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Harris predicts property taxes will decline

Nothing province is doing justifies hikes, Premier declares

Toronto Star - June 4, 1998
By Joel Ruimy - Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Premier Mike Harris says property taxes across the province shouldn't rise because of anything the province is doing - and should, in fact, drop over the next three years.

Harris made the remarks in the Legislature yesterday as a committee of MPPs approved legislation allowing Toronto and other municipalities to limit property tax increases for businesses to an annual maximum of 2.5 per cent for the next three years.

Harris' tax promise came during question period, when deputy NDP leader Tony Silipo (Dovercourt) asked Harris to extend the 2.5 per cent tax cap to residential properties.

"To the best of my knowledge," Harris replied, "there is absolutely not a single thing in anything I can see on the horizon that we are doing - and I don't think municipalities want to do anything - to cause any kind of tax increase anywhere on any class of taxpayers in Ontario."

"I fully expect that we will see taxes go down for business, for commercial, for farms and for residential homeowners over the next three years," the Premier added.

Bill 16, introduced last month, follows an earlier decision by the province to reassess properties across the province in line with their current market value.

The reassessments had threatened to bring triple-digit tax increases for thousands of business properties. Thousands more homeowners also face big increases, though many others will see their property taxes drop.

In response to massive protests by business, Finance Minister Ernie Eves introduced Bill 16, which gives cities and towns the option of putting an annual 2.5 per cent cap on property tax increases over the next three years.

Municipal bureaucrats warned that its complexity would lead to chaos at tax time. And opposition MPPs called on the government to grant home-owners the same protection on tax increases.

They said a freeze on business taxes could mean that a city faced with a cash crunch would have no choice but to get the money by raising the residential levy.

Yesterday, the government introduced 16 technical amendments to the legislation, addressing some of the complaints of the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario. But there was no protection for homeowners.

Association executive director Ken Cousineau said that, while the changes contained ``some movement in the direction we wanted to see, it's certainly not all we were hoping for.''

Over opposition complaints, a Tory-dominated Legislature committee approved the changes and the bill.

Bill 16 is expected to get third and final reading in the Legislature today or early next week.

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