Revitalization

Ottawa Street Revitalization Preceded Centre Mall Redevelopment

By Jason Leach
Published April 05, 2009

Is this article really about Ottawa St or is it a promo for some of the Spec's advertisers?

Some of the boost in activity [on Ottawa Street] can be credited to the huge multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Centre Mall, which sits between Ottawa and Kenilworth streets abutting Barton Street on the north side.

Eventually, the former mall will be converted to a sprawling outdoor power centre with a Boston Pizza restaurant, a 105,000-square-foot new format Canadian Tire store, a Metro, Zellers and many others.

Either way, I can tell you one thing, having been in Portland and Seattle recently: nowhere near the urban areas of those cities could big boxes be found.

Instead, it was filled with lots of street trees, parking, transit, flower pots and wonderful landscaping, along with business district after business district. I'm not sure that I saw a single empty storefront anywhere I went.

And of course the sidewalks are all pedestrian-friendly (only in Hamilton can we take a sidewalk and make it unfriendly to the very people who use it).

The one guy in this article talking about more flowers on Kenilworth is bang on. They need trees every 20 feet to create a nice urban canopy as well.

Ottawa Street has been humming back to life for many years now. Sure, a couple stores came from Centre Mall, and yes, the Farmers Market is the biggest fish they've landed from the mall; but to suggest that these streets have a chance because of Centre Mall is ludicrous.

The East Hamilton Radio guy is right - big box complexes offer a chance for independents to locate nearby and offer something that has never been offered in a big box store - customer service.

The Spec sort of has it right - the Centre Mall project will help Ottawa Street. Not because it's such a great project, but because it's such a bad project.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 09:44:03

I agree with your points Jason, they're giving credit where it's not due in the Spec article.

If anything the big box stores, once complete, can risk turning Ottawa, Barton and Kenilworth into freeways for people coming from far and wide to go to the big box store and then fly home. The redevelopment will bring big challenges for Ottawa Street I predict.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 11:33:17

>> Ottawa Street has been humming back to life for many years now.

2001 Commercial property tax rates - 6.29%
2002 Commercial property tax rates - 5.97%
2003 Commercial property tax rates - 5.32%
2004 Commercial property tax rates - 4.82%
2005 Commercial property tax rates - 4.79%
2006 Commercial property tax rates - 4.47%
2007 Commercial property tax rates - 4.52%
2008 Commercial property tax rates - 4.57%

This is why business investment is up, they're now allowed to keep more of their profits. Jason, while you may like flower pots and wonderful landscaping, businesses like making more money. If you can help them do this, they will fill your city with "business district after business district".

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By C'monnnn (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 11:54:06

The only reason Ottawa St's empty storefronts are being filled up so quickly Today is due to Centre Mall pushing all those smaller tenants who can't afford rent on Stucco-covered styrofoam 'stores'.
So in reality, Centre Mall isn't attracting more/new businesses but rather moving them around to streets like Kenilworth, or Specialty Streets like Ottawa (which needed Marilyn Dennis of CityLine for publicity, not a Big Box peice of crap that hides 'Centre Maul' from Barton St.
So really, people... open your eyes and don't buy into The Spec's propoganda!

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By JonC (registered) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 12:00:04

Smith, try using your head before posting. The tax rate on Ottawa street is the same as everywhere else in the city, so it's effect on commercial revitalization in one segment of the city versus another is nil. Yet another poor correlation.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted April 06, 2009 at 12:12:59

Ottawa St. has been vibrant since we moved here almost 9 years ago. It's always been difficult to get a parking spot on a Saturday, so we prefer to walk down-- it's full of out-of-towners doing fabric shopping for all their decorating, bridal, dance/figure skating needs. The restaurants are reasonable and great. My husband and I went to Limoncello for Valentine's day-- I believe this establishment pre-dates the Barton St. power centre by many years. The antique stores are, to my mind, nicer than those on Locke St. The only immediate benefit for Ottawa St. that I can think of is the re-location of the Centre Mall farmer's market to a couple of lots behind Ottawa St. itself-- one more reason besides swimming lessons at the YWCA to take in Ottawa St. on a Saturday morning.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 12:30:28

>> so it's effect on commercial revitalization in one segment of the city versus another is nil.

