there's resentment. City council should be careful here, or risk creating more taxpayers like this: "So, let's quit with the histrionics and not pay for services we are not getting," wrote David.

Way too radical for me. But, like they say on the streets, I'm feeling him.

I certainly think Royson James is right when he says that property taxes should be for property services and that social services (i.e., income redistrubution) should be funded out of income taxes. But what's his point?

The reality is that most of the social services provided by the City of Toronto are provincially mandated. The province says who we have to offer financial support to, and how much. It's not like City Council has a choice and can say "forget welfare, we're gonna clean the sidewalks". Downloading was a law, not a request.

Ironically, of course, what made downloading of provincial social services onto this City possible was the forced amalgamation that the Toronto Star and Royson James so enthusiastically supported.

Nevermind that. James is right. Social services require income tax funding. The Province of Ontario should upload these services immediately.

Either that, or muncipalities should be allowed to collect income tax. At which point I'd call for the elimination of the irrelevant middle tier of government -- Queen's Park.


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