Russ Ford's Blog

Trashing the Community- One Bag at a Time

John has lived in the lakeshore his entire life. He worked at a plant that no longer exists; partied at a union hall that has since converted into something else and regularly attended community functions especially those put on at his local church.

Age and with it mobility issues have caught up with him and he now only leaves his bungalow when necessary. He does however attend his church whenever he is able, but like the other parts of his life, John laments about its future.

The congregation is about 10% of what it was years ago. Membership is down so donations are down yet church costs have increased. Whether you have 10 or 100 people there on Sunday, the heating costs don't change

 This past week this church and many others just got saddled with another potential cost when the City's Executive Committee voted to impose fees on churches and charities for garbage collection services. John thinks this fee might be the tipping point for his church.

LAMP will also be affected by this new tax which according to the Toronto Star, which currently has a habit of being right, it could cost LAMP as much as $20,000 a year in garbage collection costs. If you visit our parking lot on a Monday morning you will see why. It has become the dumping ground for old sofas and used tires. The city will now charge us for providing that unwilling community service.

Churches rely on donations. Charities like LAMP rely on donations and government grants. The City of Toronto is a funder of LAMP so the extra $20,000 it wants in garbage fees is tantamount to a $20,000 funding cut from the city.

But LAMP cannot use the money it receives from the City to pay the City for garbage collection. All of our grants come with stipulations around service delivery. If we take the money from any grant, we will not be able to meet the conditions of that grant. Neither would we want to take the money from a program that is serving the citizens of our community.

So like John's church we may have to find this money from donations . While apparently now necessary, it is not exactly a campaign that will likely raise much public support. "We need your donations so we can pay the city to pick up the trash." Not exactly inspiring.

You thought you were donating to help some child learn, or help to provide an opportunity for someone to read or help support a teenager who is pregnant and has no supports. Well in a way you still are because if we cannot afford the $20,000 for the garbage, some of those programs will have to be cut or significantly reduced as many ore funded through donated dollars.

I have often said that politics is really about is choices. What services a government chooses to provide and how it chooses to provide them are choices. There are few absolutes. Yes, the city has to provide clean drinking water for example, but how it chooses to fund this mandatory service is a matter of choice.

The City says this tax on churches and charities will net them an additional $2.9 million in revenue. To put that somewhat in perspective, the motor vehicle registration tax which this administration chose to cancel netted the city $64 million a year.

Drivers had to pay $60 which is less than one fill up a year. If the city wanted to collect the same amount of money from drivers as it now wants to collect from churches and charities it could have reduced the vehicle registration tax from $60 to $2.75. So that is one choice- a tax on churches and charities or a tax on drivers of $2.75. My guess is most people would support paying the $2.75 rather than cut community services.

So if we did go the route of a $2.75 tax on cars because apparently the City says it needs this money, I would suggest that since no one like dealing with change, we round it up to $5.00 and use this extra $2 plus million to do something like help provide free recreation programs for children or saving Vincent Massey.

I am not suggesting we bring back the vehicle registration tax at $5.00 What I am saying is it is one of many options that should be considered before going after community base organizations like churches and non profits. These organizations are required of a civil society. These organizations build and maintain community in a way government cannot.

So what happened to the mantra of no new taxes? Once again according to the Toronto Star the city currently has an operating surplus of around $300 million. That is not new, the City runs an operating surplus every year. By law the City cannot run a deficit so every year they over estimate costs and under estimate revenues resulting in a surplus. That makes sense, I do the same thing at LAMP.

Last year the City had an operating surplus of $292 million which included a $37.2 million surplus in the collection of garbage. So the surplus in garbage from last year is ten times greater than the amount it says it needs form churches and charities this year.

The hardest hit will be the small food banks and small organizations that provide food to people like Out of the Cold programs. Food programs generate much solid waste and many are operated by volunteers. Where they will come up with the money is anyone’s guess. Somehow charging the homeless to eat is not a viable option.

So this is nothing but a money grab which will have no impact on the city’s bottom line but will have a very big impact on those in our community who provide services.

This is not the first time this has gone to city council. In 2012 the garbage tax was endorsed but then deferred until today. So in the interests of public accountability, here is a list of the councillors who voted to impose the garbage tax on churches and non profits last year and also supported the elimination of the vehicle registration tax.

These are the members of council who support shifting the burden of taxes to churches and charities from drivers.

List of Councillors who voted to tax churches and charities and also voted to cut vehicle tax
Mayor Rob Ford
Doug Ford
Doug Holyday
Mike Del Grande
Norm Kelly
Denzil Minnan-Wong
Paul Ainslie
Mark Grimes
Cesar Palacio
David Shriner
Frank Di Georgio
Peter Milczyn
Gary Crawford
John parker
Michelle Berardinetti
Jaye Robinson
Glen De Baeremaeker

The garbage tax goes to full Council in December. Before that happens you need to tell these 16 people (Holyday is no longer there) to keep their hands off your church and charities.

This is an issue of equity- going after the organizations in our community that among other things help the most marginalized.

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