I never said that it helped one area over another, just that it helped period. Furthermore, the whole city has seen an increase in commercial development as tax rates have dropped and that's a fact. Why does it surprise you that businesses would invest more when they are allowed to make a greater return on those investments? That's just common sense, unless of course you don't think businesses are motivated by the bottom line.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 14:17:44

A Smith, we could lower the tax rate to 1%, and I you're right that businesses will likely flock here. However at that rate would the city be able to cover infrastructure and maintenance expenses? What about public transit? Social services? Business helps support some of these things, but the correlation is by no means a direct one, and it's often a slow reversal of fortunes, not instant.

We always have to balance our desire to attract business here with the amount of revenue we pull in from the tax system. What we have here is a curve, and we have to find the point on that curve that maximizes revenue for the city, not for private businessmen. I don't pretend to know where we are on that curve, but I don't think we want to be too hasty either way. Just because the vacancy rates are falling does not mean the city itself is in better overall financial shape.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 14:46:27

Michelle Martin, great observations from a local resident in the area. I especially LOVE your comment about it being impossible to get a parking spot, so now you walk. That's precisely what we need to develop downtown, especially once we get LRT. Street parking galore should be available on every major street downtown...I don't get why we have these barren stretches of York/Cannon/Main etc.... with no parking on the street curb. Portland's downtown was precisely how you describe Ottawa St on a Saturday morning. Impossible to find street parking, so we hopped on the streetcar and LRT and used our feet. And yes, the food on Ottawa is awesome...check out Logans, next to Limoncello. Amazing.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 15:36:52

"I never said that it helped one area over another" Which is why it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of one specific area showing growth, thank you for concurring that you're wasting everyone's time with your inanity.

As for Ottawa street, I don't often make it out that way during weekdays. I have the same impression from the weekends that I've been there that have been expressed by others, but what is it like during the week?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 17:10:42

>> However at that rate would the city be able to cover infrastructure and maintenance expenses?

Increasing market demand pushes property values higher, so yes, lower rates will ensure that the city has plenty of resources for basic services.

>> I don't pretend to know where we are on that curve, but I don't think we want to be too hasty either way.

Is it unreasonable to aim for the GTA average in terms of tax rates?

>> Just because the vacancy rates are falling does not mean the city itself is in better overall financial shape.

The only cities with high vacancy rates are those where nobody wants to live. Conversely, when you see new construction, that is a sign that the city is doing something right. However, what explains the difference between Hamilton and Burlington on that score? Why does the market like Burlington much more than Hamilton? I believe it's because Burlington allows residents to keep more of their wealth.

Property taxes are taxes on success. Therefore, if I renovate my home and it's value goes up by $10,000, Hamilton charges me $165 for my efforts. If I live in Burlington and I do the same thing, my taxes only go up by $110. Therefore, what community is going to invest more in maintaining and improving the quality of their housing stock?

If Hamilton truly wants better quality homes that are in greater demand from the buying public, it needs to stop punishing success.

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By asmith.ca (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2009 at 18:11:09


I am willing to pitch in and create a website for A. Smith - so he has a place to share his views and we don't need to read it here.

Anyone else in?

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 09:24:57

It's well known that A Smith, who likes to hide behind anonymity, only has one horse which he flogs until it lies dying on a taxpayers' sidewalk. Responding to his insanity simply fuels his energy. I for one don't like cruelty to animals and while I feel everyone has a right to their opinion, I think when a person allows their opinion to turn into coloured spectacles through which they view the world, their opinions become dreary and repetitive. There's no reasoning with this sort of individual and as such, it'd probably be best if their posts were simply ignored.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 09:27:40

As far as Ottawa Street goes, I like Jason's comment about the on street parking. Although I think I can answer his question. In many of the areas you list, parking is allowed on street except during rush hour, the problem is that those streets are designed to convey traffic and that in turn creates significant danger if you're trying to pull out of a parking space on the side of the street.

As for Ottawa Street itself, I've been there several times on weeknights and while there are parking spots available, there are always people walking around...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 11:25:05

Frank >> Responding to his insanity simply fuels his energy. I for one don't like cruelty to animals and while I feel everyone has a right to their opinion

Awesome counterargument Frank. I like the fact that you don't even try to argue in favour of high tax rates, but simply throw out personal insults. That's a sure sign of someone who doesn't let logic cloud his thinking.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 07, 2009 at 11:47:26

In Frank's defence, he's probably experiencing logic fatigue after several unremitting months of your incorrigible single-issue fanaticism. Everything with you turns into an infinite regress, and most reasonable people just don't have the time or inclination to keep jumping down the rabbit hole.

