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No relief from municipal tax hikes

Residents looking for tax relief as part of an economic stimulus plan as the economy sags will find no such thing from municipal politicians, as property taxes will climb well above inflation this year.

Waterloo Region got the ball rolling this week, approving a 3.15 per cent increase – 1.88 for regional services and 1.27 for police services – that will add $43.38 to the average tax bill in 2009. Inflation, on the other hand, dipped closer to two per cent, with some economists worried about deflation.

Economists have also been telling us we’ve been working harder and harder, and have very little to show for it. We’re making less money even before we pay our taxes. Afterwards, we’re even more behind. Despite contributing ever-more to government coffers, we’re getting less in return – for tax-weary Canadians, that’s the real kicker. Simply put, we’re not seeing the benefits of having more money lifted from our wallets.

There’s a lesson in there for municipal politicians currently embroiled in budget deliberations.

Woolwich last year approved an increase of six per cent. With salary commitments and two-per-cent premium for recreation projects, this year isn’t likely to be far behind.

At the region, already leaning toward champagne tastes on our beer-drinker’s salary, councillors again approved a hike in excess of inflation. And again, council seems unable to explain why it needs to help itself to ever-larger sums of our money, though they’re quick to defend all of the services – some of them obviously essential – that they offer. There’s little talk of eliminating services, which apparently become entrenched once enacted.

Nor is there any acknowledgment of the fact compounding no longer applies at the banks given the pittance they dole out, but works all too well against us as politicians pad their budgets. The accumulated effect of continual tax hikes, exacerbated by the irrational undertakings of MPAC, which the province inexplicably has not axed, means we keep falling behind.

Those who hike our taxes are always fond of pointing out the dollar value of the increase – so Waterloo Region’s 3.15 per cent works out to “only” about $40 a year to the average homeowner.

Similar arguments are made by providers of hydro, gas, telephone, cable … and the list goes on.

Taken alone, yes each increase is relatively insignificant – most of us can find a few dollars more here or there. However, cumulatively, we’re talking real dollars as everybody, not just governments, looks to take just a little more from us. At the end of the day, we have less money in our pockets than we did last year because most of us have not received wage increases to match the other side of the balance sheet.

That’s where percentages come into play – three per cent here, four per cent there, another 2.5 on that front, and it doesn’t take long to outstrip any pay raise you may have seen, assuming, of course, you saw one any time recently.

For voluntary expenditures, we can always cut back if the costs grow too steeply. With taxes, unfortunately, we have no such option. In most cases, we’re not receiving benefits in proportion to the increased tax burden.

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