Property tax is antiquated city funding model, Regina mayor says
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As echoed by pundits and government officials, Saskatchewan’s cities are experiencing a historic boom that has reversed a decades-long trend of timid population gains.
But as the province revels in its newfound stature as Canada’s booming Prairie cousin, urban centres, including Regina, are grappling with strained infrastructure -- raising questions as to whether municipalities can keep pace by relying on the often-reviled property tax system to fund needed upgrades.
“It’s an 18th-century tax system for a 21st-century country,” Mayor Michael Fougere said of the property tax model during a city council debate on a report on the city’s roads on Monday.
"Property taxes do not grow with the economy ... sales taxes, GST, income taxes all do.”
Fougere said he was disappointed that a recent accounting change resulted in the city receiving $900,000 less than originally anticipated from the Saskatchewan government through the provincial sales tax transfer.
The Mayor’s comments echo complaints from some of his counterparts, who claim the structure of property taxes makes them notoriously difficult propositions.
“(Property taxes) are regressive ... there’s a disincentive to improve properties embedded in it," explained Tina Beaudry-Mellor, a political science instructor at the University of Regina.
While many ratepayers may dislike property taxes, Beaudry-Mellor warns that some of the alternatives might be just as politically unpopular.
“You could have a municipal tax that is purely a flat tax ... that would (apply) to people, not assets,” the political scientist said, adding that she’s not certain it would be “any less vilified than a property tax.”
In Alberta, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton counterpart Don Iveson are pressing the provincial government to adopt a “Big Cities Charter” granting further powers to the province’s two biggest cities.
Any attempt to grant cities constitutional recognition, however, would run into strong opposition, said Beaudry-Mellor, who explained that many politicians would be weary of reopening the constitutional debate.