St. Catharines woman pays more in annual property taxes than she did for her house: fixed income earners struggling with skyrocketing municipal tax increases
“Sad and disappointing.”
That’s how St. Catharines resident Gertrud Liho reacted to the news that an increase of $111,000 has been proposed for Mayor Mat Siscoe’s “civic reception” budget for 2024.
The increase is the first of three annual increases proposed that would result in the civic reception budget under the mayor's office costing taxpayers $144,500 by 2026, about seven times more than what the mayor’s office has spent for the same purpose in previous years. For the past five years the budget, for the mayor to interact with members of the public, averaged $18,000 per year and never surpassed $21,000 in any given year. Taxpayers will now be paying tens of thousands more while Siscoe gets to engage with residents in campaign style, promoting himself, on their dime.
The proposed increase seems out of touch when viewed in light of the recently passed 10.5 percent tax increase that council levied late in the year on homeowners across St. Catharines. The unprecedented tax increase, sprung on residents with barely any notice, stunned residents and business owners, who along with some council members expressed deep concern with the way it was pushed through.
In arguing against the unexpected 10.5 percent hike that came late in the year, Councillor Bill Phillips remarked in May that, “We’re talking about affordable housing, we’re talking about people who are having a hard time buying groceries”. He asked his colleagues to find another way to raise revenues because “our residents just can’t afford it”. In the end Phillips lost his argument. In support of the double-digit increase Councillors Caleb Ratzlaff and Robin McPherson put forward a motion that ended in a tie among councillors. The mayor then broke the 6-6 deadlock with his vote in favour and within weeks citizens were sent their new retroactive tax bills, which shocked many.
Five months on from that turmoil and the proposed budget for 2024-26 includes an increase that, if ratified, will result in the mayor’s office having its largest reception budget in recent history.
This kind of lavish spending, in the current economic climate, does not sit well with Gertrud Liho. Originally from Russian occupied Estonia, the 92-year-old widow emigrated from Germany in 1950 and moved into her present home in Port Dalhousie in 1952 where she has lived ever since. Her house was purchased for $6,000. She now pays substantially more than that in annual property taxes and worries about life’s escalating costs on her fixed income. She follows local politics closely and is angered not only by the 10.5 percent tax increase, which threatens her ability to remain in her home, but by the seeming tone deaf attitude a proposed 536 percent increase for the mayor’s reception budget displays.
“An increase of $111,000 for civic receptions while 14.5 percent of individuals in our city live on an income that is below the poverty line,” is unacceptable, she told The Pointer, adding “all the people in Niagara who depend on food banks that need help and never mind the over 600 who live on the streets, the least thing on these citizens’ mind is civic receptions”.
In response to questions from The Pointer, Mayor Siscoe said the budget as presented should be considered as a draft done by staff. "It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on what will be contained in my budget until it is released (in final format) and Council has had a chance to see it...”.
That release will take place on January 3.
Gertrud Liho says she will be watching the budget discussions closely and hopes all St. Catharines residents will do the same.
This is the first in a series of articles The Pointer will publish on the budgets of various municipalities throughout Niagara. We will follow-up with an in-depth look at St. Catharines and encourage residents to email us with their thoughts and concerns about any of the municipalities in Niagara.
Email: [email protected]
At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you
Submit a correction about this story