By Stephen Vance, Editor
The first mayor of the amalgamated Municipality of Meaford is continuing to pressure council to do away with area ratings for police services in order to make Meaford’s taxation system fair for everyone.
Gerald Shortt, who had a lengthy political career which included terms as Reeve of St. Vincent Township as well as the Mayor’s chair in the amalgamated Meaford has argued for several years that the municipality needs to adopt a level playing field when it comes to municipal taxation.
Shortt’s most recent plea came during public question period at the February 27 meeting of council.
“My taxes are due tomorrow, and I’m still wondering why this council doesn’t respect the agreement made by the three municipalities back at amalgamation time where it says in the ninth year there would be one tax rate for the whole municipality. We have three rates, and I don’t think you’re respecting the agreement,” offered Shortt whose comments were met with the predictable non-response from the mayor and council.
The issue is a delicate one for Meaford’s council, and it is one that this and previous councils have seemed reluctant to tackle, however it just might be time to at least have a constructive public debate on the topic.
Shortt and others argue that the area ratings which currently see the residents of urban Meaford pay 70 percent of the policing costs while those who live in the former townships of Sydenham and St. Vincent are each responsible for 15 percent are unfair, and should be evened out now that we are in year 12 of the amalgamated municipality.
Given that Shortt lives in the urban part of Meaford, his continued pressure on council to revisit the area ratings might be viewed as self-serving however, as Shortt told The Independent after the council meeting, he owns property in both urban Meaford and the former St. Vincent Township, so if the police services costs were levelled, he would pay less in property tax on his urban Meaford property and more on his St. Vincent property, which in his view would at least make the taxation system fair for everyone.
On the other side of the argument, some in the rural areas of our municipality suggest that urban Meaford experiences a higher rate of police calls, and so the current area ratings should be left alone.
Part of the trouble is that we have yet to see any type of report which breaks down not just frequency of calls that police respond to, but the amount of time and resources allocated by the police service in each of the three areas that compose the Municipality of Meaford.
Of course, the other argument is should any of it matter? Some have suggested that we are one municipality, and everyone should pay equally no matter where police calls are concentrated.
What makes the issue particularly difficult for members of council to address is as Meaford Treasurer David Kennedy has demonstrated at budget time in each of the last few years, an evening out of the area ratings would result in a significant decrease in property tax rates for those in urban Meaford, which in turn would mean a significant increase for those in the rural areas.
Politicians are naturally hesitant to head down any road that will result in their constituents taking a hit to their pocketbook unless absolutely necessary.
There is no doubt that this is a difficult issue to address, but given that it is one of the few loose ends left over from amalgamation, perhaps it is time to have the debate, and put the issue to bed once and for all.