Paying the piper
By Chad Ingram
Published Jan. 18, 2018
Residents of the Township of Minden Hills are likely in for a not unsubstantial property tax increase in 2018.
Councillors held their second round of budget discussions last week and, at the end of that conversation, had whittled a 9.73 per cent increase over the 2017 tax levy down to 8.73. With another round of budget talks and a public meeting scheduled, it is possible that increase will decrease further, though likely it will remain in its current neighbourhood.
While it may be politically sly to offer residents a small, palatable tax increase in an election year, the majority of Minden Hills councillors seem to believe that would be irresponsible. There are things that need to be paid for, particularly in the roads and property and environmental operations departments, and they seem prepared to have the township pay for them.
“This is looking after our affairs,” is the way Mayor Brent Devolin put it during last week’s meeting.
While whatever tax increase is eventually approved will undoubtedly seem too large to some, it will be better than an artificially low tax hike in an election year, followed by a double-digit spike the next.
When it comes to property tax increases in Haliburton County, the percentage is much scarier than the actual amount of money. Tax hikes sound worse than they actually are.
The county’s four municipalities have some of the lowest property taxes in Ontario. A December report from Minden Hills’ auditing firm KPMG shows that 57 per cent of the township’s residents paid less than $1,000 in property taxes for 2017.
Do the math and whatever the increase ends up being will likely be absorbable for most of us. That is not to say it will be for everybody. Councillor Pam Sayne said last week she was concerned about what the increase would mean for residents who are already marginalized. And because property taxes are based on assessed value, those with more valuable properties, those typically being waterfront ones in the context of Haliburton County, see the biggest difference when it comes to the dollar amount on their tax bill. While it’s a common assumption that those who live on the water are generally more affluent members of the population, as Sayne pointed out last week, many of them are seniors living on fixed incomes.
It is possible that the tax increase will have some political ramifications for members of the current council who run for re-election in October.
It’s also clear that other residents are OK with it.
“I am in favour of the tax hike especially if it means road improvement and keeping our community great,” one resident wrote in a social media post. “I love this town and want to see it grow. Growth and maintenance come at a cost. I don’t have extra money to throw away but I feel it’s a sacrifice that’s needed to keep Minden beautiful and that makes people want to come here.”
Devolin said last week that he’s aware of squeezed municipal councils that are actually downgrading roads – reverting from hard-top to gravel – to mitigate the size of their budgets.
He said he didn’t agree that was the way to proceed.
And those are the kinds of questions residents need to ask themselves. Do we want nicely paved streets with safe sight lines, or pot-hole-ridden roads with brush encroaching on them? Do we want a landfill that complies with provincial environmental regulations? Do we want a cultural centre with a revolving roster of exhibits, an updated arena, and state of the art playground equipment for our children and grandchildren?
And don’t forget the annual OPP bill, the cost for which is out of council’s control. Minden Hills’ OPP bill is now nearly $2 million a year.
Property taxes are municipalities’ only substantial revenue vehicle. We’re going to get what we’re willing to pay for.