Following a lengthy discussion at Chatham-Kent council last week, only one area rated tax charge will be eliminated in the municipality.
Chatham-Kent staff recommended that all three charges be eliminated to allow for a more streamlined and simplified approach towards property tax calculations. This would have resulted in all property owners in Chatham-Kent paying equally for the three services through the base levy, regardless of how frequently the service is used in their community.
According to Chatham-Kent police Chief Gary Conn, services are offered everywhere in the municipality, whether a community requires the major crime unit, critical incident response team or the drone unit.
He clarified that the police service level is the same in rural areas as it is in urban areas.
“It’s the same level of service,” said Conn. “It’s not dependent upon area rating. The level of service is dependent upon a totality of variables that are taken into consideration, primarily the nature of the call and the urgency. The level of service does not change whether you reside within a rural area or an urban area.”
He added a police cruiser is basically an “office on wheels” that allows officers to do their work while being ready to deploy for a call in short order.
However, some councillors noted they see cruisers more often in urban areas than Chatham-Kent’s rural communities. Councillors said the level of proactive policing service wasn’t the same for rural areas.
Eliminating area rating for policing would have resulted in a $102.65 annual increase per $100,000 assessment for taxpayers in 16 rural areas.
A flat rate would have provided $75.84 in annual savings per $100,000 assessment for taxpayers in the urban areas of Chatham, Wallaceburg, Dresden, Ridgetown, Blenheim and Tilbury.
Councillor Amy Finn argued that in an urban setting, your chances of seeing a police car is 20 times greater than seeing one out in the rural areas …
“Yes, if someone calls 9-1-1, you quickly send an officer as fast as you can there,” said Finn. “If there’s a suspicious vehicle (in Bothwell or Tilbury), the response time for that call is a lot different than if you see a suspicious vehicle in Chatham.”
Council spent nearly an hour and a half debating the topic. In an effort to make it easier on taxpayers, Councillor Melissa Harrigan put forward an amendment that if the recommendations pass, they be phased in over three years.
Councillor Harrigan said residents have told her they would like to see additional police visibility, as well as more proactive policing in these areas.
“In talking to rural residents about this, a common comment that I receive back is, ‘If we’re going to pay more for police services, you have to promise that we’re going to get more’,” said Harrigan.
She said council might be approaching the issue in the wrong way.
“Why aren’t we looking at adding services and raising rural rates?” questions Harrigan. “Instead of just kind of finding that equilibrium between geographically rural and geographically urban.”
Ultimately, council voted in favour of keeping the area rating charge in place for policing (11-7) and streetlights (10-8) and voted in favour of eliminating it for horticulture (10-8).
This means the property tax burden for the municipality’s horticultural services will be evenly spread among taxpayers across Chatham-Kent. At the same time, the costs for policing and streetlights will still be determined by where a specific property is located.
The votes for and against were as follows:
- Elimination of area rating for police services, resulting in the inclusion within the base levy. Voting yes were Bondy, Crew, Faas, Hall, Kirkwood-Whyte, B. McGregor and Sulman. Voting no were Authier, Ceccacci, Finn, Harrigan, Latimer, McGrail, C.McGregor, Pinsonneault, Thompson, Wright and Mayor Canniff. Motion defeated 11-7.
- Elimination of area rating for streetlights, resulting in the inclusion within the base levy. Voting yes were Bondy, Crew, Faas, Hall, Harrigan, Kirkwood-Whyte, B. McGregor and Sulman. Voting no were Authier, Ceccacci, Finn, Latimer, McGrail, C. McGregor, Pinsonneault, Thompson, Wright and Mayor Canniff. Motion defeated 10-8.
- Elimination of area rating for horticulture, resulting in the inclusion within the base levy. Voting yes were Bondy, Crew, Faas, Hall, Harrigan, Kirkwood-Whyte, McGrail, B. McGregor, Sulman and Mayor Canniff. Voting no were Authier, Ceccacci, Finn, Latimer, C. McGregor, Pinsonneault, Thompson and Wright. Motion carried 10-8.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News