City Council passes motion affirming Chamber policy resolution recommendations
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC) is looking to escalate the issue of property tax fairness to the provincial level. A policy resolution drafted by the local Chamber, and co-sponsored by the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, will be presented for discussion as part of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) annual policy process in September.
The Chamber’s resolution received a significant endorsement on Monday, when members of Sault Ste. Marie City Council and Mayor Christian Provenzano added their voices of support to the Chamber’s efforts, passing a motion affirming the policy resolution’s recommendations.
During discussion, Mayor Christian Provenzano noted that the municipality has done a good job managing its spending, but that the real challenge lies in revenue and assessment. He concurred with the Chamber’s position that the taxation model for municipalities is out-of-date and is not keeping up with needs of municipalities. He stressed that the Province has to take a good look at the taxation models that municipalities are required to use.
The Chamber resolution calls attention to the fact that Ontario’s property tax system has not been fully reviewed since the new Ontario Fair Assessment System (OFAS) was first introduced by the former Harris government approximately 25 years ago. Since that time, significant changes have occurred across Ontario’s economic landscape influencing global and local competitiveness and fundamentally altering traditional economic paradigms. This trend has been further compounded by increasing demands placed on municipalities as they are confronted with new and evolving challenges such as social housing, the opioid crisis, climate change, rapidly evolving technology, the growing infrastructure deficit, and more recently COVID-19.
“As pressure on property taxes increases, Ontario’s municipalities are being faced with the challenging task of attempting to balance their fiscal realities against growing and competing demands for local and regional services,” observes Rory Ring, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce. “The challenge is being compounded by the limited revenue tools available to municipalities to meet their financial obligations as well an antiquated system of property tax mitigation programs and relief mechanisms to achieve locally sensitive tax policy priorities that have not been comprehensively revisited or reformed since the mid-1990’s.”
In acknowledging the shortcomings of Ontario’s current property tax system, the Province made a promise in its 2019 Spring Budget to undertake a comprehensive review to explore opportunities to enhance the accuracy of property assessments, to support a competitive business environment, to provide relief to residents, and to strengthen the governance and accountability of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) to ensure better representation for Ontario property taxpayers.
The SSMCOC resolution urges the Government of Ontario to:
· Honour its 2019 Budget Commitment to ensure a modern and competitive property tax system and to develop an action plan to respect Ontario’s property taxpayers based on meaningful and thoughtful consultation and collaboration with affected stakeholders including: residents, business, industry, municipalities, and subject matter experts.
· Consider providing new revenue and / or property tax mitigation tools and flexibility to municipalities in order to manage property tax burdens in a fair and equitable manner, address new economic paradigms, and to target relief to business property owners / tenants in response to local tax policy priorities and objectives.
· Address the significant disparity between residential and non-residential property tax rates for education tax purposes.
Following Monday’s meeting of City Council, Ring added “I want to thank Mayor Provenzano for his guidance to Council in crafting a motion that achieved unanimous support with minimal deliberation, demonstrating the strength of both the motion and the Chamber’s policy resolution, as well as the conviction of Council in achieving the proposed recommendations.”
If adopted by the Ontario Chamber network, the recommendations included in the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce policy resolution would help form the framework of priorities advanced by the OCC, which represents local chambers of commerce and boards of trade in over 135 communities across Ontario and over 60,000 member businesses.