A good article here in the St. Catharines Standard from yesterday – having read the report to council, there really is a strong case for decreasing the industrial tax rate in the region (original report is here).
A better question in reading the report to council, however, arises when you look at a comparison of St. Catharines tax rates to the provincial averages, also highlighted in the BMA report here. If you scroll through the total property tax rates (dig down to pg 186 in the BMA report) you’ll notice that in cities that have similar population sizes in Southern Ontario (Barrie, Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener, Oakville, Oshawa, Whitby), St. Catharines tends to have a (in some cases significantly) higher tax burden across the board – residential, commercial and industrial. Some of the data from the BMA study is reproduced in the report to council, but not enough to provide a more complete picture.
The question that begs to be asked is, why? Why are we paying higher tax rates in this city than in similarly sized jurisdictions in this part of the province? I’m fully in favor of pushing the region to lower the industrial tax ratio, but not so that the slack can be taken up by already overburdened St. Catharines residents. The time has come for a full services review at City Hall so that we can start figuring out where we’re spending so much more money than other jurisdictions, and reduce the burden on all categories of taxpayers.
It should be Priority Number 1 for the next City Council to do just that, if we want St. Catharines to thrive as we go forward. With an unemployment rate that still hovers above the provincial average, we need to focus on making St. Catharines a more attractive place – both for the industries and commercial enterprises that will provide employment in the future, as well as for the people who live and work here now.