George Duma is out to get me…

(Tribune March 2006)

Hey George! You knew darn well when you approved Thursday’s Editorial about the tax problem created by Tim Hudak’s party you were going to get my dander up.

You suggest it is Tim’s belief that the Ontario electorate has a minimal attention span and an even shorter memory.

I respectfully submit that the short memory and minimal attention span could be a problem for unidentified editorial writers.

First, let us revisit some fundamentals. Municipal tax levies are raised through a wealth tax. This is a very old system but after about one hundred years, no one has come up with a viable alternative.

Property assessment is not tax. Property assessment is only a measure of the value of my home against the value of your home and the value of every other home in the municipality imposing the tax levy. If the relative values are appropriate, then the share of the tax burden among the taxed is a simple mathematical exercise. It does not matter if the basis is market value or some other measure, the only important issue is that the relative values are fair.

Now lets talk about memory. Prior to the move to market value in 1997, we had years, no, decades, with an assessment system that developed into a bad joke. Even in Welland, we had properties that were built in the nineteen forties and valued at a fraction of their market, sharing municipal levies with homes built in the seventies and eighties with assessment values based on entirely different criteria. Every municipality in Ontario had ratepayers who were getting a tax bargain and others in the same municipality who were getting unfairly hosed. The historic methods were grossly unfair but it would take guts to change them.

The Ontario Fair Assessment System was designed to bring fairness back into the measurement of relative wealth for the purposes of establishing individual share of tax burden responsibilities and there is every indication that revised system has done that job. Tim Hudak should be thanked, not criticized.

Move on to attention spans. The Tribune questions "revenue neutral" and than uses only partial statistics to illustrate the point. Do not talk to your readers about the increase in the Regional tax levies if you do not talk about the changes in Education and local municipal (City and Town) levies in the same period.

You see, George, in the end it’s all about the bucks. You can talk about assessments and mill rates until you are blue in the face, but the only important number is the total tax dollars, Municipal (City or Town) plus Regional and Education, that is raised from a pool of assessments, including yours and mine.

If the assessment goes up without a population increase it follows that the mill rate should go down. If it does not, the Tribune should be questioning why. Do not write headlines praising Councils for "holding the mill rate" if in fact they are raising more bucks from assessment increases. Remember that assessment is only about relative values. Anything else is smoke and mirrors.

We all love to berate anyone who has the guts to run for public office. I am no exception. However, we all have to refrain from vigorous criticism unless we understand the problem and have an alternative solution.

Besides, It is more fun berating Managing Editors.

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