Black Sturgeon resident Richard Cone has a suggestion. He'd like to see homes -- especially seasonal homes in rural areas -- taxed according to how far they are from municipal hubs.
"One of the questions that always comes up in communities as diverse as Kenora geographically is the issue of tax fairness," he said. "In other words, how much you pay in taxes versus how much you receive."
Cone suggested the creation of a regional municipality with different tax rules.
"It's really a question of how far you are away from the hub of a community, which is still the main place where you shop, visit, have friends and get infrastructure support. You get these artificial boundaries by virtue of your distance out and old historical townships, it creates this patchwork of unfairness," he added.
Currently, Ontario uses market value assessment to determine the amount of property tax paid. The market value is based on the sale of similar properties in the area.
Cone offers a different idea.
"If you redraw the boundaries on how far you are from the centre of the hub, and what services you provide, it gives you an opportunity to level the playing field and make the amount of tax you pay versus the services you get more equal and more fair," Cone added.
In 2004, Resident After Fair Taxation (RAFT) worked with the recently-formed City of Kenora to form a committee, whose mandate was to study ways to resolve the issue of tax fairness. The Town of Kenora merged with the Town of Keewatin and the Township of Jaffray-Melick in 2000.
Currently, the market value of a property is assessed every four years. The value is then multiplied by the municipal mill rate to get the property tax bill.
In Kenora, the property tax bill also includes levies for the school board you support -- most will choose Keewatin-Patricia or Kenora Catholic -- as well as levies for external agencies. These include the OPP, health unit, Pinecrest or Kenora District Services Board. Ratepayers might also see an add-on for special projects, such as adding water and sewer lines.
By law, water and sewer levies must be used for the maintenance and repair of the system. It shouldn't be added to general revenue.
During his visit to the association four years ago, Canfield offered hope on the horizon. The cost of policing and the cost of hydro both were going to come down, he said.
Since then, the province has announced a new funding formula for policing, and the mayor suggests the new formula saves the city about $2 million a year. Canfield, who lives on Canfield Road on Black Sturgeon Lake, also noted recent reductions in hydro prices announced by the province.
Still, the mayor noted maintenance costs for the city's 19 bridges will be a key consideration for city council going forward, as well as ratepayers. A recent annual grant from the province is helping municipalities to close the infrastructure deficit, Canfield said, but the city will need more to close the gap. He estimated a mill rate increase of more than three per cent -- which was suggested by consultants -- was alleviated by the city's share of the gas tax money in addition to the annualized funding.
Policing costs remain a key ingredient in the municipal tax bill. Canfield said a recent change in the funding formula adopted by the province saves ratepayers about $2 million a year. However, more needs to be done. He said the rate of $200 per household plus a percentage of calls for service shouldn't apply for hub communities like Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Kenora.
Terry Palmer heads the cottagers' association's tax committee, and he wondered about neighbouring areas like Beauty Bay and McKenzie-Portage, where municipal taxes weren't applied.
Canfield warned ratepayers to be careful what they wished for, since an option presented to him at amalgamation in 2000 was to include everything from the Manitoba border to East Hawk and down to Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls.
Ratepayers in Kenora have received their bills for 2018. For a home valued this year at $175,500 -- middle of the pack in today's market according to the city -- the bill is for $2,443.
Kenora residents will pay about $52 dollars more, representing a 2.6 per cent increase over last year's bill of $2,390.49 on a property that was worth $166,750 last year.
Palmer says association members are paying between $8,000 and $10,000 a year in property tax on a home valued at $500,000.
While the mayor repeated his intention to retire from municipal politics, he offered to help the association with its tax situation, after his retirement. Canfield has said many times in debate at city hall there are home owners in the city, who are having to sell due to rising tax bills.
The association has about 70 paid members this year.
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