Port Hope residents in Ward 2 could see some relief from a proposed 46 per cent tax hike when town council presents an Option 10 motion aimed at reducing the increase, April 1.
Councillor Greg Bruns says the 46 per cent increase suggested by a staff recommendation last fall was a shock to residents.
“Shall we say it did not go over well. There was a huge negative reaction,” Burns says, “No one was aware this was happening until about four or five days ahead of time.”
The proposed 46 percent take hike was the result of a staff recommendation from Mayor Linda Thompson’s office.
According to Port Hope Community Group, the 46 percent hike would mean an average $600 increase per household. This had some in the community worrying about how they could make ends meet.
“I had an older retired resident call me and she told me that if this increase came through she wouldn’t be able to keep her home. People were scared,” says Burns.
Mayor Thompson and town council have opted to propose an Option 10 motion to decrease the impact of the tax hike.
An Option 10 motion would allow both wards to add or retract different shared services like libraries and parks and recreation so ward two would not be taxed for services they do not use.
For example both wards are taxed separately for police services because they are handled by different police departments. This could soften the blow of the proposed hike from 46 per cent to just under 14 per cent.
“The process is called area rating, where a portion of the taxes are payed differently in the urban area versus the rural area. This is not about increasing the amount of taxes that are being collected. It’s really about the reallocation of the taxes,” Thompson says.
Ward 1 is a mainly urbanized area with a denser population and Ward 2 is a mostly rural area with a smaller, sparser population, few streetlights, little public service and no transit to speak of. Ward 1 councillor Rick Austin agrees that 46 per cent is an unreasonable hike.
“There’s no doubt a lot of people say they are willing to pay their fair share but I think 46 per cent wasn’t their fair share and the municipality agreed with that,” Austin says.
Burns says the tension stems from the fact that under the proposed 46 per cent hike the area rating would see Ward 2 residents’ taxes hiked while not seeing any major increase in services, while Ward 1 where the majority of the services are used, would see a decrease of nearly seven per cent.
“What we hear from a lot of people in Ward 2 is that, well, Ward 1 just wants the money because we overspend there and in Ward 1 we’re spending out of control and we’re in debt. But the only thing we’re in debt for is a new sewage plant that’s not on the tax docket,” Austin says.
The conflict stems from the 2001 amalgamation of Port Hope and the neighbouring Hope Township. When the two were originally amalgamated, taxes were split 85 per cent for Ward 1 and 15 per cent for Ward 2.
The divide is based on shared services. Ward 2 residents say the rural nature of their ward sees them use a fraction of the resources their urbanized neighbours in Ward 1 do. Option 10 might allow the town to realign taxes while softening the impact of the proposed hike on Ward 2.
“In the municipal act we can create a special service like parks and rec for instance, that may be a special service that may be split between both wards. Like a library for instance, there is one in Ward 1 and one in Ward 2. So some of that cost might go to ward two,” says Austin.
This is welcome news to Ward 2 Counc. Burns who says the proposed tax hike is beginning to divide the community.
“It’s literally pitting neighbour against neighbour. I’ve got good friends in Ward 1 and people in Ward 1 have friends out here and what it’s done is it’s pitted one against the other and that’s the problem,” says Burns
The Option 10 plan may put the conflict between wards to rest until the next realignment but this is not the first time the issue has been raised.
A committee of citizens and town officials tried for more than a year sitting 22 times before being dissolved when they could not reach a consensus on realigning Ward 1 and Ward 2 s tax ratings.
Councillors continue to hold public meetings this week to consult with constituents over what services should be shared between the two wards under the Option 10 plan.