By Ryan McGreal
Published November 18, 2009
Mayor Fred Eisenberger is calling for a "Citizens' Jury" to investigate options on how the City of Hamilton should reform the current area rating tax levy system.
Under area rating, residents of different parts of the city pay different rates toward certain municipal services: transit, culture and recreation, and fire protection. Hamilton is the only municipality in Ontario to do this, and it is a throwback to the forced amalgamation of the city with its suburban neighbours in 1999.
As a result, residents of the old city pay nearly three times as much for transit as residents in Glanbrook, three and a half times as much as residents in Stoney Creek, four times as much as residents in Dundas, and nearly five times as much as residents in Ancaster.
In 2008, City Council acknowledged that Hamilton's current area rating system for transit tax levies is unfair and instructed staff to investigate options to fix it before the 2010 municipal election.
Staff will present their report to the November 24, 2009 Committee of the Whole, but Mayor Eisenberger announced in a news release his office issued today that he will put forward a motion to ask staff "to report back on the terms of reference, selection criteria and costs associated with a 'citizens' jury'."
A citizens jury would be an ad hoc committee of Hamilton residents randomly selected to study area rating and provide recommendations to Council and staff.
If the Committee of the Whole approves the motion, this will be the first time that Hamilton has followed this method of public consultation.
RTH has learned from sources at City Hall that staff are currently considering a revenue-neutral approach that would involve increasing the rates paid by suburban wards and decreasing the rate paid by the old city so that all residents pay the same rate and the total levy collected does not change.
In other words, the proposal would further deepen the conflict between urban and suburban ratepayers without generating any new money for transit, and it would effectively force the HSR to redistribute its already inadequate resources across an even larger area.
The city would collect over $7 million in additional transit funds if all wards of the city paid what the lower city pays today.
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