Tax bite will sting, council told

With residential property taxes set to increase by 2.2% next year, seven residents showed up at a public meeting last night to give their opinions on the 2010 city budget.

City council heard praise for its decisions to give $1 million over five years towards the Trent University athletic centre expansion and to gradually shift more of the tax burden to residential property owners from the industrial, commercial and multi-residential classes, which are charged higher rates.

Council members also heard pleas for lower property taxes. Residents told council that the property tax hike will hurt seniors on fixed incomes and that the ongoing increases are going to cause a crisis in the community.

Council held its annual public budget committee meeting to get feedback on the financial plan. The budget goes to the council meeting on Monday for approval.

Most of the "precious seniors" in Peterborough can't afford the tax increase, Rolly Graham said.

With the recession, council needs to know "how tough it is outside to make a living today and to be able to pay your mortgage and for your food and your utilities," he said. "Think of your pensioners in Peterborough.

"These people built Peterborough, they've helped to develop Peterborough and they deserve to be recognized even more than they have been."

Graham urged council members to address issues for pensioners as they head into an election year.

"If we don't take those steps now, Peterborough's going to be in a crisis in the next few years," he said.

Graham added that council's decision to give $200,000 a year for five years to Trent to help pay for the athletic centre expansion and renovation is a positive move for the city, but he questioned whether it's the right time.

"That money should be used for something else," he said, adding it could be used to help pensioners.

It's good that the city will contribute $1 million towards the Trent athletic centre but council is tying the hands of future councils, Dan McGarity said.

"The present council is not going to be there for four-fifths of that payment," he said.

McGarity pointed out the city will increase residential property taxes by 2.2% when inflation is at 0.5%.

"That's a considerable difference if we're thinking in terms of inflation," he said. "This jump coincides with a 2.7% increase ... of unemployment in the city.

"With less money, or less capital to draw upon, this tax increase will create somewhat too much of demand on those who are unemployed."

Council listened to the presentations for about an hour.

Council members didn't respond to the comments from the public but they will have an opportunity to debate the budget again before they vote on the financial plan on Monday.

A 2.2% increase in the all-inclusive property taxes (municipal, education and sewer surcharge) would raise property taxes for a typical homeowner with a property assessed at $189,500 next year and $181,000 this year to $3,097.36 next year from $3,030.55 this year -- an increase of $66.81.

The municipal portion of the property tax bill would increase 3.3%, or $73.11, to $2,268.34 from $2,195.23.

The total amount the city would collect through property taxes would increase 3.9%, or almost $3.5 million, to $91,619,868 from $88,150,720.

Council started with a draft budget on Nov. 9 outlining a 4.3% all-inclusive residential tax increase.

Peter Adams, chairman of the fundraising campaign for the Trent athletic centre project, thanked council for supporting the community recreation complex.

He thanked council for its decision to "invest in the state-of-the-art medical, sports and recreation facility on Trent property. We're most grateful for that. I think it will serve the community really well."

Council recognizes the importance of reducing the tax burden for industrial, commercial and multi-residential property owners, Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Stuart Harrison said.

"Those classes are all above the range of fairness and they need to be lowered," he said. "You're going to make it increasingly easier for businesses to employ people.... It's an important thing that you've done."

Currently, commercial, industrial and multi-residential property owners pay between 1.8 and 2.6 times the tax rate paid by single- family residential property owners. The city has an eight-year plan to gradually reduce those tax ratios to 1.5.

Because of the tax burden shift, if council didn't increase the amount of property taxes it collects each year residential taxpayers would still pay $4,748,000 more in 2017 than they did this year, which would be an 8.2% increase, Andrew Laufer said.

"That's a lot of money," he said. "It's not going to be in a crisis, this city is in a crisis."

2010 property tax rates

What your taxes could look like next year with a 2.2% residential property tax increase:

Projected all-inclusive (property, education and sewer surcharge) tax by property assessment: $100,000 -$1,810.61 $150,000 -$2,529.46 $200,000 -$3,248.32 $250,000 -$3,967.18 $300,000 -$4,686,04

Source: City of Peterborough finance department

Posted By BRENDAN WEDLEY , EXAMINER MUNICIPAL WRITER

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