Are Kingston taxes higher than those in comparable cities in Ontario?

TLDR: No.

Exhaustive research below.

Really? Somebody online insists that they're, like, the highest tax rates anywhere ever.

S/he's wrong. Probably also says things like "government should be run like a business".1

Methodology

Let's start with "what's a comparable city?"

Population size is the clearest metric here. Nothing else really makes sense. A tiny village isn't a fair comparison. Nor is a borough of a major city, nor is a city more than twice Kingston's size. Size matters. Municipal taxes pay for municipal services for the population the municipality serves. Something weird seems to happen with taxes for all mid-sized cities, too (see below), which makes comparisons that don't account for this doubly inappropriate.

In short, population size is the common-sense metric for determining "comparable" in a tax scenario. But hey, if you don't like population size, there are two other ways to measure this below. Stay tuned!

Setting a comparative range based on population size

From the 2016 census (via Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_municipalities_in_Ontario)

Kingston's population is 123,798.

15 municipalities is a reasonable basis for comparison, so let's move up and down seven slots on either side of Kingston:

Municipality Population
Clarington 92,013
Brantford 97,496
Chatham-Kent 101,647
Waterloo 104,986
Thunder Bay 107,909
Milton 110,128
Ajax 119,677
Kingston 123,798
Whitby 128,377
Cambridge 129,920
Guelph 131,794
St. Catharines 133,113
Barrie 141,434
Oshawa 159,458
Greater Sudbury 161,531

And now: LET'S TALK TAX RATES!

What's our basis of comparison?

We're using "Residential". If there are varying rates by region, we're going to use "Central" or the closest equivalent. All rates from 2018.

All amounts are per $1000 evaluated. Links to the actual tax rates are next to the city and amount. First, here are the municipalities again ordered by population size:

Municipality Taxes per $1K Source
Clarington $12.2 https://www.clarington.net/en/town-hall/property-tax-rates.asp
Brantford $11.9 https://www.brantford.ca/en/living-here/resources/Documents/2018txrates.pdf
Chatham-Kent $14.9 https://www.chatham-kent.ca/Taxes/Documents/2018%20Tax%20Rates.pdf
Waterloo $11.0 https://www.waterloo.ca/en/government/resources/Documents/Finance/Property-tax-rates–-2018.pdf
Thunder Bay $15.1 https://www.thunderbay.ca/en/city-hall/resources/Documents/Tax-Rates-2000-2018.pdf
Milton $6.9https://www.milton.ca/en/live/resources/2018-Tax-Rates.pdf
Ajax $11.5 https://www.ajax.ca/en/home-and-property/resources/Taxes/Business/2018-Tax-Rates.pdf
Kingston $13.6 https://www.cityofkingston.ca/documents/10180/57933/2018+Tax+Rate+Schedule/8d71caf6-8606-4ba4-a999-509de328b1ba
Whitby $11.8 https://www.whitby.ca/en/resourcesGeneral/csx-urban-rural-historical-tax-2018.pdf
Cambridge $12.0 https://www.cambridge.ca/en/your-city/resources/2018-Tax-Rates-Website.pdf
Guelph $17.1 https://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018-final-tax-rates.pdf
St. Catharines $14.3 https://www.stcatharines.ca/en/governin/resources/Tax-Rates-2018-Final.pdf
Barrie $12.7 https://www.barrie.ca/Living/Housing-and-Property/Property-Taxes/Documents/2018%20Tax%20Rate%20Chart.pdf
Oshawa $14.1 https://www.oshawa.ca/city-hall/resources/Tax-Rates-2006-2018.pdf
Greater Sudbury $14.4 https://www.greatersudbury.ca/city-hall/tax-services/2018-tax-rates/

Where you might expect to see a correlation there – especially since large centres like Toronto and Ottawa have rates closer to the Milton end of the spectrum – there doesn't seem to be much of a ratio mapping population size to tax rate.

Sorted by amount:

Municipality Taxes per $1K Source
Milton $ 6.90 https://www.milton.ca/en/live/resources/2018-Tax-Rates.pdf
Waterloo $11.00 https://www.waterloo.ca/en/government/resources/Documents/Finance/Property-tax-rates–-2018.pdf
Ajax $11.50 https://www.ajax.ca/en/home-and-property/resources/Taxes/Business/2018-Tax-Rates.pdf
Whitby $11.80 https://www.whitby.ca/en/resourcesGeneral/csx-urban-rural-historical-tax-2018.pdf
Brantford $11.90 https://www.brantford.ca/en/living-here/resources/Documents/2018txrates.pdf
Cambridge $12.00 https://www.cambridge.ca/en/your-city/resources/2018-Tax-Rates-Website.pdf
Clarington $12.20 https://www.clarington.net/en/town-hall/property-tax-rates.asp
Barrie $12.70 https://www.barrie.ca/Living/Housing-and-Property/Property-Taxes/Documents/2018%20Tax%20Rate%20Chart.pdf
Kingston $13.60 https://www.cityofkingston.ca/documents/10180/57933/2018+Tax+Rate+Schedule/8d71caf6-8606-4ba4-a999-509de328b1ba
Oshawa $14.10 https://www.oshawa.ca/city-hall/resources/Tax-Rates-2006-2018.pdf
St. Catharines $14.30 https://www.stcatharines.ca/en/governin/resources/Tax-Rates-2018-Final.pdf
Greater Sudbury $14.40 https://www.greatersudbury.ca/city-hall/tax-services/2018-tax-rates/
Chatham-Kent $14.90 https://www.chatham-kent.ca/Taxes/Documents/2018%20Tax%20Rates.pdf
Thunder Bay $15.10 https://www.thunderbay.ca/en/city-hall/resources/Documents/Tax-Rates-2000-2018.pdf
Guelph $17.10 https://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018-final-tax-rates.pdf

So in the end...

