Mayor front runners embrace popularity of tax cuts

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Property owners across Ottawa-Carleton can expect cuts to their municipal tax bills should Bob Chiarelli or Claudette Cain assume the top spot at the new city hall.

Both Cain and Chiarelli have included tax cuts as major planks in their election platforms, and both say they can find the money from the projected savings from merging 12 different governments into one.

Both candidates are on the right track, says Walter Robinson, federal executive director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Robinson, who has remained non-partisan for the election, wants to see more detail on how each candidate plans to cut taxes.

Cain promises to find $83 million in savings over three years gained from amalgamation. All of those savings will go straight back into taxpayers wallets, Cain says. That can be done without going into further debt and without cutting services or capital projects, she says. Cain's estimate goes beyond Queen's Park's $75-million target.

To achieve those savings, council would have to cut annual expenditures by 1.7 per cent, or $27.6 million, a year for the next three years.

Cain says she'll do that by making gradual cuts to staffing, streamlining the bureaucracy and conducting a review of services offered. But Cain says that doesn't mean essential services or the quality of life in Ottawa will drop.

Cain points to her nine-year term as mayor of Gloucester, where, she says, taxes were cut by 15.6 per cent without cutting services.

"I know how to do that because I've done it before," Cain says.

At the same time, Cain has pledged setting aside $22.5 million from collected property taxes for three years. The money will be set aside in a reserve fund to cover any unexpected costs created by amalgamation.

After three years, she will give the money back to property taxpayers by reducing tax rates further.

Cain told the Ottawa Business Journal, however, she expects to use that money for unexpected costs. "History has shown that amalgamations are costly. I'm not entering this with rose-coloured glasses," she says.

Ottawa, like other Ontario municipalities, taxes commercial property owners more heavily than their residential counterparts.

Cain says commercial property owners will benefit from her tax-cutting plan as much as homeowners. But it's unlikely the tax burden will shift from commercial property back onto residential, she says. "You've got to look at what is reasonable and you've got to look at ability to pay," she says.

Chiarelli's tax cut promises are more conservative than Cain's. He says his own studies have shown amalgamation-related savings should reach at least $75 million.

He calls Cain's promise to find $83 million in savings "a bit of one-upmanship." If there are greater savings to be made, Chiarelli says he would pass them on to taxpayers.

Like Cain, Chiarelli points to his record of cutting taxes. Chiarelli's plan does not include a reserve to cover any unexpected amalgamation costs. Instead, Chiarelli says the region has $510 million in reserves some of which are unallocated and will be available to the new city.

While Chiarelli is promising across-the-board tax cuts, he says it's politically unrealistic to think the city would shift some of the commercial tax burden onto residential properties.

However, he says he will consider reducing the property tax rate for new small businesses.

The region implemented such a cut for new multi-residential properties earlier this year. New multi-residential developments will now receive preferential tax treatment over multi-residential properties that are already standing.

The change, Chiarelli says, will encourage new multi-residential developments. He's willing to meet with the business community and make the proposal.

"I'm willing to put that on the table for discussion purposes so at least there's not a disincentive for new small businesses," says Chiarelli.

Last week, Chiarelli also said he would freeze hydro rates in the new city for three years.

Organizations: Queen's, Ottawa Business Journal

Geographic location: Ottawa, Gloucester, Ontario

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