Municipal Revenue Sources Review An Analysis of Tax Policy Objectives

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1 Municipal Revenue Sources Review An Analysis of Policy Objectives August, 2012

2 Introduction This paper reviews the financial plan bylaws of select communities across the Province of British Columbia (Province). First, the paper examines the stated objectives and policies to determine commonality and provide examples of the current state of local government initiatives based on four categories: analysis and research; fees and charges; tax stability and active tax shifting. Secondly, an examination of the adherence to provincially outlined best practices with respect to objectives and policies present in local government financial plans is undertaken. This examination consists of documenting compliance as well as evaluating whether local governments are providing short term or long term objectives and whether they are inward or outward looking in their approach to tax policy. Background In June 2006, the British Columbia Competition Council (Council) expressed concerns about increases in the ratio of property tax on major industry compared to residential rates. While the Council recognized that the municipal property tax system was complex and not easily adjusted, it also believed that in some communities the problem had reached a point where high ratios and rates were having a serious impact on the competitiveness of industry in those regions. The Council s report, along with other publications, raised awareness of a broader issue of high tax ratios and rates between industrial/ commercial (major industry, light industry and business) and residential property tax rates. In 2007, in response to the Council s recommendations, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (Ministry) amended s.165 (Financial Plan) of the Community Charter. Subsection 3.1 requires municipalities to describe, in detail, the policies and objectives behind municipal revenue and property tax decisions. In 2008, municipalities were required to provide a general statement of objectives for each of three topics: division of revenue between property taxation and other sources; distribution of property value taxes among the property classes; and use of permissive tax exemptions. For 2009 and beyond, full revenue and tax policy disclosure is required in all municipal 5 year financial plans. The financial plan bylaw must go through a public review process every year. During this review, members of the public are able to evaluate the policy statements made by council and provide feedback and comments on the direction the municipality is heading. The long term objective of s.165 (3.1), and the Ministry s goal, is to enhance municipal financial accountability and transparency, encourage more thoughtful consideration of the financial situation and tax setting behaviours, and improve the financial planning process. Methodology A sample of 30 financial plans from 2011 was selected based on two qualifiers; size and location (whether the municipality is urban or rural 1 ). This resulted in a mix of communities from various geographic areas of the Province which includes 10 small, 10 medium, and 10 large communities. 1 Urban is defined as a community which is a major centre such as Kamloops, Vancouver, Victoria, GVRD/CRD while rural is defined as communities outside of these areas Ministry of Community, Sport and 1 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

3 Quantitative Analysis Analysis of the stated objectives and policies for all 30 financial plans fall under 4 broad categories; 1. analysis and research; 2. fees and charges; 3. tax stability; and 4. active tax shifting or non residential tax reductions. A municipality cannot hold its taxes constant while engaging in tax shifting and, as such, tax stability and active tax shifting are to some degree, mutually exclusive. The detailed analysis can be viewed in the Appendix. Analysis and Research Analysis and research is defined as non immediate action such as studying or researching, performing peer comparisons and/or conducting reviews of current tax/fee structure. Comparison to the regional or provincial average rates and/or ratios was commonly found with 43% of communities sampled undergoing some form of review or peer comparison exercise. Reviews encompass all aspects of financial planning including user fees/charges, revenues, ratios, tax distribution policy, etc. However, user fees are the subject of the majority of reviews. Examples of analysis and research include: Armstrong will review user fees to ensure that property tax remains less than 30% of total revenues; Dawson Creek will review revenues and ratios every three years while taking into consideration assessment changes; Harrison Hot Springs is considering a property tax commission to review rate distribution; and Grand Forks utilizes annual reviews to address the long term needs for infrastructure while ensuring a sustainable debt to equity ratio Fees and Charges Local governments use fees and charges as an alternative to property taxation for generating revenue. Fees and charges may be levied to recover the cost of services, use of municipal property, or as an exercise of regulatory authority. For example, user fees are usually charged for sewer, water, garbage collection, use of public transit or recreation facilities, or renting local government property. Fees are generally applied on a user pay basis so that those who benefit from the service bear the cost of it. The amount of a fee or charge is generally chosen to provide enough money to recover costs and ensure the service will continue in the future. In the financial plans, communities focused on four categories with respect to user fees and charges; fee reviews, adopting user pay philosophies, cost recovery and shifting tax burden to users of services. The majority of municipalities conduct regular reviews of their user and service fee levels to ensure cost recovery is maximized. User fees are set in some communities to reflect changes in costs and to track inflation. Examples include: Abbotsford, Delta, and North Vancouver have adopted user pay philosophies ; Ministry of Community, Sport and 2 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

