Imagine if London residents were given the opportunity to not only pay their taxes, but also donate additional funds to help the pay for services like road maintenance and affordable housing.
The idea might seem unusual to some, but Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson made that very suggestion during the city’s Corporate Services Committee meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 22). It wouldn’t be the last suggestion Henderson would make on Tuesday that would leave council colleagues shaking their heads.
Henderson, who has never been one to shy away from what he often calls “exciting ideas,” used the same description to describe his idea to have London residents make donations to the city above their individual tax bills. The councillor said his idea actually stems from the many emails councillors are receiving from the public “regarding their refusal to accept the zero tax increase.”
Henderson said the emails are clearly stating the public’s desire to pay the City of London extra monies “for certain reasons” with the expectation they would receive a charitable tax receipt in return.
“I think this is a great idea for people to help the city with things they want to do,” Henderson said. “And if we end up at zero, this is a way they could give money to the city.”
Under Henderson’s idea, London residents would see an extra box on their tax bill that would allow them to check off items they would be willing to pay additional monies to support.
On that list, Henderson said, would be four items the public could support. One would be publicly created food programs, such as an idea to serve soup to public school students, while a second would allow people to support “emergency shelters or affordable housing.” The third suggestion would allow people to support additional spending on road repairs or sewer maintenance while a four option, other, would allow people to make their own suggestions, “such as the library.”
Mayor Joe Fontana couldn’t bring himself to endorse Henderson’s idea, saying he didn’t know how many people would be interested in paying the city more money on top of their tax bill.
“I don’t know if it is an exciting idea, but it would be interesting. I think there is a whole lot of fact finding that would need to be done,” Fontana said.
City treasurer Martin Hayward cautioned that coupling Henderson’s idea with the tax bill “might get a little confusing” for the public. Hayward also said there would be “significant cost” associated with setting up such a process.
“You are actually shifting the burden over to the income tax side, which is an interesting concept,” Hayward said.
Ward 6 Councillor Nancy Branscombe was equally diplomatic, thanking Henderson for “thinking outside the box,” but adding the suggestion could well be opening a Pandora’s Box of problems. Like the mayor, Branscombe said she would expect taxpayers to take issue with the idea to donating money to the city on the heels of paying their individual tax bills.
“I’d be concerned with not only the cost of implementing the tax bill, but how we would provide oversight and management,” Branscombe said. “I think there are quite a few logistical problems; it is quite a novel idea for sure.”
Just three hours later, during the Planning and Environment Committee meeting, Henderson made another suggestion that left council colleagues bewildered.
During the meeting committee members discussed the idea of contracting outside consultants to assist the city with the 19 appeals that have been filed to the Ontario Municipal Board around the controversial Southwest Area Plan. The committee voted to support the idea of retaining both a land use planner and outside legal council, with only Branscombe and Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert voting against the proposal.
It was suggested by city legal staff that the consultants could cost the city $10,000-$15,000, per expert, per day. With that in mind, Henderson, who was concerned with how long the consultants would be retained, spoke up to suggest the city should consider simply hiring the new positions.
“John (Fleming, managing director of planning) has indicated we need more talent on staff, so I would say why not consider this a hire for us?” Henderson said. “My thought is it would be a lot cheaper to hire someone with talent.”
Hubert, who said the committee meeting wasn’t “the forum or opportunity for us to air out our well-aired commentary on the Southwest Area Plan” was nonetheless quick to respond to Henderson’s suggestion.
“One, it is not a person; it is a planner and a lawyer,” Hubert said. “If the councillor is prepared to take on their combined salary for the next 20 years and role that out, I am sure we can do a really good cost analysis on that. I don’t think that would be a smart idea.”
Branscombe was also quite clear Henderson’s suggestion didn’t make sense to her, saying she is “continually” baffled that members of council can talk about zero percent while continuing to come up with new ideas around spending.
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