4 PROPERTY TAX RELIEF OPTIONS FOR SENIORS, LOW-INCOME DISABLED AND OTHER LOW-INCOME PERSONS

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1 4 PROPERTY TAX RELIEF OPTIONS FOR SENIORS, LOW-INCOME DISABLED AND OTHER LOW-INCOME PERSONS (Regional Council, at its meeting on June 21, 2007, amended the following report to provide that: (a) the Commissioner of Finance confirm the information relating to the Vaughan Council decision dated April 2, 2007 as referred to in paragraph 3.2 on page 15; and (b) the Commissioner of Finance submit a report in nine months time to the Finance and Administration Committee on the status of this matter.) The Finance and Administration Committee recommends the adoption of the recommendation contained in the following report, May 11, 2007, from the Commissioner of Finance: 1. RECOMMENDATIONS It is recommended that: 1. The Region maintain its current property tax deferral program for seniors and low-income disabled homeowners; and 2. The Province be requested to enhance its Ontario Property Tax Credit program by increasing the refundable tax credit available to all low-income persons, regardless of age, to an amount equivalent to the education portion of the residential property tax. 2. PURPOSE This report provides an analysis of property tax relief options available to seniors, lowincome disabled and low-income persons in the Regional Municipality of York. 3. BACKGROUND At its meeting of April 19, Council requested that staff report on property tax options for assisting seniors, persons with disabilities and other qualifying low income homeowners. When Current Value Assessment was initially introduced in 1998, the Province initially mandated that municipalities offer a property tax relief program to low-income seniors and low-income disabled persons to help protect them from extreme fluctuations that

2 could result from assessment related property tax increases. The terms of this legislation changed in subsequent revisions and in 2003 the tax relief was made into a discretionary requirement. 3.1 Property Tax Relief in York Region The Municipal Act, 2001 provides that a municipality, other than a lower tier municipality, may pass a by-law for the purposes of relieving financial hardship for lowincome seniors and low-income persons with disabilities. The qualification of low income is to be specified in the by-law. The tax relief may be by deferral, cancellation, or other tax relief of all or part of a property tax increase in the residential property class. Initially this relief was mandatory but limited to reassessment increases only, however the definition was subsequently extended to all property tax increases in a year. In 2003, the Province introduced the Ontario Home Property Tax Relief for Seniors Act, 2003, ( the Seniors Act ) to provide a tax credit payment to every senior home owner or renter in the province. In December of 2003, following the repeal of the Seniors Act by the new provincial government, the Region reaffirmed its commitment to tax relief by reinstating the tax deferral for seniors (now a discretionary program); tax relief for lowincome disabled persons had continued under the previous by-law. Council also expanded the definition of eligible persons to include low-income seniors years of age and increased the tax relief to include all property tax increases for a year. Key provisions of the York Region property tax relief policy for homeowners are as follows: All taxes increases in a year may be deferred for seniors 65 years of age and older and low-income disabled persons; Low-Income seniors aged may defer increases greater than $300; The deferral applies to the local, regional and provincial components of the tax bill; All deferrals are free of interest until the property is sold; The low income threshold is $23,000 for individuals and $40,000 for a household of two persons or more. Currently there are 246 individuals utilizing the tax deferral program for an annual deferral of approximately $84,000 in Regional taxes. The total annual deferral for all three taxing jurisdictions (local, regional, provincial) is $188,700. The property tax relief offered by York Region is consistent with the rest of the GTA. No regional government in the GTA currently offers a grant to seniors or low-income disabled persons. Notwithstanding, the City of Toronto offers a cancellation of property tax increases to eligible low-income seniors and low-income disabled. Toronto s program has 2700 participants for a total annual cost of $500,000.