Kingston is #9 on the list of 15. From the dead middle of a list of 15, it moves up one place in that same list.

So Kingston doesn't have astonishingly high taxes when compared to other Ontario municipalities of similar size?

Nope.

Kingston's tax rate is proveably and conclusively average?

A smidge higher than average but not even in the top five in its weight class.

Why are mid-sized city tax rates higher than those of megacities and tiny towns?

It's an interesting thing I noticed while working on this. Major centres have much lower rates, as do tiny towns. I don't know why for a fact, but my theory is that mid-size cities have all the fiscal disadvangages of large cities – obligation to provide city water and full services, a cultural life that needs to be supported, sophisticated transit and library systems, and sports infrastructure – without the economies of scale that kick in once you're at the million-citizen mark. Small towns don't have to do this at nearly the same scale. There's probably some soft population number at which these things spike, and another where they drop again.

Milton, for instance, is our outlier here. The suspicion is that as essentially a borough they can lean into Toronto as a sports/culture/transit mecca, so they can offer a dramatically lower tax rate than some of their peers in size. The other cities on the list are "standalones", and essentially are providing Toronto-level services but to much smaller populations.*

Again, that's just a theory. If you've got facts, I'd love to update this page.

A reader, connected to somebody once in Milton's municipal services department, provides some context: "Milton has been able to get away with not providing (and paying the full freight for) what we might call a mature suite of municipal services for a number of reasons, and the current mayor (now Canada's longest-serving, at 13 terms) takes it as an article of faith that property taxes shall not rise for any reason (more or less), and he will likely be re-elected until he's carried from his office....the other thing to note about Milton is that it also has a municipal tier above it (the regional municipality of Halton, which, pending the provincial review of regional muncipalities, may or may not change dramatically), so certain costs are shared out between municipalities large and small within the region (e.g., Halton Regional Police Service)."

Let's try a different comparison method! How about similar-ish cities?

Sounds great! This time, let's map Kingston against cities that might be less similar in population (we're still excluding places that are less than 30% as big, or over 200% larger) but share most of Kingston's key attributes:

To make this list, I reached out to a number of people – Tourism Kingston, the City of Kingston, and Kingston Economic Development. They have a firm sense of the city and who our "competitors" are. With their help, I arrived at the following list:

And now: LET'S TALK TAX RATES! AGAIN!

Municipality Taxes per $1K Source
Waterloo $11.00 https://www.waterloo.ca/en/government/resources/Documents/Finance/Property-tax-rates–-2018.pdf
Kitchener $11.30 https://www.kitchener.ca/en/resourcesGeneral/Documents/FIN_REV_2018_Final-_Tax_Rate.pdf
Muskoka* $11.80 https://www.huntsville.ca/en/council-and-administration/resources/Forms/2018-FINAL-TAX-RATES-SUMMARIZED_1_v2zoom.pdf
Cambridge $12.00 https://www.cambridge.ca/en/your-city/resources/2018-Tax-Rates-Website.pdf
Barrie $12.70 https://www.barrie.ca/Living/Housing-and-Property/Property-Taxes/Documents/2018%20Tax%20Rate%20Chart.pdf
Kingston** $13.60 https://www.cityofkingston.ca/documents/10180/57933/2018+Tax+Rate+Schedule/8d71caf6-8606-4ba4-a999-509de328b1ba
Sault Ste Marie** $13.60 http://saultstemarie.ca/Cityweb/media/Finance/Tax%20Rates/2018TaxRates.pdf
Peterborough $14.30 https://www.peterborough.ca/Assets/City+Assets/Property+Tax/Documents/Tax+Rates/Tax+Rates+-+Final+-+2018.pdf
St. Catharines $14.30 https://www.stcatharines.ca/en/governin/resources/Tax-Rates-2018-Final.pdf
Greater Sudbury $14.40 https://www.greatersudbury.ca/city-hall/tax-services/2018-tax-rates/
North Bay $14.60 https://www.cityofnorthbay.ca/cityhall/department/financial-services/property-tax-department/tax-information/
Guelph $17.10 https://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018-final-tax-rates.pdf

*Muskoka is an interesting case, where it seems there's a regional tax rate and then a town rate that attaches to that. Huntsville, one of the towns, comes in at the middle of the tax rates and incorporates the regional rate into its own. I think. It's a bit hard to understand. It might be as high as $17.40 if Muskoka levies an additional bill to the town bill.

**A tie!

How does Kingston do in our second test?

