The city’s top two mayoral candidates are continuing to take polar opposite sides as to whether Sault Ste. Marie taxpayers pay more or less than their comparative counterparts.
Rory Ring claims that Sault Ste. Marie’s taxes are among the highest of comparable cities, while Christian Provenzano counters that Ring is disseminating erroneous information and that his facts and figures are just not true.
More importantly, Provenzano said Ring has been previously told the numbers were incorrect and continues to publish them.
Provenzano is taking issue with tax figures that Ring, his strongest competitor, is circulating in a campaign brochure.
He argues that they are the same erroneous numbers he released very early on in the campaign through a news release and that Ring knows they are erroneous.
Ring compares Sault Ste. Marie’s tax rate per $100,000 of assessment with that of other Ontario municipalities, including Barrie, Peterborough, Sudbury and North Bay.
Ring said Wednesday his data come from a previous relationship he had with the Ministry of Finance administration and represent numbers prior to the allocation of the province’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund grant – the largest grant provided to municipalities from the province.
Ring said the OMPF grant ultimately reduces the amount of taxpayers’ homeowners pay. Given the recent announcement by the province that Ontario has a $15-billion deficit, municipalities have to be prepared for the OMPF grant to be put under scrutiny and could very well be reduced, he said.
“The OMPF is a provincial subsidy to municipalities and that is how you get a true understanding how a municipality is being subsidized,” he said.
Ring said the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie needs to get a better handle on how it is operating and bring a greater focus on how to address property taxes.
“If the OMPF grant is reduced, then that money will need to come from somewhere and that means taxes will go up,” he said.
But the data in his documentation are different than what has been provided in the BMA Management Consulting Inc. study – the independent third-party consultant that Sault Ste. Marie relies on for its comparators, and that Provenzano relies on.
That study showed that in 2017, Sault Ste. Marie had the third lowest residential property taxes among smaller communities that had a population under 100,000.
The BMA study also provided statistical data that showed Sault Ste. Marie’s property tax improved as a percentage of average household income over a three-year period along with the municipal burden of household income.
In essence, Provenzano says Ring is making it look as if Sault Ste. Marie taxpayers are paying an extra $187 per $100,000 of assessment than they really are.
Ring’s figures suggest a home valued at $100,000 is taxed $1,717 and Provenzano says the 2018 actual calculation is $1,530 – a difference of slightly more than 12 per cent.
Provenzano’s calculations indicate that’s the greatest percentage difference of the data his challenger has handed out but, in fact, all the comparator communities are wrong, with North Bay’s figures inflated by $88 or six per cent, Sudbury’s inflated by $38 or 2.6 per cent.
Ring charges that his data represent “the brutal facts of what our tax regimes look like compared to others.”
He agreed that tax bills received by homeowners may look different than that of his brochure, “but we could lose that OMPF money in a heart beat . . . this is the hard reality, the brutal facts of what our taxes look like compared to other municipalities.”
Provenzano told reporters in an email “the information is grossly and intentionally misleading.”
“Those same numbers are being provided to households across our community represented as a chart from the Ministry of Finance,” he said.
In the final days of the election campaign, Provenzano said he is of the view that “if a campaign has information that has been shown to be false and then knowingly distributes it anyways, that is an egregious action that is harmful to our local democracy and damaging to the public trust.”
Provenzano said he’s concerned that Ring wants to be the city’s mayor, but is knowingly misrepresenting important information.
“And I can tell you unequivocally, that if this is a Ministry of Finance documentation, which I don’t believe it is and can’t find it anywhere, then the ministry of finance is gravely overstating Sault Ste. Marie taxes and they wouldn’t do that,” he said. “What’s happened here is they’ve done their own math and they passed it off as a government chart. That’s really disconcerting.”
Provenzano urges voters to do their own math.
“That information in that brochure (mayoral candidate Rory Ring) is demonstrably incorrect and we have established that,” he said of his campaign team.
Two other mayoral candidates, Ted Johnston and Kemal Martinovic, have not become involved in the tax dispute issue.
The municipal election is Monday.