Two decades of much lower transit taxes for most of the richest areas of Hamilton are set to continue. The subcommittee charged with recommending changes to next year’s budget failed to meet last week. The Transit Area Rating Review Subcommittee was set up last March, but has yet to hold a meeting.
That was supposed to finally happen on December 11 but quorum was not obtained when half of the councillors who sit on the subcommittee didn’t show up. Only Brad Clark, Chad Collins and Judi Partridge attended, with just Clark staying until the formal cancellation after the required 30 minute wait.
Esther Pauls, Terry Whitehead and Lloyd Ferguson didn’t appear. The subcommittee meeting didn’t have a fixed start time. Instead it was “scheduled” to occur “immediately after city council”.
The mandate of the subcommittee is “to evaluate options for rebalancing area rating for transit for the 2020 budget process, including enhanced service levels that align with the overall City Transit Strategy.” And it was also agreed that “to incorporate any changes into the 2020 budget process the subcommittee should complete its recommendations by December of 2019.”
That won’t happen because councillors are now on a holiday break with no council or standing committee meetings scheduled before January 13. And when they come back, they will plunge into detailed review of the 2020 budget.
Nine months into its existence, the subcommittee hasn’t even selected a chair and vice-chair. That was scheduled to be the first item on the agenda of the cancelled meeting.
Taxes to help pay for HSR service are currently about three times higher in the former city of Hamilton than in the former suburban areas. A staff presentation that was to have been delivered at the cancelled meeting lays out the variations for 2019.
It lists HSR taxes on average–price houses in old Hamilton this year as $468. The tax paid on the same value house served by transit in Ancaster was $126, in Dundas $114, and in Stoney Creek $128. Rural areas that are not on bus routes pay no HSR taxes. Urbanized areas in Waterdown were taxed $138, while Mount Hope paid $190.
The differences are a hangover from amalgamation in 2000 and were supposed to be reviewed and eliminated early in the life of the combined city, but that has been put off repeatedly. About the closest change came was in September 2007 when councillors turned down a motion asking staff to report “on the feasibility of phasing out area rating for transit”. That died on an 8-8 tie vote. All councillors in old Hamilton wards supported it, and all suburban councillors and Mayor Eisenberger opposed.
In 2009 an Eisenberger motion to put off a review until 2010 passed 9–6. A 2011 elimination of variable taxes on fire and recreation services wasn’t applied to the HSR. In 2015 Sam Merulla threatened to push the issue again during the debate over cancellation of a bus-only lane on King Street, but nothing came of that.
To preserve the lower tax rates, suburban councillors have repeatedly opposed equalization but that also has blocked funding for improved HSR service to these areas.
Environment Hamilton made an election issue of the variable taxation. That led to the March vote to set up the six–councillor subcommittee — three from the suburbs (Ferguson, Partridge and Clark) and three from the old city (Pauls, Collins and Whitehead). Changed ward boundaries mean the latter two represent portions of the former suburbs.
When and if the subcommittee meets and makes some recommendations, those will be considered and voted on by the full council. V