“Heads and Beds” should be an election issue.
Residents who are concerned about their property tax rates may wish to consider pressing the provincial election candidates on the payment the province makes in lieu of taxes for post secondary education institutions, hospitals and provincial prisons.
It was set in 1987 at $75 per student and hospital bed, hence the colloquial name “heads and beds” and has not been increased in almost 25 years.
This falls well short of the costs of municipal services provided to the various properties and locations. (Consider, for example, the 1% tax increase in Kingston for infrastructure renewal that we all pay for sewers and road replacement.)
This topic is of obvious interest to Kingston, given the number of facilities on whose behalf these payments are made. However, it is indeed a province-wide concern. I have been raising the matter through the board of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) as I serve on that board as a member of the Large Urban Caucus. The board is composed of seven caucuses plus the executive. Communities from the Rural, Northern, Regional and Single Tier, Large Urban, and Small Urban caucuses as well as the executive have supported Kingston’s motions calling for reform of this payment.
The current provincial government has been trying to sidestep the matter by pointing out that they have been reversing the Harris government’s downloads.
Removing from the property tax base expenses that should never have been there does not excuse the government from failing to take action on the tax equivalent that they pay for larges areas of property across the province.
The imbalance can be stated another way. Of every tax dollar raised in Ontario, municipalities receive nine cents! Yet the government looks to towns and cities as the engine to keep the economy growing.
An increase in the heads and beds payment to reflect inflation is important for Kingston to be able to provide a regular and known revenue stream to meet the needs of city services. Certainly it would be an new charge on the provincial treasury, but it could be achieved without a negative impact. Money currently given away as “goodies” for special projects (and political advantage) could be allocated to ensuring fair and equitable payments across the province.
I welcome your comments and ideas on this issue.
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