4 Cost recovery is discussed as a factor when determining user fee/charge levels in nine communities including Castlegar, Duncan, Grand Forks, Mackenzie, Nanaimo, and Vernon; and Four communities speak directly to utilizing fees/charges to shift the tax burden away from property owners to users of services (Castlegar, Anmore, Belcarra, and Saanich). Stability stability is a desire to retain the status quo. This can be defined as maintaining tax rates, ratios, proportion of revenue, or any other method by which council determines it can achieve this goal. A municipality engaging in tax stability for the most part does not also engage in active tax shifting. 33% of municipalities sampled consider the maintenance of tax stability important when establishing their taxation scheme. Examples include: In Anmore, Cache Creek and Belcarra tax rates are set in order to maintain stability; Continuing to set tax rates to ensure tax stability by maintaining proportionate relationship between classes was stated by Saanich and Tahsis; Duncan and Mackenzie are aiming to preserve the proportion of taxes received from each class; Burnaby is maintaining a stable and predictable level of tax for multiple property classes; Esquimalt adjusts their tax ratios each year to maintain stability; In Vernon, taxes are allocated to preserve and maintain the existing equity between assessment classes; and Prince George, while maintaining tax rate stability for Class 4 at 2010 rates, is increasing rates on Classes 1, 5, and 6, thereby shifting the tax burden from Class 4. Active Shifting or Non Residential reductions The 2011 financial plans were analyzed to determine if they contained statements targeting tax rates and ratios. Based on the tax revenue requirements in the financial plan, the municipality will set its municipal tax rates to raise the appropriate revenue from the nine different classes of property. Property tax rates are expressed as a rate per $1,000 of assessment. A relationship between tax rates (also referred to as a tax ratio), is the comparison of the tax rate between any property class and Class 1. For example, if the tax rate for Class 1 (Residential) is $1 per 1,000 and for Class 6 (Business and Other) is $5 per 1,000 the ratio of Class 6 to Class 1 is 5:1. Active tax shifting includes shifting of revenues from non residential classes to Class 1, reducing non residential tax rates, ratios, and/or moving towards provincial average rates or ratios. Statements regarding utilizing rates and ratios as a means of addressing taxation issues were made in 37% of communities sampled. Many communities stated that they are striving to bring their ratio of class 6:1 in line with the Provincial average. Rates are set in some communities to maintain tax stability and constant tax burden distribution. Assessment shifts, new growth and non market changes are analyzed in the majority of cases to determine shifting of taxes between classes, tax proportions, tax rates, and overall tax distribution. Ministry of Community, Sport and 3 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

5 Specifically with respect to Classes 5 and 6, many policies include treating the classes equally as the properties in these two classes are very similar. This maintenance of equity between the classes was stated frequently, however, a definition of what council considered an equitable tax structure was lacking. Examples of statements include: Vernon will maintain their Class 1 to 6 ratio at 3.2 to 1 under optimal conditions; Delta, in recognition of the similarities between Class 5 and 6 properties, adopts the same tax rate for both classes; The City of North Vancouver adopted a long term property tax strategy which will shift taxes from Class 5 and 6 to Class 1; and In Kelowna, Harrison Hot Springs, Anmore, and Belcarra, Class 1 (Residential) pays the highest proportion of taxes as they make up the majority of the assessment base and consume the majority of services. Adherence to Best Practices When the legislation was amended to include tax policy disclosure requirements, the Province created an information circular and a sample financial plan to provide direction and advice for local governments. Exemplary financial plans would contain both short and long term objectives and would contain measures that focus on both the community itself and the broader framework within which the local government is operating. For this paper, the objectives and policies contained in municipal financial plans were analyzed to determine the degree by which municipalities were engaging in thorough taxation and planning discussions. The review specifically evaluates: Basic compliance; the municipality included all of the legislatively required statements of objectives and policies ; Short term objectives; contains objectives that consider the coming two calendar years and which are immediately implementable; Long term objectives; contains objectives that forecast three or more years into the future and encourage consideration of present and possible future economic conditions; Inward policy; identifies basic tax and community objectives with a local focus and encourages local accountability; and Outward policy; displays an understanding of the larger, global context and demonstrates an awareness of how a municipality s property tax setting behaviours impact the economy as a whole. For clarification, simply stating that a municipality will compare their tax policy to another local government or region does not constitute outward policy. Ministry of Community, Sport and 4 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