You've been invited to submit an essay articulating your case for lower tax rates as the single most important cure for every social and economic ill. The offer stands; in the meantime, please stop indiscriminately hijacking every other thread.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 11:54:08

It's well known that A Smith...only has one horse which he flogs until it lies dying on a taxpayers' sidewalk.

After which the taxpayer has to clean it up him/herself because having animal control officers is socialism which will sap us of our moral fibre. Having to dispose of all the dead horses by ourselves, will turn us into Captains of Industry, striding across the economic landscape like Galtian collosii! Woohoo! It worked for A Smith after all. I mean, if he weren't a titan living off the proceeds of his prudent investments, he wouldn't have so much time on his hands to pass on his pearls of wisdom to the rest of us. Let me at those rotting carcasses!

I like the fact that you don't even try to argue in favour of high tax rates

That's because people who favour high tax rates exist only in the fever swamp of your imagination. Here in the real world, opposing dangerously low tax rates is not the same thing as favouring high ones.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 11:57:40

I think I'm going to stop reading through the comments on RTH for a while. Can someone please post a headline letting me know when A Smith is gone.

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By Monkeysweat (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 12:14:42

Can someone whip up a Greasemonkey script to hide comments by A Smith?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 12:22:26

Ryan >> in the meantime, please stop indiscriminately hijacking every other thread.

That's right, don't talk about how falling tax rates have increased profit margins, thus lowering the risk of investing, we all know that businesses only care about "street trees, parking, transit, flower pots and wonderful landscaping".

In fact, if our manufacturing and industrial workers could walk into work and be surrounded by lush gardens of beautiful flowers and tempting scents, they would be the most productive in the world, even with outdated equipment.

What was I thinking?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 12:35:58

Highwater >> That's because people who favour high tax rates exist only in the fever swamp of your imagination. Here in the real world, opposing dangerously low tax rates is not the same thing as favouring high ones.

What evidence do you have that lowering tax rates to the GTA average would be dangerous? The bulk of the taxes we pay go towards employee costs, where the average wage is much higher than the average wage of Hamilton taxpayers. What is wrong with city employees earning a wage that reflects Hamilton taxpayers ability to pay, while not being unduly taxed relative to our neighbours? Are Hamilton taxpayers second class citizens relative to city employees?

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By Pogue (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 12:40:48

For fooks sakes Smith we're not idiots. We get it. Lower taxes are better than higher taxes all things being equal. But all things are NOT equal, right? Cities are big complex places and business people consider lots of things before deciding whether to invest. Higher taxes plus better amenities, more customers and more skilled workers can work out to be a good deal for a business if they end up ahead of the game. There's lots of factors to take into account but you're only interested in one factor and no other. Okay, we get it. Point made. Time to move on. There's more to the world than tax. If yeh can't break out of yer low tax ghetto no one's gonna bother listening to you any more.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 13:04:54

What evidence do you have that lowering tax rates to the GTA average would be dangerous?

Goalpost move #27,578. You have consistently argued for a tax rate of 1%. Now, in an effort to sound rational, you're pretending you've only advocated for the GTA average. No one's buying.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 13:15:50

Highwater, the GTA average is about 1%. In fact, Toronto, which has the largest population in the GTA has a residential tax rate of about .85%. Oakville 1%, Burlington 1.1%, Milton .9%, Mississauga 1%, Brampton 1.2%, Richmond Hill 1%, Vaughn 1%, Markham 1%.

If I made you think I was trying to sound rational, I apologize.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 13:37:33

I'd apologize too, except, well, you're A Smith.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 14:40:39

A Smith may be interested in this assessment from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.as...

Hamilton's property tax rate vs. median income (4.2%) actually compares fairly well to most nearby communities. (Toronto: 2.9%, Oshawa 4.5%, Oakville: 3.9%, Milton: 4.4%, Burlington: 3.3%, Mississauga: 3.3%, Brampton 4.4%, Vaughan: 5.1%, Richmond Hill: 5.1%).

