Wednesday, October 19, 2005

London Ontario - an expensive place to raise a family


The annual culmination of the ongoing deliberation process to steal your money away is fast approaching here in London Ontario. Because the taxpayers of Ontario have helped fund London, Londoners can expect a tax increase of 3 - 5 percent, rather than the usual 7 - 10 percent. But of course, this is no savings as people in London reside in Ontario too.
Property taxes could climb as much as five per cent unless city council finds ways to slash the draft operating budget being unveiled today.

City hall sources say the proposed $650-million-plus budget calls for a tax hike of three to five per cent.

[..] "Our financial strategy is firing on all cylinders now, except for protective services," city finance boss Vic Cote said yesterday.

"The bulk of the increase will be coming from protective services and, unless we get control of that, we'll have a problem (in future years)," Cote said.

He declined to confirm the proposed tax hike.

The city's financial strategy of the last three years includes spending restraint, a $30-million annual cap on capital spending, and lobbying senior governments for more money and less downloading of services.

The operating budget does not include capital spending on roads, parks and other projects. Council and staff are trying to set priorities.
For 150 years London city council and staff have been trying - unsuccessfully - to 'set priorities', but somehow this year will be different? Sesquicentennials do not bestow wisdom.

To add a new twist to the recurrent plot for the 2006 budget year, a delay in city property assessment leaves city council more clueless than previous years. Poor London - always lagging behind, except when it comes to hilarity:
Londoners will be last in Ontario to learn how much their property assessments -- a key component in setting taxes -- have changed.

The assessments, the first in two years, already have been mailed to many Ontarians, sparking controversy and an investigation by the provincial ombudsman.

Though some Ontario property owners got notices from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. a month ago, those in the London area won't get them until about Nov. 17.

[..] This year, notices were to go out during 10 weeks. The London region ended up at the back of the queue, in part because Woodstock annexed land for a Toyota plant, McMeekin said.

The wait means London city hall staff won't be able to estimate assessment growth until December, which bothers Controller Bud Polhill.

"It makes it real difficult to come up with a fair number for an estimate," he said.

Polhill's not the only one concerned. Ontario's ombudsman, Andre Marin, said this week he's probing the "mysterious" way properties are assessed. His report will take four to six months to complete, not soon enough to give homeowners any relief in 2006.
As the "mysterious" assessment data will arrive before budget approval time, council may as well retire to the cafeteria until early spring. Estimates are not reality, so council should retain their hot air until the verdict is passed, sparing us the annoyance of their constant bleatings. The lobby groups should join them for this proposed extended lunch, and everyone there should pay for their own meals.
Not factored into the proposed tax hike is the city's assessment growth, which won't be known until early next year. Last year, growth of about two per cent accounted for more than $6 million in new tax revenue.

For taxpayers, $3.7 million in growth revenue is equal to a one per cent tax hike.
London has a long ration line in its future. The city continues to expand and spend beyond its means, opting for ugly capital adornments near the airport and publically funded circuses and crumbling relics, thus showing total disregard for the finances of individuals living in this city. That most Londoners will thankfully never see most of public art or use the ridiculous facilities, or care about how 'wonderful' London looks as 'a corporation', matters not one bit to the aggressive panhandlers who force us to fill their plate with our hard-earned dollars. A city where budgets are made on the basis of funding not yet approved is not a city where you want to be.

People complain about private corporations, but at least it is your choice whether or not to join the line at the checkout counter AND presumably you actually get something for your money.

Not so in London. Don't care about conferences or the Convention Centre? Too bad, you're paying for it anyway:
After years of weaning itself off tax dollars, the London Convention Centre needs money, an extra $3.5 million over 20 years to maintain the building.

The request goes today to the city's board of control, whose members seemed inclined to support a facility they say has been well-run.

"I think it's a great economic tool for the city and it's been well run for a long time," Controller Gord Hume said yesterday.

[..] More money will be needed to maintain the centre as it ages, general manager Britta Winther said. A consultant has recommended upping spending for the building from $300,000 to $500,000.

The increase would be phased in: $350,000 next year; $400,000 in 2007; $450,000 in 2008 and $500,000 from 2009 to 2024.

That money would be in addition to funds for operations that were $366,000 this year and $390,000 requested next year.

The money is well spent because the London centre uses less public money than most other convention centres, Winther said. (my emphasis)

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