Anemic assessment growth a part of our problem



Each year at the start of budget time, city councillors and officials scratch their heads at the enormous challenges driving up the levy.

Last year, escalating emergency services costs were to blame, the almost magical disappearance of which problem in the 2014 budget still has me scratching my own scalp.

Other years, provincial downloading was to blame.

And now this year, as though awaiting its turn, the problem of depleted commercial assessment comes along.

Here's one thing each of these problems has in common: assessment growth, or the absence thereof.

It's another piece of the budget puzzle I plan to take a closer look at on Wednesday, but regardless of its reasons, anemic growth means the city is not adding to its tax base fast enough to pay for all the financial challenges it faces each year.

The city has to find that money somewhere, and since deep cutting has rarely been on council's appetite, jacking up the levy is the inevitable answer.

In 2011-2012, for instance, the city's assessment grew by 0.74 per cent, compared to the Ontario growth rate of 1.49 per cent.

While numbers for 2012-13 won't be available until the new assessment rolls come in next month, corporate services director David Dick said Tuesday night the early estimate is a growth rate of 0.49 per cent.

In a word, anemic.

There was great hope assessment growth would shoot up with all the large-scale condominium projects in the downtown and the waterfront launched in the past decade.

But only one of those projects, Tall Ships Landing, has ever gotten off the ground, and we have yet to learn when that building will be filled.

Even when that happens, it will be some years before the resulting growth in the tax base bears real results, since developer Simon Fuller will enjoy property tax breaks given as an incentive to clean up contaminated land before building.

In the meantime, then, it's back to the seemingly endless search for ways to grow our assessment base, without which the levy increases will only continue, year after head-scratching year.