Keeping tax rates low has been a top priority for Milton Mayor Gord Krantz come budget time, but with population growth and demands for programs and services on the rise, something has to give, according to the Town’s senior staff and members of council.
Results from a 2015 residential tax comparison chart for western GTA municipalities had Milton pegged as having the second lowest tax rate, with Toronto coming in at number one.
Linda Leeds, the Town’s director of corporate services and treasurer, said maintaining a low tax rate will require some difficult choices to be made regarding which service the Town will enhance, introduce or cease to provide.
“Over time, the impact to the community may be that the quality of services and programs may be lower than other municipalities, the range of services and programs may be fewer or more restricted than other communities and/or significant revenue increases may be required in the future as new roads, parks and facilities age and need to be rehabilitated to continue to provide service.”
For a house valued at $400,000, rural Miltonians pay $2,909.48 in taxes; in urban Milton, that figure is slightly higher at $3,029.48. Hamilton came in the highest, with residents paying $5,533.44 in taxes annually.
“At times, we have dropped the ball on ensuring long-term financial sustainability to favour short-term budgetary goals,” said Ward 8 Councillor Zeeshan Hamid.
According to survey data provided by Leeds, tax bills for the average Miltonian are 35 per cent less than 95 surrounding municipalities in Ontario, which accounts for only 2.8 per cent of household income.
Ward 7 councillor Rick DiLorenzo has been vocal about this formula of maintaining an “artificially” low tax rate, arguing the only reason it has been working so far is because the Town has been depleting its financial reserves. From 2011 to 2015, stabilization reserves have declined by close to $6 million.
DiLorenzo used the condition of the Town’s roads as an area where continuously low tax rates have done more harm than good. In a 2015 budget survey, 71 per cent of respondents said roads were an area in need of enhancement. Yet, to keep taxes low, the Town removed $172,000 from the asphalt maintenance program.
“Keeping taxes low is a priority, but not if it sacrifices our future,” he told the Champion.
Investment dollars from developers have also helped. Much of the infrastructure that has been constructed in the past 15 years has come from the pockets of developers, said Leeds. But any reconstruction or major maintenance will have to come from taxpayers and “if sufficient funds aren’t being set aside today…then the taxpayers of tomorrow will need to face either paying more, doing with fewer assets or lower quality of services.”
Local and Regional Councillor Mike Cluett pointed to a number of other challenges with keeping taxes low, the biggest of which is a lack of money coming from the province.
“They (province) are the ones controlling the speed and volume of how much we are growing, yet are doing very little to help fund the growth,” adding the Halton Region is underfunded by close to $4 million.
And a sizable chunk of Milton’s growth is residential, which doesn’t generate a great deal of taxes. In 1999, the taxable assessment split was 68 per cent residential and 31 per cent non-residential. This year, it’s 77 per cent to 23 per cent, respectively.
“That is the primary financial reason that non-residential growth is so important to communities…this change has decreased the level of financial support provided by the non-residential sector and put additional stress on the Town’s financial resources to fund services and programs,” said Leeds.
Additional pressures are also felt by residents who moved to Milton from larger communities like Mississauga and Brampton, said Cluett, adding they are used to a high level of service because those communities had a larger tax base. Milton is still small in comparison.
In the budget survey, 40 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to pay more in taxes to enhance services in the following areas: road network, roads maintenance, recreation and leisure programs, sports field maintenance, winter control and transit.
Milton resident Jennifer Smith is one of these people: “I don’t know how anybody could say we’re paying too much. I just wish council would stop pretending they’re doing us a favour by skimping on services and jacking up user fees. An extra $100 a year wouldn’t hurt anyone, but it would sure buy a lot of road repair, park maintenance, transit, etc.”
Contrarily, the same percentage of respondents said they would not support a tax increase.
The majority of respondents identified a desire to maintain services at the current levels. Over 50 per cent felt they received excellent or good value for their tax dollars, while 12 per cent said they received poor or very poor value.
“I believe Milton should be commended for the benefit and value per dollar that we receive in Milton for our taxes…” said one resident, Jonathan Mitrovich. “New roads, sewage, facilities, programs, parks and even splash pads! My garbage is picked up on time, snow removed promptly…not sure what more you could ask for.”
Milton resident Omar Ahmad added, “We’re getting a great deal in Milton.”
Krantz told the Champion he refuses to apologize for keeping the tax rates low in Milton.
“In my opinion, we’ve done the property tax base real justice and as long as I’m around, it’s going to stay that way.”