Pantalone promises property tax rate freeze for seniors

Originally published in the Globe and Mail August 10th, 2010. To go to the Globe and Mail Website please click here

Aged Torontonians with household income of less than $50,000 would be eligible

In a bid to win over the city’s most reliable voters, Joe Pantalone is promising to freeze property-tax rates for seniors with a household income of $50,000 or less.

The deputy mayor made the pledge Tuesday as he unveiled his platform for Toronto’s over-65 set, which also includes appointing a seniors’ advocate, building “outdoor gyms” for the elderly and accelerating the Toronto Transit Commission’s plan to make every subway station accessible by elevator.

“Everything we do has to bear in mind what is best for seniors to be able to stay in their home, to basically move around in the city and even work, if they wish,” Mr. Pantalone told reporters at Bar Italia on College Street.

The deputy mayor estimated his tax freeze would cost the city $250,000 per year in foregone revenue. “The calculation is not a lot of money,” he said. “If you distribute that across the whole tax base, people won’t even know that it has happened.”

The financial impact would be limited in part because Mr. Pantalone’s proposal is not much different from the municipal government’s current property-tax relief program, which offers cancellations for pensioners with a household income of $36,000 or less and deferrals for those with incomes of $50,000 or less.

Disabled homeowners qualify for the same tax breaks. Both must apply to the city with proof of income for relief.

Mr. Pantalone’s proposal and the city’s existing program only cancel or defer the annual increase in the city’s tax rate, not the whole bill. The policy doesn’t affect property assessments; if the value of a low-income senior’s home spikes substantially, his or her property taxes could go up regardless.

Mr. Pantalone, the oldest of the major mayoral contenders, revealed his seniors plan as he and his rivals prepared for a debate Wednesday hosted by the Canadian Association of Retired People.

The deputy mayor played down the suggestion that his quiet campaign has allowed Rob Ford and George Smitherman to waltz into the top two spots in the polls.

“I don’t believe the race has been defined that way,” Mr. Pantalone said. “I’m sorry, there’s three major contenders in the race and there’s no doubt that they’re named … Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone.”

Along with tax relief, Mr. Pantalone vowed to help seniors get around Toronto more easily.

He promised more audible pedestrian signals, even-level paving at crosswalks and larger street signs. Of the leading candidates, he’s the only staunch advocate of Transit City, Mayor David Miller’s plan to extend light-rail deep into the inner suburbs.

As for his promise to speed up accessible retrofits of subway stations, he admitted that he would need provincial and federal funding to move up the TTC’s target.

“I want to keep to the TTC schedule at least and if you can convince the province and the feds, given our aging population … then maybe we can accelerate it.”