After crippling 10.5% tax increase, St. Catharines could provide an ounce of relief
Niagara Democracy Watch is The Pointer’s weekly feature aimed at increasing the public’s awareness and political involvement in the Niagara Region by highlighting key agenda items, motions and decisions.
Date: October 30 - 6:00 p.m. | Delegate | Full agenda | Watch live
Council to consider property tax deferral program for older, low income homeowners
In a year that saw St. Catharines tax bills increase 10.5 percent, Council will consider a program for 2024 that will provide some relief for property owners 65 or older whose household income falls below the city’s median.
The Older Homeowner Tax Increase Deferral Program will allow older, lower-income homeowners to defer the increase in the City portion of their annual property tax bill from the year of application until such time as they sell or otherwise dispose of their home. Once enrolled, participants will be automatically eligible to defer subsequent year’s taxes. The deferred taxes will still be subject to interest rates, though at a fixed 5 percent rate, as opposed to the 15 percent default rate that the City generally applies to outstanding taxes.
In 1998, legislative changes made mandatory a tax relief program for low-income older adults and low-income homeowners with disabilities to lessen the burden created by municipal tax increase. Despite the existence of the mandatory program, the relief only applied to the marginal amount that a property’s taxes increased from one year to the next and the amount of the increase had to exceed $200. As a result, there has been a relatively low uptake of the current tax deferral program throughout Ontario.
Applicants under the proposed Older Homeowner Tax Increase Deferral Program would pay a non-refundable $50 enrollment fee, have to prove property ownership and age, and fall under the City’s current median household income of $81,000 annually. Unlike the existing tax deferral program, the annual deferred amount would be the amount by which each year’s taxes exceed the applicant’s total 2023 City Taxes.
The staff report emphasizes that the relief cannot extend to similarly-aged, low income tenants: “By its very nature, this program involves the accrual of tax arrears, which will represent a priority lien against the subject property. For the same essential reasons, a tenant cannot use a leased home as security for a bank loan, a tenant has no standing or authority to enter a program of this nature.”
The staff report can be read here.
Review of City Planning & Building Services
Two reports on Monday’s agenda relate to a review of the City’s Planning & Building Services (PBS) department.
Since 2019, staff from PBS have consulted with the Niagara Home Builders Association and the Niagara Construction Association on process improvements and service delivery enhancements. The staff report indicates that many of the recommended measures for improvements that came from these consultations never materialized due to a “lack of resources”.
Improvements in processes became more urgent when the Province passed Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022, amending the Planning Act, modifying timelines for application reviews and assigning financial penalties to municipalities who are unable to make a decision within the mandated timeframes.
Using $1 million from the Province’s Streamline Development Fund allowed the City to retain KPMG to undertake a business process optimization exercise and to hire three additional staff in the department.
Part of the exercise included two consultation sessions with local developers and a related survey, which ranked the developers’ overall experience with PBS as 4.4 out of 10.
The KPMG report was originally scheduled for Council in March, however, an extension by the Province on the requirements of the Streamline Development Approval Fund deferred the matter until Monday’s meeting.
St. Catharines Council to consider social procurement pilot program
City Council will consider whether to initiate Phase One of a Social Procurement Pilot Program that would see the institution of procurement policies to increase the diversity of the City’s vendor and supply network.
The issue was first raised in February 2022, when Councillor Carlos Garcia introduced a resolution that staff identify opportunities to “include and encourage the City’s use of social procurement projects and social enterprise in our procurement.” The resolution posited that social procurement was a means to leverage social value from purchasing to build healthy and resilient local communities. Councillor Garcia pointed to the 2022 Canada Summer Games as an example of the incorporation of social procurement priorities.
Since the approval of the resolution, St. Catharines staff formed an internal Social Procurement Working Group to study the issue. Although large municipalities, such as Toronto and Ottawa, have policies to promote social benefits within their procurement processes, City staff discovered that of their municipal comparators, only Kingston and Waterloo were Living Wage Employers. Implementation of social procurement policies and practices could make the municipality a leader in Ontario.
The approval of Monday night’s report would refer the matter for consideration to the City’s 2024 operating budget. Staff are recommending $12K in 2024 and $14.5K in the subsequent two years.
The report can be read here.
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