Hamilton councillors soften fire tax increase blow to thousands of rural property owners


Hamilton councillors have lessened the tax blow to thousands of rural property owners in Winona and other areas because of changes to how the city provides its fire service.

About 5,800 rural properties in Stoney Creek and Glanbrook will see average taxes jump by 2.6 per cent rather than a proposed 4 per cent increase this year. In the Winona area, the average tax increase had been projected with the fire service tax shift to be about 6.8 per cent. Rural property owners in Ancaster, Dundas and Flamborough were also expected to absorb the tax shift for fire service as well, resulting in 4 per cent increases.

“The rural councillors were shocked (at the tax changes),” said Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson. “We were told a week before the tax bills were going out that the rural area was going to see a 4 per cent increase.”

Compounding the problem for councillors was even though rural residents are paying more for fire service — which is composed of volunteers — there will be no enhancement.

But for those residents who will be receiving a different fire service — a composite program that combines volunteer and career firefighters — taxes would be reduced.

A motion introduced by Ferguson at the May 12 council meeting, and supported 15 to 0, will use $1.4 million taken from the tax stabilization reserve to keep the average tax increase to 0.7 per cent for 2021. In 2022, though, rural property owners will have to pay an additional 1.3 per cent for fire service on top of whatever average tax increase councillors approve.

Mike Zegarac, corporate services general manager, confirmed no COVID-19 relief funding is being used to reduce the taxes.

The areas impacted include: the Winona area from Fruitland Road to the Grimsby border and from Lake Ontario to the escarpment; Rymal Road East to Golf Club Road between Highway 56 and Trinity Church Road; Twenty Road southward to Dickenson Road between Glover Road and Glancaster Road.

Rural property owners are shouldering a higher fire tax — it is a service that is area rated — because there are fewer residents in rural areas to share the cost of the city’s $3.5 billion assessment, said Zegarac. Hamilton’s rural area is shrinking as the urban boundary expands, causing about 5,000 properties to be redesignated urban from rural, he said.

Stoney Creek Coun. Maria Pearson, who represents about 4,350 properties in the Winona area that would be impacted by the fire service changes, said residents living from Fruitland Road to the Grimsby border were looking at a 4.7 per cent average tax increase for fire, on top of the 2.1 per cent tax hike.

“Believe me, I have been getting the calls,” she said.

Homeowners had demanded that councillors not approve the fire service changes, calling it “grossly unfair and inequitable” in a series of letters that were sent to the city.

Pearson said the changes to the fire service for the area, which were approved by council in August 2019, but with no funding to mitigate the tax shift at the time, has improved.

She said over the last two years there have been two major fires with no loss of life or injuries.

“I can tell you the response was phenomenal in both incidents,” said Pearson. “With the development going on east of Fruitland Road, it’s intensification. You are dealing with 10 to 20 units in a row. Fires spread very fast.”

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark said about 940 properties in Ward 9, located from Centennial Parkway to the Grimsby border, would see a tax shift for fire of about 1.3 per cent on top of the average tax increase of about 1.6 per cent.