York Region municipalities are big spenders: Fraser Institute report

Tuesday Jul 16th, 2019



“When subdivisions are being built, municipalities have to increase costs'

NEWS Jun 24, 2019 by Lisa Queen  via YorkRegion.com
Torstar graphic

King Township collected more per person in property taxes, user fees and development charges than any municipality in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, a new report says.

The township collected $5,130 from each of its residents in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the report from the Fraser Institute comparing municipal finances from 2009 to 2016 in the sprawling GTHA.

The findings are based on municipal financial statements published by the provincial government.


The report is a fair and accurate portrayal of municipal spending, retired York University political science Prof. Robert MacDermid agreed.


The report doesn’t assess whether residents are being overtaxed or are getting good value for their tax dollars, co-author Josef Filipowicz said.The report is “very unFraser-like” as it merely presents information rather than pushing a conservative agenda, MacDermid said.

Its goal is to provide comparative information not otherwise readily available in a single report.

On the low end of the spectrum, Georgina collected the least amount of revenue per person of all municipalities in the GTHA, taking in $2,799 from each resident.

Across the GTHA, 38.9 per cent of municipal revenue came from property taxes in 2016.

“Reliance on this revenue source is typically higher in Durham Region and lower in York Region, where user fees play a greater role,” the report said.

“Development charges represent a greater share of revenue in several fast-growing municipalities, such as Milton, Markham and Brampton, but also in several municipalities experiencing below-average population growth, such as Halton Hills and Aurora, raising important questions about these fees’ purpose and their application in practice.”

Nine municipalities moved up the rankings on revenue collected per resident. Aurora, Halton Hills, Newmarket, Caledon and Richmond Hill each jumped more than 10 spots between 2009 and 2016, the report said.

The landscape of municipalities raising the most revenue changed between 2009 and 2016.


“In 2009, Toronto was the highest collector but by 2016, it was surpassed by King Township, East Gwillimbury and Aurora,” the report said.

“Georgina was the lowest revenue collector in both years.”

When it comes to municipal per person spending on services, amounts differ across York Region, from a high of $3,872 in East Gwillimbury to a low of $2,840 in Markham.

East Gwillimbury’s high spending in 2016 was attributed to the town’s method of reporting development charge credits that year.

Looking at the percentage increase in spending from 2009 to 2016, York Region municipalities were all above the GTHA average.

There was a large difference in spending between neighbouring municipalities, the report said.

For example, why did King spend almost $950 more than Caledon next door?

“King is at the top. Well, King is an incredibly wealthy place. They’ve got a hell of a tax base there, I bet. They can afford to spend a bit more,” MacDermid said.

Toronto spent $1,151 per person on transportation costs, followed by King at $870 per person.

“In general, municipalities within York Region spend more on transportation, which includes roads, sidewalks, parking lots and transit,” the report said.

King led on planning and development spending at $159 per person, while Georgina led in recreation and cultural services at $415 per person, the report said.

While York Region municipalities may look like big spenders and big revenue collectors, they are dealing with significant growth, MacDermid said.

“When there’s all sorts of subdivisions being built, of course municipalities have to increase costs to accommodate that, partly through development charges. It’s not based on all taxes,” he said.

“In some sense, the report doesn’t appreciate the diversity of the revenue mix. Some places in York Region have a lot of development funding money coming in. Some don’t. The city of Toronto has a huge commercial tax base. All those bank towers and all those office towers bring in a huge amount of revenue to the City of Toronto. That doesn’t occur out in East Gwillimbury or any of those places that are farther out in York Region.”

Once Toronto and Hamilton are taken out of the mix, the report suggests municipalities in the GTHA have relatively similar revenues and expenditures, MacDermid said.

Factors that can affect revenues and spending include population, density, geographic size and service levels, he said.

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