Burlington resident thinks a better presentation of budget numbers is necessary - Asks, How will this tax hike make my life better.

By Eric Stern

November 17th, 2023

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The following opinion piece first appeared in the Hamilton Spectator earlier this week.

Albert Einstein said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”  If Einstein had lived in Burlington he might have said “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the property tax.”

Being fair to the city, there are two budgets for 2024. The first is called the 2024 Financial Needs and Multi Year Forecast, the second is called the mayor’s proposed budget. For me, the budgets look like a dog’s breakfast; a mix of numbers that most people could hardly make sense of. Any numbers I use here are only from the mayor’s proposed budget.

In Burlington, city, regional and school taxes are mixed into one bill and most of us just look at how much we pay. Joan Little wrote in her recent Hamilton Spectator column, “the increase to the city’s portion of the total tax bill is 4.99 per cent.” Little read this in the mayor’s proposed budget. I thought, 4.99 per cent is close to inflation, so great job everyone.

Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, my bulls–t detector was beeping like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl. After plugging the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, I found “the city’s revenue from property taxes will increase by 10.21 per cent. It is amazing what a difference a few words can make. I decided to speak (delegate) to the city council about this increase. Long story short, a city staffer confirmed the city’s revenue from property taxes will increase by 10.21 per cent in 2024.

Is impact a unit of measure? City Staff told Stern the tax increase was going to be 10.21% more than the previous year – see the chart below.

In terms of a household budget, everyone I know looks at what they expect to earn next year and what they expect to spend. The mayor’s proposed budget doesn’t show us anything complicated like that.

When you mix a 10.21 per cent increase in with regional and school taxes you do get the mayor’s 4.99 per cent impact number. Maybe the Mayor should keep on going and mix in income taxes, GST, the carbon tax, etc. Put this way, our property taxes become a very small slice of the total taxes we pay.

Our taxes pay our councillors’ salaries. While I don’t have any hopes for our federal or provincial politicians, I thought these people, who live in our city, and may even be our neighbours, might treat us with respect.

The Town of Oakville manages to show things like increase, impact, revenue and spending. This information is front and centre in its budget document.

If you can find your property tax bills from 2022 and 2023, look at the municipal taxes you paid and work out the increase. My increase was 15.5 per cent.

So, the city’s property tax revenue increased by 15.5 per cent in 2023, and now the mayor wants another increase of 10.21 per cent for 2024.

The impact of a tax isn’t the important number – it is the amount of the tax that concerns people and in the graphic above it is clearly set as 10.21%

Please understand, I am not necessarily against these increases, we live in a beautiful city with great services. For two days I watched city staff present their budget needs to city council and I just didn’t get it; they have to find a better way of explaining how all this additional money will make life better for the people of Burlington.

We live in an age of sound bites. The headline on the mayor’s website reads “Burlington mayor’s budget proposes 4.99 per cent city tax impact.” I hope I have been able to untangle this statement. You can make up your own mind about how our mayor communicates.

In my opinion, Burlington should start sharing important budget numbers like revenue, spending, and taxation in a way the media and taxpayers can easily find and understand them. I hope this request won’t require the city to use expensive consultants, instead they could look at what Oakville is doing and just do the same thing.

 

Eric Stern moved to Burlington at age 1 and has lived and worked in Burlington for most of his life. A software developer by profession, Eric started and ran a small software company for about 20 years.

He is retired, a volunteer with the Junior Achievement Organization. He  started a software company in 1998 that was acquired in 2016, it never grew beyond six employees. Stern describes himself as “comfortable but no Bill Gates.”

 

 

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4 comments to Burlington resident thinks a better presentation of budget numbers is necessary – Asks, How will this tax hike make my life better.

  • Joe Gaetan

    “For me, the budgets look like a dog’s breakfast”, As a person how ate budgets for breakfast for over 30 years I gave up trying to decipher the COB budget. The last resort to end this nonsense is how we vote in the next election.

    • Lynn Crosby

      Agree. We need good people to run. Problem is, who would want to be part of this toxic soup. Seven people making all these decisions, a majority being only 4, has not served us well. Though I didn’t think they’d all just turtle and go along so easily.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Great letter Eric!

    Now we will see if the mayor writes a defensive letter to the paper disputing it as she so often does whenever there’s anything critical written.

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