Sunday, March 29, 2015

“Open for Business” or “Out to Lunch”?

Last Wednesday, Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin presented his first “State of the Region” address at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Niagara Falls.

Local media reported the Chair as saying: "For far too long, we've had a sign in the window saying, ‘out for lunch, back in an hour.’ We must do better. Niagara must be ‘open for business.’ Under my leadership and the leadership of my council colleagues — Niagara is open for business.”

Last Thursday, I tested his statement at Regional Council; unfortunately Council came up short.

Industrial Power Users Group:
First, Tim Clutterbuck, President of the Industrial Power Users of Niagara (IPUN), asked Council to support their Provincial lobbying efforts to reduce the cost of electricity for Niagara’s largest industries. They find it exceedingly difficult to compete with the $0.02 per kilowatt-hour automatic reduction for Northern Ontario industries and with the cheap industrial power rates in Western New York.

Since the Region supported IPUN’s similar proposal last year (as part of 2014 Niagara Week), I thought it would be a no-brainer to support their initiative now.

Instead, the majority of Council voted to refer the matter to Staff for a report sometime in May.

Tax Rates & Ratios:
Later, Council considered setting the 2015 Tax Rates and Ratios.

When approving the 2015 Budget in February, Council accepted the premise that this year’s tax increase would be $27.50 (or 1.92%) for the average residential property (valued at $236,134).

But now, because of new assessment growth in commercial and industrial tax classes, Staff calculated the final residential increase at $22.42 (or 1.62%).

Half to Residential, Half to Industrial:
Councillors discussed this $5.08 “benefit” two weeks ago and asked for options. Could we deliver half the benefit to residential property class owners – for a $24.66 or 1.77% increase – and use the other half to help commercial or industrial businesses?

When I saw that one of these options would reduce the industrial tax burden by 1.34%, I proposed it to Regional Council. Since this type of reduction was exactly what the Chamber of Commerce suggested a few years ago and given the Chair’s “open for business” catchphrase the day before, I expected Council to jump at this opportunity!

Instead, only Councillors Heit, Petrowski and I supported the idea. Perhaps the majority of Council wanted to keep the “out-to-lunch” sign on the door and voted to study the option for 2016.

Results Not Slogans:
Some have used the “open for business” slogan at the Region before. Maybe it’s time to concentrate less on slogans and more on delivering results.