Here, Kingston is just under halfway down the list – 6/12 (I'm awarding it the tie with Sault Ste-Marie, because who can honestly say they'd prefer the Sault?).

So in two tests vs. comparable cities or municipalities, Kingston is... average?

Slightly over in the first, slightly under in the second.

Comparisons by average home price

This is a toughy. It involves doing a ton of clicking around on the CREA National Price Map (https://www.crea.ca/housing-market-stats/national-price-map/), and even that gives huge areas, not specific municipalities. So "Kingston" covers what I think of as Kingston, but also includes Napanee, Gananoque, probably Yarker, possibly Pontypool, etc. "Oakville-Milton" is insane because it has a bunch of boroughs in its catchment and is even more expensive than the GTA region. I can't find a source more granular than this.

So this really is fudging something in search of a better way of doing it, but without home price averages (ideally for single-home residences, to align with our tax category) for individual municipalities instead of huge catchments, it's hard to find a better way.

So here are average real estate prices circa February 2019:

Municipality Average real estate price
Barrie & District $458,600
Brantford $427,322
Cambridge $477,754
Durham Region $576,702
Greater Toronto $767,800
Guelph $527,300
Hamilton-Burlington $587,300
Kingston $366,334
Kitchener-Waterloo $490,484
London & St. Thomas $394,121
Niagara Region $393,500
Oakville-Milton $961,000
Ottawa $400,800
Peterborough/Kawarthas $435,964
Quinte $334,420
Sudbury $250,495
Thunder Bay $219,458
Windsor/Essex $313,146

They're big regions, so let's just grab three on either side for a field of seven:

Seven regions with comparable average real estate prices to Kingston

Municipality Average real estate price
Sudbury $250,495
Windsor/Essex $313,146
Quinte $334,420
Kingston $366,334
Niagara Region $393,500
London & St. Thomas $394,121
Ottawa $400,800

And, I don't know, the most comparable city in each region for...

LET'S TALK TAX RATES! YET AGAIN!

Municipality Taxes per $1K Source
Ottawa*,** $10.70 https://globalnews.ca/news/4311558/property-land-transfer-taxes-cities-canada/
Kingston*** $13.60 https://www.cityofkingston.ca/documents/10180/57933/2018+Tax+Rate+Schedule/8d71caf6-8606-4ba4-a999-509de328b1ba
Trenton*** $13.60*** https://www.quintewest.ca/en/your-city-hall/resources/2018-Tax-Rates.pdf
St. Catharines $14.30 https://www.stcatharines.ca/en/governin/resources/Tax-Rates-2018-Final.pdf
Greater Sudbury $14.40 https://www.greatersudbury.ca/city-hall/tax-services/2018-tax-rates/
St. Thomas $15.30 https://www.stthomas.ca/UserFiles/Servers/Server_12189721/File/City%20Hall/Treasury%20Department/Taxes/2018%20Tax%20Rates.pdf
Windsor $18.10 https://www.citywindsor.ca/cityhall/Taxes–and-Assessment-/Documents/Tax-Documents/Residential%20Tax%20Rates.pdf

*I'm not thrilled about it either – it's too big a city to be a valid comparator – but since Mike Harris jammed mega-mergers down everyone's throat a while back, we don't have the sensible comparator, Nepean, to stack against.

**Ottawa doesn't post its tax rates! It's the only city that doesn't seem to do that.

***Another tie! Again, I'm going to give it to Kingston, because, I mean, Trenton.

Where does Kingston land this time?

When you stack the most comparable cities in the regions with the closest average real estate prices, Kingston is second lowest in a field of seven for tax rates.

Huh.

Yup.

That's three different ways to compare Kingston fairly to other places and see how the tax rates stack up.

It is indeed.

And just one last time: Kingston doesn't have amazingly high tax rates compared to similar municialities?

One last time: nope. Squarely in the mid-range. Low, by some measures.

So will these Actual Facts stop all the complaining?

Oh, my sweet summer child, no. Tax whiners tend to wind up in a Venn diagram that strongly overlaps with people that say things like "the facts don't care about your feelings," so one might expect that exhaustively researched facts will keep them from repeatedly venting their feelings, but I'm... not optimistic. I'm probably going to get called a "Neo-Marxist" by people who like to buy and not actually read overwritten self-help books. It's a thing now.

Hey, that Internet Person is now going on about tax rates per capita / tax rates per income / tax rates per building / whatever.

Ugh. The ratio fallacy. It's a kind of a combination of a lack of math and a not-great grasp on civics. That takes quite a bit of unpacking so I've put it on its own page.

 


 

1. If somebody's answer to "should government be run like a business?" is anything other than "no, that is insane, a business' ideal model is to maximize benefits for a tiny number of owners or shareholders, and a government's ideal model is to maximize benefit for everyone, which is literally the exact opposite, so while it's fine to say governments should pursue efficiency or not be wasteful, business is a ludicrous model, governments should be run like very good governments, and you should feel bad for even asking that question", you can safely ignore anything they have to say about government, civics, economics and politics. Send them to this page and if they call you a "snowflake" or a "Neo-Marxist," tell them I said they owe you a quarter.