Mayor Eddie Francis has thinner skin than a brook trout, and it showed itself again in a critical March 10 letter he sent to CBC municipal affairs commentator Cheryl Collier, which he shared with City Council in a confidential memo.
Collier responded in great detail to the letter on March 15 but the mayor did not have the courtesy or temerity to forward her letter to the rest of Council.
I became aware of Collier’s response through a contact at CBC and emailed her at the University of Windsor to ask her if she minded if I post her response on my website. She was eager to grant me that permission when I told her that the mayor’s letter was shopped around to all of Council.
I have pared down the letter a little bit, while making sure to include the pertinent points, which demonstrate a differing of opinion with the mayor on the burden of Windsor’s business taxes. Enjoy:
Dear Mayor Francis,
Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to the Municipal Column I presented on CBC Windsor Morning dated Monday, March 10, 2014 . . . I am always happy to receive feedback from all listeners to the program and appreciate the amount of time and thought you and your staff put into the letter you sent me via email dated March 13, 2014.
I would like to take some time to address the issues you did have with some of the facts presented as part of that column, particularly those that reference non-residential taxes in the City from data collected from the 2012 BMA Municipal Study, which I used as a source for this column.
Since you have written me, I have now downloaded the 2013 BMA Municipal Study and will add information from that study to my responses to your letter as this was the most recent and the one that you also reference in your letter.
I would like to note here, however, that it is somewhat disheartening to have to visit other municipal websites to gain access to the 2013 and 2012 BMA Municipal studies. As an academic, it is crucial to have access to primary data as much as possible. In the interests of transparency and being “fully informed with the correct facts” as you say in your letter, I would suggest the City may want to follow the lead of other municipalities including Chatham-Kent, London, Sarnia, Norfolk County, and Lakeshore (2010 study) in making this primary data available to residents of participating municipalities.
From your March 13, 2014 letter, I have identified two main problems that you had with my column on March 10 and these are as follows:
1. That the comment, “that ‘we have higher business taxes than a lot of other municipal jurisdictions,’ is incorrect.”
2. That the comments, “‘that while Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis has held the line on residential taxes, Windsor businesses haven’t had the same benefit.’ And further, ‘that my research found the City of Windsor and City of Toronto lead the province in shifting the tax burden from residents to businesses,’ is [sic] also incorrect.”
I will address each of these in turn, referencing some assumptions your letter makes in its “corrections” to the language I used.
For your first point, I don’t dispute the numbers you have provided that compare Windsor to the average for “peer municipalities” with populations greater than 100,000. I did not at any time compare the City solely to larger municipalities; my comments were made in reference to all participating municipalities and in that context, my specific comment stands as being factually correct.
I will also note that even in the 2013 numbers you have shared with me in your letter, Windsor’s taxes for large industrial non-residential properties (such as the Chrysler minivan plant) are above the average for municipalities with populations greater than 100,000. If you reference the 2013 BMA Study directly, Windsor’s large industrial taxes are the highest in Southwestern Ontario (BMA 2013:337). In the context of my comments regarding the economic importance of Chrysler to the City, these are highly relevant numbers.
The first part of this second critique, which you have in quotations, is not something that I said; it was a summary made by the CBC editor who posted the story. In any case, without addressing all seven business categories separately as they are parsed out in the BMA reports, the comment I made in regard to different treatment over the years for residential versus non-residential tax rates is supported with the data in both the 2012 and 2013 studies.
I do not have access to 2004 and 2006 study numbers as I’ve already noted the lack of access to comparable BMA study data above, so I will not address these comparisons in your letter (p.2). None of the data on page two of your letter though address the issue of comparing residential tax rates to non-residential tax rates.
The second part of your second critique references the change in tax ratios from the residential to the non-residential sector and a comparison made to similar trends in the City of Toronto and how these are higher than in other municipalities in the province. I will quote the 2013 Chamber study which references the 2012 BMA Study:
According to the BMA Report, in 2012, 74% of the Ontario municipalities surveyed shifted some of the property tax burden from the residential class to the non-residential (i.e. commercial and industrial) classes.
Of them, the City of Windsor shifted more of the tax burden from the residential class to the non-residential classes than any municipality in Ontario other than Toronto (Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce 2013:12, emphasis in the original).
This conclusion is supported in my own reading of the BMA 2012 study. I also will refer to the 2013 BMA Municipal Study as it is the source used in your letter. In the Comparison of 2012 and 2013 Tax Ratios in a table on p.259 of the 2013 BMA study, Windsor is highlighted as a municipality that has increased tax ratios between 2012 and 2013 in all four reported business classes, including large industrial which is above the provincial threshold (BMA 2013:259).
A final comment you make in your letter is a presumption that my comments somehow equated to the idea that “holding the line on taxes for the residential category has…been done on the backs of the business classes.” I did not at any time say this in my verbal column on air or in any online comments attributed to me in the related published story. Causation between these two variables is certainly not absolute and at no time did I suggest it was. This does not mean the two are not correlated.
One other point I will address, is the comment you made on page two, paragraph eight of your letter in regard to the taxes for the Chrysler Minivan plant declining since 2008. I did actually reference a decline on the air, yet this was not mentioned in your letter. Decline, of course, is also due to multifaceted stimuli, not the least of which is declining CVA statistics.
In conclusion, I felt the need to take the time (without staff assistance) to respond to your detailed, but in many cases unfounded (based on my own research), critiques of a number of comments I made on air on March 10.
I want to assure you that despite the time constraints in producing a commentary on municipal affairs each week on top of my other full time duties at the University that I do take the time to do the requisite research. Facts and numbers can be used in many ways, as I tell my students in my Research Methods class, this is why I prefer to use primary data sources as opposed to receiving selected data that cannot be cross-checked.
How that data is interpreted is part of the political conversation that I always welcome your participation in, as I do others in the city.
Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair
Department of Political Science
University of Windsor