3 3.1.1 Grant Programs for Seniors offered by Local Municipalities Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Newmarket have grant programs for low-income seniors but do not include other low-income individuals or low-income disabled persons. Outside of York Region, four GTA lower-tier municipalities offer a grant or loan program for low-income seniors. Table 1 following provides a summary of the local municipal grant programs in York Region. Municipality Town of Newmarket Table 1 Local Municipal Grant Programs for Seniors Program Date of Number of Amount of Name Program Participants Grant Seniors Tax Rebate Grant Seniors Grant Seniors Provided $100 (200) Total Cost to Municipality $3,800 Town of Richmond Hill $200 (250) $52,000 City of $250 $275,000 Vaughan Grant (265) Total , ( ) denotes proposed increases for Resolutions from the City of Vaughan The Region has recently received two resolutions from the City of Vaughan with respect to tax relief for seniors. The first resolution, passed February 26, 2007, requested that the Region consider a grant program for seniors which would be proportional to the Region s share of property taxes (i.e. the Region s grant would be approximately 1.75 times that of the local municipality s grant). The second resolution passed by Vaughan Council on April 2 stated, Therefore be it resolved that the Provincial Government pass legislation to rebate the education portion of residential property taxes, or a portion of the rental expenses for seniors, in a similar fashion to Bill 43 which was introduced on June 26, 2003, then refused. Bill 43, the Ontario Home Property Tax Relief for Seniors Act, 2003 provided for a refundable tax credit for senior home owners or renters of at least 65 years of age. There was no income test for recipients of this program. In 2006 the education portion represented 26% of the average regional residential tax bill and the average residential property was assessed at $372,238. Therefore, the equivalent rebate that would be paid in 2006 under the former Seniors Act would be approximately $982.

4 4. ANALYSIS AND OPTIONS Council requested that staff analyse on property tax options for assisting qualifying lowincome people including seniors and people with disabilities. 4.1 Options Available for Council Regional Council already provides for the complete interest free deferral of property tax increases for seniors 65 years of age and older and disabled persons, and partial deferrals for seniors aged years that is considerably less restrictive than comparable Provincial legislation. The household threshold amount of $40,000 in the Regional bylaw is significantly higher than the Ontario property tax credit threshold of $23,090 for 2006; the Ontario tax credit is fully clawed back at just under $39,000 for seniors. The Region s deferral program removes the burden of property taxes during a period of financial hardship while preserving the obligation to pay those taxes upon the sale of the property at a time when the owner will realize a significant increase in its value. This policy ensures that no homeowner would lose the right of occupancy due solely to property tax increases. While critics of this policy have raised the concern that deferred taxes could erode the financial legacy of seniors, this view does not recognize that the appreciation of the homeowners property will far exceed the amount of taxes being repaid. The Region does not offer a specific deferral for renters, however it should be noted that significant tax relief was provided when Council approved a phased reduction in the multi-residential property tax ratio from 2.1 in 2000 to 1.0, effectively reducing by more than half the property tax burden for multi-residential renters. Should the Region decided to provide direct grants and/or tax cancellation, it might appear to be voluntarily funding a new social support program. Regional Council has previously advocated that all social support programs should be funded through the progressive tax base accessed by the Province. Notwithstanding, if the Region were to choose to undertake a grant program, there are a number of issues that must be resolved. There is difficulty in quantifying the potential cost impact of a broad based grant program which is further discussed in the financial implications section of this report. The Region does not have the complete statistics from the most recent census to fully examine the cost impact by target groups. The application of a grant program would require determining if the program is a matching program or a universal program. A matching program could match exactly the grant provided by a local municipality, offer a grant proportional to the tax revenue sharing (the Region is approximately double the local municipality), or set a specific