Which leads me to conclude that the level of residential property taxation isn't really A Smith's primary issue...it's actually the level of property values in the city, by which Hamilton sorely lags all of the above. Which are highly influenced by the livability and desirability of the community.

Real estate is based on 3 tenets: Location, Location, Location. Location is determined largely by having public assets, in good condition, conveniently placed to benefit a property owner.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 15:06:47

A Smith wrote: "Awesome counterargument Frank. I like the fact that you don't even try to argue in favour of high tax rates, but simply throw out personal insults."

My choice was to not argue simply because like I said, you see everything with tax coloured glasses. I'm not in favour of higher tax rates but neither do I equate lower tax rates to the solution for each and every problem that arises.

Time to give it a rest.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 15:39:45

arienc >> Which leads me to conclude that the level of residential property taxation isn't really A Smith's primary issue...it's actually the level of property values in the city

You're correct. I believe that the city is unnecessarily depressing property values (most people's biggest asset) by insisting on keeping tax rates too high. I wouldn't mind paying more in total property taxes, as long as it was a smaller percentage of the underlying asset. That way, the city still gets the money it needs, but the property owners increase their net worth.

>> it's actually the level of property values in the city, by which Hamilton sorely lags all of the above. Which are highly influenced by the livability and desirability of the community.

How does a community become desirable? By having homes that are in good condition so that the area looks prosperous. Hamilton has tax rates that punish rising property values and so the result has been to decrease the amount of money people will invest in the upkeep of their homes.

When people don't invest in their properties, they start to look run down. When a city looks run down, people don't want to live there anymore. It sounds superficial, but most people like living near well maintained and well built homes.

If tax rates were capped at 1%, this would increase the return on investing in one's home, making it much more likely that people would do so. Over time, homes and neighbourhoods would start to look new again and this in turn would make Hamilton a much more desirable place to live and invest. Hamilton is going through an ugly stage right now and it needs a makeover. The best way to do that is to stop punishing homeowners for trying to do just that.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 16:14:50

A Smith said "If tax rates were capped at 1%, this would increase the return on investing in one's home, making it much more likely that people would do so. [Over time], homes and neighbourhoods would start to look new again and this in turn would make Hamilton a much more desirable place to live and invest. Hamilton is going through an ugly stage right now and it needs a makeover. The best way to do that is to stop punishing homeowners for trying to do just that."

I didn't want to get involved in this but this part bothered me. Do you really believe that the only reason people don't improve their homes is because they fear an increase in its assessed value? There are so many other factors that come into play with the decision to upgrade the home, for example one important factor (for me anyway) is how much the homeowner likes their community. If I lived in a house that was close to public transit, schools, green space, markets, etc., then I'm much more likely to stay put and spend the money to upgrade my existing home rather than moving.

I've added emphasis to the key part of your argument. It will take time for the property values to rise enough to offset the original drop in tax revenue, if it ever does at all. Businesses and people move to a city for more than just the tax rates. Yes, dramatically lowering tax rates would probably attract newcomers but how long will they stay in a city that can't afford to fill potholes or fix broken water mains?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 19:34:06

UR >> Do you really believe that the only reason people don't improve their homes is because they fear an increase in its assessed value?

In Hamilton, if you spend $10,000 increasing the value of your home, you decrease your net income by $165. In Burlington, if you invest the same $10,000, your net income drops by only $110. Therefore, what community is less likely to want to invest in the upkeep of their homes?

>> If I lived in a house that was close to public transit, schools, green space, markets, etc., then I'm much more likely to stay put and spend the money to upgrade my existing home rather than moving.

Hamilton and Burlington have similar levels of public services and yet more people would rather live in Burlington than Hamilton. How do you account for this?

>> It will take time for the property values to rise enough to offset the original drop in tax revenue, if it ever does at all.

Even if that's the case, so what. Property values reflect consumer demand for living in a community, so if property values rise when tax rates are dropped, it shows that people actually want lower taxes and not more government services.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 22:18:05

This is like Groundhog Day but not nearly as funny.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 22:46:46

I made a suggestion a few days ago that there be a limit to the number of posts that any one person could make on a given topic. Perhaps there is some sort of software available that could monitor this?

