Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bring back a mill rate?

Caught this the day it was published in the Star, but have been distracted by other things. In the meantime, also noticed it was picked up in the comments of a different post.
Former infrastucture minister David Caplan has proposed school boards be, again, allowed to establish a levy on property taxes within Ontario for local purposes. Just to clarify, this would be on top of the 10% to 20% of your property tax bill that your municipality already passes onto the province for education.
Caplan’s bill would have the minister of education create a capital plan forcing school boards to identify what needs to be fixed. Boards could then raise an additional 5 per cent of their annual revenue from property taxpayers.
In Toronto, that would collect an additional $100 million annually.
“That is a far cry from what they need. However, it would start to get them on the way with a stable revenue source to begin to make a dent in it,” he said.
Mindful that property tax hikes are never popular, Caplan insisted for most homeowners it would be $2 or $3 and more for business operators.
“It’s literally a cup of coffee … on your property tax bill,” the MPP said, adding the repairs will only get more costly.
I'm puzzled by so many parts of this.
Caplan, a former cabinet member, is certainly aware of how the ministry of education runs its capital programs. He should, therefor, know that school boards have been submitting rolling capital plans to the ministry for at least the last four years. They know (or, they should know) what state all of their facilities are in and what the priority projects are. The Good Places to Learn program was already supposed to address the most urgent of these renewal and repair needs (and there's been three? four? rounds already) over the past five years or so.
Some boards didn't put some schools on GPTL or other renewal funding lists because if you use GPTL funding on a school that facility should be excluded from being a candidate for closure.
Others have too many vacant pupil spaces, forcing them, until they're able to consolidate some facilities, to spend more of the benchmarked funding to maintain and operate facilities and less on maintenance and repair.
Second, I seriously doubt this private member's bill will go anywhere beyond first reading, with the writ about to be dropped in about six months.
Further, Caplan should at least be somewhat aware that in many parts of the province the education portion of property taxes is decreasing. Two provincial budgets ago, the province announced reductions in the percentage rates for industrial and commercial properties, that pay a larger percentage of their property taxes for education than residential owners do.
When it comes to new growth schools, boards still have the power to establish education development charges-- meaning they can collect a fee when a new lot is registered to put towards new-school construction. However they can't do that if they have too much existing vacant space.
Boards have also been receiving declining-enrolment grants, but those are drying up as they were never meant to be permanent, just stop-gap funding to allow boards to reduce enrolment-related expenses in areas such as its capital programs and utilities costs.
Does Caplan really want boards to plead with municipalities to add up to 5% onto tax bills?
I'm surprised it hasn't drawn an immediate reaction from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, since its members would take the heat for the increased bills, not the province.
Lastly, Caplan's claim that boards don't have a stable revenue source is laughable. With a small adjustment here or there, any board that has been doing its planning properly knows exactly what it's reasonable to expect until about 2013-14. Combined with the capital planning they've been expected to undertake in the last five years, no board should be lost here.
Whether they've been making the best decisions on capital is another possibility altogether-- but an extra 5% won't fix that problem.


RetDir said...

This is a piece of pre-election politics by a Toronto politician playing to a Toronto base, where this would in fact help solve some of the financial issues the TDSB continues to avoid. How it will play with his colleagues is hard to tell, but it certainly won't go anywhere in the run up to the election. It will also be strongly opposed by the Catholic boards who would see it as the first step back down a slippery slope they would be very happy to avoid.

Education Reporter said...


Agreed, which is part of the reason it fascinated and confused me. If this was something that really had any chance of happening, the government would have just made it a government bill.


Anonymous said...

It's like been made a PMB to hold in safe keeping for when McGuinty get's re-elected, at which time it will be introduced as a Bill.

I have been hearing noises about a move back this way for about a year now.

Anonymous said...

Ano 12:32
You could be right. This could be a trial balloon sent up by a Toronto MPP. After all, it wouldn't look good for the guy who promised not to raise taxes, to raise taxes just before an election, but to get a Toronto MPP to do it.