Editorial: A new era of higher municipal taxes

Taxes are going up – way up. All across Ontario, rural municipalities are ditching the mantra of keeping municipal property tax increases near two per cent. For residential property owners not located in big cities, tax increases of about five per cent is likely the new normal.

SDG Counties set its tax rate increase at 4.36 per cent for 2024. South Dundas’ budget deliberations begin January 15, and North Dundas’ begin later in January. Both municipalities – like many rural municipalities – face similar budget pressures this year due to inflation.

Inflation is not the only reason municipal budgets have been increasing. Municipalities continue to be short-changed by the province in transfer and program funding. Housing and social services, which were downloaded to municipalities in the late 1990s in Ontario’s effort to balance their budget on the backs of municipal taxpayers, is where the highest growth in new spending comes from. Piecemeal funding announcements from the Ford government for bricks and mortar projects does not adequately fund the recurring costs needed to support people in need. The provincial government however is not to blame for all the woes of the municipal budget.

Service delivery is something that municipal councils and staff are unable or unwilling to look at, but should. No municipality can be all things to all people, nor should it offer all services to all people. User fees go only so far in recovering costs. Has there been an examination of municipal programs and facilities? Are there places where efficiencies can be found? Does a municipality have to offer some of the services or programs that they do? Is it worth a six per cent tax increase to residents for a program or service that only benefits a small minority of people?

There is also, again, the point of looking at what the capital needs are in a municipality and whether some old fashioned belt tightening can help mitigate tax increases. A municipality’s asset management plan calls for three trucks to be replaced this year – can that be deferred? If a little-used bridge needs $1 million in capital repairs, can that bridge be closed with little impact? Municipalities donate money every year to outside groups and projects: is this year where yes becomes no? Those are tough decisions to make. In order to make those decisions, there must be a willingness to have the discussions.

As the lowest rung on the governance and taxation ladder, municipal budgets are where the tough decisions have to be made when upper levels of government (county, provincial, federal) lack the intestinal fortitude to do that work. Unfortunately for residential taxpayers, keeping property tax increases as low as possible may mean cutting projects or services. It is clear that in 2024, any tax increase that will occur is going to have an dramatic impact on homeowners’ bottom line – which is something many can ill afford in this economic climate.

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news in your community by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.

Subscribe to Email Alerts

Enter your email address to subscribe to Email Alerts and receive notifications of new posts by email whenever The Leader publishes new content on our website.