The 99th Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) was held in Windsor from April 29 to May 2, 2010. During the policy session on Saturday May 1st, the delegates from over 160 Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade in the province of Ontario, representing 60,000 businesses of all sizes, in all economic sectors and from every area of the province, debated and overwhelmingly adopted the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce resolution calling for “Accountability of School Boards to Property Taxpayers”.
The resolution outlined the current lack of transparency and accountability to the taxpayers between school boards and municipalities and stems from a public school board report calling for the closure of an Oshawa high school and from the participation by the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce in the accommodation review process (ARC).
The Chamber argued that the provincially mandated ARC process is shortsighted and flawed and can have long reaching impacts on the local economy. “This lack of transparency can have a negative impact on business and good municipal planning through property taxes and residential and non-residential development charges”, stated Bob Malcolmson, CEO of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, adding, “school boards and municipal councils need to ensure they work together on decisions regarding education infrastructure so as not to undermine local economies”.
The Chamber contends that one area of the property tax base that has flown under the radar screen and is currently lacking accountable and transparency to the taxpayers is the education portion of the property taxes and education development charges (DC). DC assist municipalities achieve good planning. In light of the provincial legislation these areas can be negatively impacted long term by the Ministry of Education’s accommodation review process used by the school boards across Ontario.
The province of Ontario dictates the education tax rate to the municipalities, who collect the taxes and remit it to the school boards. The province gives a set base rate per student and the Ministry tops up the amount where necessary. In most cases the amount on the property tax bill ranges from 20 to 25% of the taxes.
The Chamber is not alone in its criticism of school review processes. The Community Schools Alliance (CSA) is a group of more than 150 municipalities across the Province that have joined together to try to convince the Ministry of Education to declare a moratorium on school closures until concerns about the accommodation review process are addressed.
The OCC’s mandate is to advocate strong policies on issues that affect its membership throughout Ontario’s business community. The recommendations adopted by the delegates urge the Government of Ontario to; implement a process on disputed school closings to provide the opportunity for municipalities to work together with the Ministry of Education, school boards and to develop policies addressing, transparency and accountability to the taxpayers between municipalities and school boards; a mutually agreed upon Accommodation Review Committee process; planning for declining enrolments; and an appeals process for municipalities.
The recommendation also urge the government to put in place a standing committee of the legislature to review and report its observations, opinions and recommendations on the report of the Auditor General that relates to the disbursement of public money on the education system, collected and disbursed from the property tax base.