All fired up over taxes

A study oft-referenced by the mayor that ranks London among Canada’s best-managed cities also paints a gloomier picture of the city’s tax status, her chief challenger says.

The analysis of Canada’s 31 biggest cities, published last year by Maclean’s and repeatedly cited in Anne Marie DeCicco-Best’s re-election campaign, named London the best-managed city in Ontario — sixth nationwide.

But challenger Joe Fontana says the study’s details show the city ranks near the bottom (29th) in tax-base growth, which the ex-MP made a key plank of his platform.

Twenty-nine out of 31 (cities) — that’s telling the tale that I think Londoners are clueing in to,” Fontana said Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t wave this thing around and say ‘we’re doing fantastic’ because that’s not the reality on the ground.”

The Maclean’s survey was done by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), which used data from 2005 to 2007 to rank Canada’s 31 biggest single-tier cities, excluding places such as Kitchener-Waterloo.

It ranked each city for “efficiency” and “effectiveness” in several categories, including safety/protection, transportation and recreation/culture.

Generally, “efficiency” meant how much a city spends in that category while “effectiveness” measured what taxpayers get for the money.

With taxation, though, the AIMS measurement is different: “efficiency” measured how much residents and businesses are taxed; “effectiveness” measured how well the tax base is growing.

Fontana says London’s 29th-place “effectiveness” rating for taxation, behind Winnipeg and Greater Sudbury, should alarm Londoners.

“It shows London’s not doing as well as we could,” he said. “It’s not stellar. We can do better.”

Fontana also notes that in economic development, London is ranked near the middle in efficiency (10th) and effectiveness (18th).

But the study also put London eighth out of the 31 in the amount of taxes paid by residents and businesses — which could contradict any suggestion Londoners are overtaxed.

Nonetheless, Fontana says homeowners are tired of tax hikes and he plans to increase assessment growth, largely through attracting new business, to help hold the line on taxes.

He suggests 2.5% growth next year is not unreasonable, though city staff, perhaps cautiously, are projecting 0.5% growth.

Since annexation in 1993, London has averaged 1.2% growth. 2009 was the highest in that period, hitting 2.36%.

DeCicco-Best has repeatedly questioned how Fontana plans to ratchet up growth so significantly.

She also said it’s hard to criticize the city’s showing in the Maclean’s study when its overall ranking was so high.

“Overall, you can’t dispute London being the best-managed city in Ontario,” she said, adding economic development is her top priority.

“I’ve always said our job is to continue to strengthen the economy and bring in and retain as many jobs as we can.”