I was propped up in bed reading Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. Chichikov sat in the public house, wining and dining the upper crust of N., hoping to buy their dead souls.
Sitting in a dark corner of the bar, was Deep Throat, my contact at City Hall. He reported that Community Services planners, environmental engineers, financial officers, the mayor and a few select councillors were working in the back rooms at City Hall putting the final touches to the proposed 2005 Property Improvement Tax System. PITS, as it will be known, should come into effect in early 2005 after a speedy process that allows for limited public input on second reading of the Bylaw. For the sake of expediency, the Bylaw will get first and third readings at the same time since it is a forgone conclusion that the bylaw will receive 100% council approval, the Mayor concurring.
On a separate, but related subject, DT said there is a move to change the procedural bylaw. The General Government Committee will set out new guidelines for public presentations where poetry is used. All poems must be limited to 8 lines of rhyming iambic pentameter with printed copies available for councillors who are not used to reading poetry, it being one of the Arts and not a Sport like skiing or hockey of which they know much. Presenters must not tap out the rhythm of their work on the podium since this causes drumming noises on Cogeco TV and Greg might begin to rumba around his desk the next day.
PITS will increase the assessed value of all properties in the city, making the budget process much easier for council. The budget chief has lobbied to have the first year of additional revenue from PITS put aside in a Reserve Fund. It is expected that the new tax will add 30% to the tax base.
In an interview with a highly placed source in the Building department, DT said that all new buildings will have a setback of three feet from the street line. This space should be paved and will be used for garbage collection and temporary storage of children’s toys and bicycles, providing enough room for goalie nets and basketball hoops. Backyards will be limited to a 10-foot open space, thus encouraging people to build larger homes on smaller lots.
All residences will be allowed one garage door, although there is no restriction on the depth of the garage so owners will still be able to have two or three cars. For existing homes, there will be a parking surtax system where owners of cars parked in the open can purchase a daily parking slip ($2.00) from the solar-powered ticket dispenser on each block. This surtax will come into effect in 2006, giving homeowners time to construct a proper garage for their vehicles. Retrofitted garage extensions are expected to add another $750,000 in assessment.
Section 3 of PITS deals with the Grass and Parks Space (GRASP), where a surcharge for having a lawn or living within 500 meters of a ‘parkland’ will add 5% to the assessed value of residences. It is hoped that this will stop the annoying public presentations about keeping vacant city lots as places for public enjoyment when they could be better used for assessable houses.
GRASP will not apply to new subdivisions or new residences that are built to code, since they will have no front or back yards. When I queried DT on the model for this subdivision plan, I was referred to the new subdivisions north of Toronto as being a prime example of how we ought to be building in our city. A recent fact-finding mission to the Georgian Raceway also took a side trip to view these southern phenomena.
A Community Services memo, which mysteriously appeared on my email courtesy of DT, said that they agreed with the mayor’s vision of having no trees, pools or ponds since the outlying area around the city had numerous trees, lakes, etc. The same thinking applied to having lawns, as there are many farms in the area where city residents can visit and see grass.
There was no truth that there would be a surcharge for flower beds since someone had lobbied very hard to keep these as tax exempt if they met the standards of the Blooming Community project. However, anyone who seeks exemption from the 5% PITS surcharge for a garden must apply for re-zoning of that area to ‘farmland’. There is a small fee for that application which will be applied against the NBMCA debt.
In a move that ties in with PITS, all goldfish ponds must be removed by 2006 since the Health Unit mosquito control program considers these a public health hazard. The only option is to enclose the ponds in a screened structure that meets the building code for animal husbandry, section 237 (b) (ii). A building permit is required. A former building official opined that section 73 (15) (iv) might apply if the ponds were viewed as a fish farm, but he thought the city might instruct its inspectors to sidestep the Ontario Building Code Act.
East Ferris is on the record that they will accept all goldfish ponds as fish farms and will exempt them from taxes. East Ferris and Callander have also gone on record as never using PITS in their municipalities. DT said the Mayor wanted to sue East Ferris for trying to steal residents, but this was deferred after talking to the solicitor who said he, the mayor and some councillors might have a conflict of interest.
The draft public announcement for PITS will be accompanied by a large billboard, featuring the Mayor’s photo, promoting the PITS plan as the new wave of the future in city planning. The mayor will approach other northern cities promoting this innovative tax plan as being the model to attract people and businesses from the south. Southerners will find the new subdivisions very reassuring, and along with large box stores, being just like their old home.
DT confided that the Nipissing Stage will be presenting a musical in conjunction with the introduction of the new tax program. The long working title is “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, but North Bay has the PITS” may be changed so the title will fit on a ticket. A SWOT team will work on this project.
This copying of the southern planning ideals will attract professionals, such as doctors, dentists and lawyers to the north since it will no longer be viewed as the hinterland just north of Barrie.
Highway 11 will take on a new meaning, as it becomes a conduit for northern commerce to make its way to the markets of the south. DT says the 4-laning is obviously being built for GTA residents, not northerners, as it moves north only as those GTA people buy up our land. Council feels that the Sudbury / Toronto highway 69 corridor has already received preferential treatment due to Sudbury’s version of PITS where they have higher assessment and no lawns or trees.
. . . the book fell on my face and I awoke with a start.
Turning off the light, I considered Chichikov’s scheme to enhance his estate holdings with dead souls, I wondered yet again at the identity of Deep Throat. Could he be a councillor, one of All the Mayor’s Men?