6 Findings and Analysis The table below represents a summary of the evaluative criteria used to analyze financial plans. Remember the sample consists of 30 municipalities. Compliance Short Term Long Term Inward Outward Compliance Objectives Objectives Policy Policy Total Objectives Met This basic analysis included whether the municipality simply disclosed their objectives and policies as stated in s.165 (3.1) and outlined in the Ministry s informational circular and sample financial plan. Non compliance was defined as not adhering to any individual requirements. The results show: 87% of communities from our sample were deemed compliant; There is no discernable connection between the size of a community and compliance levels ; As the required level of complexity has increased from 2008 to 2011, more communities are becoming compliant; and A great number of communities have chosen to utilize the exact wording from the template sent out in April 2009 rather than creating their own wording. Short Term Objectives Overall, 93% of municipal financial plans contained short term policies and objectives which could be implemented over the course of the next two years. For example: Anmore and Harrison Hot Springs will conduct annual user fee reviews to ensure they are meeting capital and service delivery costs; Campbell River strives to maintain its tax ratios every year; North Vancouver aims to collect the same amount of overall taxes annually, from each property class; and Tahsis annually reviews the distribution of taxes between the classes. Long Term Objectives 73% of municipalities explicitly mentioned long term objectives to address situations beyond 2 years: Municipalities have pledged to increase non taxation based revenues over the five year cycle of the financial plan; Many municipalities plan on maintaining existing tax distributions and ratios for the next five years; and Increasing user fees and charges over the next five years to reflect service levels and changes in inflation was chosen in several municipalities. Ministry of Community, Sport and 5 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

7 Inward Looking Objectives 90% contained inward focussed objectives and policies which address community based initiatives. Examples include: Castlegar will only consider debt financing if there is long term benefit and cost savings can be realized by going ahead with the project rather than waiting. Also, financing must not present an unreasonable burden and MFA leasing will be utilized when economically viable; Grand Forks will review and address capital and fiscal long terms needs while ensuring a sustainable debt to equity ratio; and Saanich will continue to set tax rates to ensure tax stability by maintaining the proportionate relationship between classes and uniform annual tax increases. Outward Looking Objectives 30% contained policies and objectives focused on the larger role that property taxes and the municipality play in the economy at large. Examples include: Abbotsford desires to achieve a competitive user fee compared to other lower mainland communities and believes that new development should substantially pay for increased infrastructure required to service it; Campbell River wants to attract new business and sustain property Classes 4, 5, and 6; Castlegar is maximizing revenues by seeking economic development opportunities and utilizing revitalization tax exemptions to also encourage such development while simultaneously reducing Class 4 taxation ; Esquimalt is developing a revitalization tax exemption directed at its commercial core and Class 6 properties to promote economic development within the community; and Harrison Hot Springs ensures that taxes are in line with goals and policies in the Official Community Plan and Regional Growth Strategy. Conclusion The attached Appendix contains more detailed analysis of the 30 municipal financial plan bylaws sampled. Since the legislation was amended, local governments appear to be giving greater consideration to their taxation objectives and policies. This is evidenced through the shift in taxation levels that has been occurring, both with respect to the tax burden between the property classes and a shift away from property taxation as the primary source of municipal revenue. Additionally, the use of revitalization tax exemptions has increased substantially over the last few years so that approximately one third of municipalities are now using these tax exemptions as a tool to help meet economic development goals. Ministry of Community, Sport and 6 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

8 Municipality Objectives Analysis and Researc h Fees and Charges Stability Active Shifting or Non Res Reductions Abbotsford Anmore Armstrong Belcarra peer comparisons; attract class 4/5/6 development; supplement property tax with user fees/charges; user pay philosophy; fee levels recover capital and delivery costs of services as much as possible; competitive user fees; development pays for itself x x largest portion of assessment base pays largest portion of taxes as they consume the most (class 1);user fees/charges to offset tax increases; tax stability; increase revenues; fees to reflect service levels and changes in inflation x x review class 6 to class1 ratio to bring it closer to prov avg; review user fees to ensure that property tax remains less than 30% of total revenues x x largest portion of assessment base pays largest portion of taxes as they consume the most (class 1); tax stability; user fees supplement revenues; increase revenues; fees to reflect service levels and changes in inflation; user fees to offset tax burden on tax base; ensure fees meet service delivery and capital costs x x same rate increases for all classes; except provincially capped classes or directly related to other property classes (same for increases); class 1 tax stability; class 2 according to legislation; class 4 stable/predictable; class 5 = 6 with same Burnaby objective as class 4; class 6/8/9 same as class 4 x low tax rates to attract new residents and business; landfill subsidizes current tax regime; planning for the shut down of the landfill and acknowledging the Cache Creek challenges to its tax base x Campbell River attract class 4/5/6; class 9 = class 1; class 2 = 1.5 class 6; class 5 = 6 x Castlegar Cranbrook Dawson Creek reducing class 4 taxes starting in 2010; address effects of rising costs and meet the demands of desired levels of service; ensure a competitive business environment; work with industry partners to approach province for help/solutions; costs for service are recovered from users; considered primary cost recovery method; reduce property tax reliance by using user fees where possible x x has a recapitalization reserve bylaw to set aside monies for upgrades or acquisitions of capital assets revenues and ratios reviewed while taking into consideration assessment changes; review every 3 years x Ministry of Community, Sport and 7 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

