Taxes and value for money

(22 June 2018) – We got our final 2018 tax bill this week. It provides a good lesson in value for money.

The amount for our house is $3584.04. The city financial folk estimate it will go up to $3763.24 next year. That’s an increase of $179.20 or five per cent.

I sat down and compared this with what I will jokingly call my communications budget. Jokingly because I don’t really have one. Like everyone else I know, I don’t do budgets. I pay bills. The communications bills are for telephones and internet.

We don’t have any cable or satellite in our house. We dropped Rogers a couple of years ago. I tried one of those streaming Android boxes for a while, but it turned into a big PITA and sits unplugged on a basement shelf. I subscribe to CBC News Network, Netflix, Crave TV and Major League Baseball TV. That gets me more television viewing than I need for a combined cost of about $425 a year. Our Internet service from Sentex Communications costs about $920 a year.

At the same time as we ditched Rogers Internet we also got rid of our Bell land line. We now just have a couple’s plan with Bell Mobility that gets more data transfer than we need, unlimited texting and free long distance anywhere in Canada. All at the mind-numbing cost of $2,250 per year.

I know we could get it cheaper if we lived somewhere else. Canadians pay among the highest mobile phone and Internet access charges in the world. I shudder to think how much money I could have saved if my parents hadn’t decided to come here sixty years ago. Never mind, though. It is what it is, and we pay the bills we sign up for.

The total cost for this communications package is about $3620. That’s close to what I pay in municipal property tax. For the cost of telephone and Internet, the city gives me fire and police protection, paved roads, clean drinking water, sanitary sewage, garbage collection, a library, recreation centres, parks and playgrounds, buses, social services and more. The tax also covers my annual public school levy of $520.20 and an infrastructure levy of $15.24.

From where I sit, it looks like a bargain. The only blemish is that we used to get more from the city. Before politicians became gripped in a fear of taxation we got much better value for our money. Public transit, for one thing, has a lot more room for improvement now than it used to have. Other user fees, such as storm water management, facility rentals etc. go up every year.

We still get very good value for the property taxes we pay. Not noticing the user fees makes the value look even better. Governments from Carden Street to Parliament Hill have found they can make themselves a tasty meal using recipes developed in the private sector.

Look at Rogers and Bell. They’ve been dining out on us for years. Or Swoop. Westjet’s new ultra-low-cost division took off this week. When you buy a ticket, You pay for a spot on the plane. That’s all. If you want to select your own seat and have your family in the same row, pay extra. If you want a seat with six extra inches of leg room, pay more. Ditto for a carry-on bag and checked luggage. The deep price drop edges back up when the “voluntary” user fees are put on your credit card. It will always be cheaper, but it will never be comfortable.

That’s the way of the world now, whether you’re running a city or a megacorporation. It’s all about cutting the price with one hand and raising your costs with the other.

You still get reasonable value for your money with the city, but it might not stay that way. It all depends on the quality of politicians we elect next October.