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 23:01:56

Yes making the $10000 upgrade in a Burlington home would save the owner $55 a year on property tax compared to another who made the same upgrade here. But that doesn't account for the fact that the original price of the Burlington house was much higher (assuming both houses are the same) and thus that $55/year in savings is negated by the higher mortgage payment and/or down payment made to buy it. People who care about and take pride in their homes will always make the upgrade if it improves their quality of life, people aren't all machines whose sole mode of reasoning is through a balance sheet. I can't imagine anyone not upgrading a leaky bathroom or drafty windows just to save a few dollars a month on their tax bill.

"Hamilton and Burlington have similar levels of public services and yet more people would rather live in Burlington than Hamilton. How do you account for this?"

I won't make any claims as to why any body does anything because human interactions are too complex to simulate with only a few variables. Some people may be attracted to low tax rates but that is only one of many factors people would consider.

"Even if that's the case, so what. Property values reflect consumer demand for living in a community, so if property values rise when tax rates are dropped, it shows that people actually want lower taxes and not more government services. "

You're missing (or maybe choosing to not acknowledge) my point, if we dropped taxes then the city would face an immediate drop in revenue but property values would not immediately rise to offset the drop. Perhaps they would eventually rise as people moved in but if it takes too long the city would be faced with an increasing budget shortfall leading to reduced services which would actually drive down prices.

This is the last comment I'll be making on this topic, I allowed myself to get involved in another A Smith vs the World thread and I'm getting out now before it gets worse. What aggravates me most is that I don't necessarily disagree with you A Smith. Lowering tax rates is one tool local governments can use to attract new comers but it is not a magic bullet to cure all of Hamilton's problems. Any drop must be done carefully to avoid bankrupting the city while we wait for the new Hamiltonians to come.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 23:17:40

A Smith > In Hamilton, if you spend $10,000 increasing the value of your home, you decrease your net income by $165. In Burlington, if you invest the same $10,000, your net income drops by only $110. Therefore, what community is less likely to want to invest in the upkeep of their homes?

You make 2 very flawed assumptions here.

One is that MPAC actually looks at your house when assessing. They don't. They take the square footage and look at the sale prices of similar properties in the neighbourhood. Taxes do not factor in whatsoever to one's decision to upgrade or to properly maintain their homes.

The other is that by reducing municipal taxes you somehow gain market value. If one has the choice between buying a home in Hamilton for $188K, with $2,500 annual taxes and a home in Burlington for $375K with $3,500 annual taxes, which will you choose? If the Hamilton home were taxed at $1,750 (the same rate as Burlington), would there be so much demand the price would go up to $375K? Very unlikely.

As I stated earlier, tax is not a major factor in the decision to move to a particular city. Location IS a major factor. This is defined by access to jobs, and to quality of life provided. Things like convenient, rapid transit greatly enhance access to economic opportunities, and thereby enhance market values far more than tax rates. And as market values go up, your the tax rate problem thereby is addressed.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 23:32:41

arienc, you make a make HUGELY flawed assumption, that A Smith cares to discuss 'facts' or use 'logic'. I want dogma and I want it now. You disagree with him, so you're obviously a godless communist and he is the virtuous capitalist, who's god smiles on the hard labours of his creations (and smites the workers of Stelco). Now fight!

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 08, 2009 at 09:29:15

"And as market values go up, your the tax rate problem thereby is addressed."

AMEN! This is so self-evident it's a wonder some people can't see it. To say we should cut the tax rate to make market values go up is an example of what Feynman famously called "cargo cult thinking" -

"In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas -- he's the controller -- and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land."

http://www.pd.infn.it/~loreti/science.ht...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2009 at 02:50:01

UR >> You're missing (or maybe choosing to not acknowledge) my point, if we dropped taxes then the city would face an immediate drop in revenue but property values would not immediately rise to offset the drop.

According to the 2006 Census...

Hamilton average owned dwelling value = 268k
Hamilton median income (family) = 80k
Ratio of owned dwelling value/income = 3.35

Burlington average owned dwelling value = 348k
Burlington median income (family) = 86k
Ratio of owned dwelling value/income = 4.05

Oakville average owned dwelling value = 472k
Oakville median income (family) = 102k
Ratio of owned dwelling value/income = 4.63

These numbers indicate that people invest more of their income in their home when tax rates are lower. If Hamilton wants people to invest a greater amount of their income in their home, they need to stop punishing them when their house rises in value.

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