9 Municipality Delta Analysis and Researc Objectives h class 5= 6; tax stability; peer comparison; user pay philosophy; user fees charged for services where practical; regular fees and charges reviews conducted x x Fees and Charges benefits of increased assessments are kept within the growing class; limit class 6 increases; peer comparison; median rate for class 6 long term goal; shifting sewer and water to metered basis x x x Stability Active Shifting or Non Res Reductions Duncan tax stability by adjusting ratios; rates set after considering new growth or loss in Esquimalt classes; user fees supplement property tax; charge fees where appropriate x x annual user fee review; reduce class 5 and 6; consult class 4 property holders with regards to this policy; monitor shifts in assessments; tax equity; reduce Fort St John ratios for class 5 and 6; consult class 4 with respect to this policy; x x peer comparisons; annual reviews address the long term needs for infrastructure while ensuring a sustainable debt to equity ratio; low class 4 ratio and rebalance ratios every year until council deems it equitable; annual user fee review; full cost Grand Forks of service recovery via user fees unless a subsidy is in the public interest x x x largest portion of assessment base pays largest portion of taxes as they consume the most (class 1); peer comparison; equity and fairness and responsive to current economic trends; property tax commission considered to review rate distribution; review class 1 ratios to see if changes are required; Harrison Hot increase user fee revenues; cost recovery via user fees; over next 2 years review Springs user fees; fees reflect inflation x x x annual user fee review; peer comparison; waste, sewer and water fees to Kamloops recover 100% of costs; parks and rec is 50% x x class 1/9 and non profit classes pay most as they consume majority of services; effective tax change same for all classes; class 5 and 6 below prov avg; ratio cap on class 5/6 3:1; annual tax distribution policy review; class 5 and 6 ratio below prov average; annually review and modify tax ratios; plans on conducting regular reviews of revenue generating areas for appropriate application of rate increases; review user fees to increase % of total revenues from user fees; fees Kelowna to reflect service levels and changes in inflation x x x Langley (City) Cost of service divided by # serviced x peer comparison; taxes uniformly increased across classes; increased class 4 to take up school tax credit room; cost recovery; raise user fees to increase cost Mackenzie recovery %; x x x Ministry of Community, Sport and 8 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

10 Municipality Maple Ridge Nanaimo North Vancouver (City) Active Shifting or Non Res Reductions Objectives Analysis and Researc h Fees and Charges Stability assessment changes considered when setting rates; diversify tax base; class 5 =6; peer comparison; class 5 and 6 have same rate and are treated as the same class; reduce class 4 by 5% in 2009 and 2010; annual user fee review; updated if necessary; phase in costs over several years to keep within tax increases set in their financial sustainability plan x x x peer comparison for class 1; class 4 and 5 reduced to class 6 rate by 2013; reduce class 6 over time to prov average; user fees will be used where appropriate; cost recover % will vary depending on the service x x x assessment changes considered when setting rates to collect the same overall taxes from each class; adopted a long term property tax strategy which will shift taxes from class 5 and 6 to class 1 with the goal of having comparable tax rates and multiples to other GVRD LGs; charge user fees where possible x x Penticton No statements class 2 to cap max; class 4 maintained at 2010 rate; class 5 raised towards class Prince George 4 rate; annual tax rate review; increase class 5 ratio towards class 4 values; annual user fee review x x x (class 4) Prince Rupert assessment changes considered when setting rates; tax stability; minimize tax increases to encourage econ development; review of fees to ensure users are paying a fair portion of operating and capital service costs; supporting economic development by opening an Economic Development office; stabilizing tax levies with consistent methodology x Saanich tax stability; class 6 proportion of revenues collected set at minimum of 19%; shift tax burden to user fees x x Tahsis assessment changes considered when setting rates; tax stability; annual review of distribution x Tumbler Ridge apply increase in taxes across all classes; save class 2 x Vernon class 2 to cap max; remaining increase in taxes applied across all classes equally; class 6 ratio not exceeding 3.2 under optimal conditions; 1/3 of non market value growth in taxation will be directed to infra reserve for future infra works; fee recovery should reflect the full costs of program delivery x x Analysis and Research Non immediate action such as studying or researching peer comparisons, conducting reviews of current tax/fee structure Ministry of Community, Sport and 9 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

11 Municipality Fees and Charges Stability Active Shifting to Non Res Analysis and Researc h Fees and Charges Objectives User fees, charges, and/or DCCs discussed, shifting to user fees/charges from tax Maintaining the status quo tax rates/ratios/distribution via a number of methods including freezing rates, ratios, re balancing proportions after considering assessment shifts Shifting of revenues from non residential classes to Class 1, reducing class4/5/6 rates, moving towards a prov avg ratio Stability Active Shifting or Non Res Reductions Ministry of Community, Sport and 10 Municipal Revenue Sources Review

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