5 grant amount approved by Council. The grant would be available only in those municipalities with a grant program. Conversely, Regional Council could specify a universal grant amount available to all eligible individuals across the Region. This latter scenario would create a greater degree of equity for a Regional program but increase the overall cost. Regional Council would have to also determine who qualifies for assistance: all lowincome property owners; low-income disabled; low-income seniors; all senior property owners? Further, the definition of low income would have to be determined and verified through an auditable mechanism. It is anticipated that the application, verification, and record keeping for a grant program would be administered at the local municipal level in conjunction with the tax records as is the practice for the current regional tax deferral program. 4.2 Enhancement of Provincial Tax Relief The Province has already established a program to provide property tax relief for both homeowners and renters. In 2004 the Ontario property tax credit for low-income seniors aged 65 and older was increased from a maximum of $500 to $625. At the same time the income reduction threshold was increased from $22,250 to $23,090 per couple; at $38,715 for a senior couple the property tax credit is fully clawed back. The recent Ontario Budget proposes to increase the threshold to match the anticipated increase later this year to the Federal OAS and GIS thresholds. The Ontario property tax credit program is a universal, cost effective program appropriately delivered at the Provincial level and consistent with the social support obligations of the senior levels of government. However, the program does not recognize the higher assessments and therefore the higher property taxes in the GTA. It is recommended that the Province further enhance the program by increasing the overall tax credit to be equivalent to the education portion of residential property tax, which as indicated previously would be $982 on the average regional residential assessment. 5. FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS This report does not propose any new Regional grant programs and as a result there are no financial implications as a result of the recommendations. Notwithstanding, if the Region were to offer grant based tax relief, the following analysis attempts to broadly quantify the potential financial impact. For example, following from Table 1, while the local municipal grant cost for grants was $330, 800 in 2006, under the proportional matching scenario proposed by Vaughan, the Regional cost of grant would amount to approximately $580,000. If this was expanded

6 using the proportional population as a basis, the grant would be $1.3 million for approximately 3200 households in the whole of York Region. The financial implications to the Region depend on the nature of the tax relief provided. While the incidence of low-income residents is well documented at each census, the connection between low-income status and home ownership is not as well documented. Therefore, it is particularly challenging to quantify the impact of various home ownership/renter oriented policy options for consideration. The reader is cautioned that program costs should be considered solely as an illustration and not as fully indicative of the actual costs anticipated. The York Region publication A Profile of York Region s Low Income Population, Research Highlights, based on the 2001 census (the full 2006 census results are not yet available), identified approximately 10% of York Region s population as falling within Statistics Canada s definition of low-income. Of this, 49% were in the core working group (25-64) and 12% were seniors. A different analysis of the 2001 census, based on home ownership and a household income range of $0-24,999 (the high end of the Statistics Canada low-income ranges), indicates that approximately 10% of households fall within the sample income bracket while approximately 5% were rented. Recognizing the limitations of the two analyses, using the 20,640 households falling within a low-income homeowner definition similar that of Statistics Canada, then costs may be as indicated in Table 2 following. Similarly, if 12% of the low-income population are seniors, then 2,477 individuals would be senior, low-income home owners. Table 2 Potential Grant Program Costs Illustrated Estimated Program Maximum Number Estimated Cost of Participants Low-income homeowners from 2001 census 20,640 $4.1 million* Low-income senior homeowners from 2001 census 2,477 $0.5 million* Low income seniors based on the existing local grant program in York Region 3200 $1.3 million** Low-income disabled n/a n/a *A regional median grant of $200 for 2006 is assumed. The median grant will increase for 2007 (see Table 1) **This projection would increase with the projected increases in the local grants for 2007.

7 6. LOCAL MUNICIPAL IMPACT There is no direct local municipal impact from the recommendations of this report. However, if a grant program is introduced, it is anticipated that the local municipalities, as the tax billing entities, would process the application, issue the grant amount and maintain the record keeping. In those local municipalities with an existing grant program, the administrative structure is in place but for others it would comprise a new administrative component. 7. CONCLUSION The Region s property tax deferral program ensures that no property owner will lose occupancy of their home due to the burden of property tax increases. This program is consistent with these of the other GTA regional municipalities. The Province offers an income based, refundable tax credit program. This report recommends that the Province enhance the Ontario Property Tax Credit program by increasing the refundable tax credit available to low-income persons to an amount equivalent to the education portion of the residential property tax. The Senior Management Group has reviewed this report.

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