A Question Of Numbers

June 23, 2014

Last week, the final 2014 property tax bill notice arrived in the mail for my perusal. taxbillIt always delivers a brief moment of confusion when I think, Do I have to pay this now? Don’t I pay my property taxes through the bank in monthly installments? Why isn’t my bank making my property tax payments? I’m going to phone them and give them a piece of my mind…

And then, oh right. Property tax bill information. It’s just the final bit of accounting from the city, showing me all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

Included in this statement is a small pamphlet, informing the taxpayer about extended call centre and cashier counter hours, various tax relief, rebate and appeals processes, and one page detailing where exactly your tax dollars are being spent. This is a breakdown based on a house with “an assessed value of $499, 521”. Amounts may vary slightly according to the value of a house but you get the general idea of where your hard earned tax dollars are going.

The first thing you notice, if you’re looking closely, is the breadth of services and programs you get in return for paying your property taxes. The police, public transit, roads, parks, libraries, fire, EMS, children and elderly care, a zoo or two. But wait. budgetpieThere’s more.

City council, city planning, economic development and culture. Public health. Housing and shelter support. Employment and social services. 311.

All this (and more) for the low, low price of $2598.71 a year, if your home is valued at about $500,000. $216.56 a month. $7.22 a day.

If you never, ever use the TTC, living in your half a million dollar home, it costs you just over a dollar a day to keep other people from hopping in their car to get to work, and freeing up that much more road space. At 32 cents a day, our library shelves are kept stocked. You want to find out what exactly goes into the green bin or lodge a complaint about that massive pothole in front of your house? dothemathThat’ll be about 2 cents a day to keep 311 operational.

There are some troubling numbers, for sure, in our budgeting breakdown. We could wonder why we spend almost $300 a year more (again, based on a house valued at $500,000) on the police services than we do on 5 categories of social services that might keep our streets and homes equally safe. Should the police services be this city’s biggest single line item in the budget? By a significant amount, let me add.

It’s certainly a worthy conversation to have but beware the politician who tells you there’s a quick fix. Policing and police budgeting is a thorny matter, covering at least a couple jurisdictional territories. Untying such a knot won’t be an easy task.

When it comes right down to it, there’s no such thing as an easy task with a $10 billion annual operating budget. Always there’ll be more demand than the resources at hand. Making tough choices is simply part of the gig. But we could go a long way to de-mystifying the process if more of us took a moment, checked the numbers to see what services and programs were actually costing us on a yearly, monthly, daily basis. Evaluate them on a pretty straight-forward cost-to-value measurement. budgetneedsIs this item worth it to me, my community, my city?

Bring it down to a more manageable scale. Hundreds or tens of dollars rather than hundreds of millions or billions. This is what that service will cost you and your family, to the penny.

It would make for a more practical debate, freed as it would be from the tyranny of oppressively and mind-bendingly large numbers.

numerically submitted by Cityslikr