Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pay up....After all UOIT is your University

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and Unfiltered Opinion
Reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
February 14, 2011

Hey Oshawa taxpayer....how much of your hard earned cash will you volunteer to donate this year to the development of UOIT in Oshawa?

Whether you want to donate to the university is immaterial. The city donates part of your residential taxes to subsidize the operations of UOIT every day....and will do so every day into the forseeable future.

Now I am not badmouthing UOIT. We are indeed fortunate to have the university here in Oshawa to provide opportunity and convenience for our city students to attend university close to home.

Our local students, though, over the long haul have to pay more to UOIT than out-of-area students and that is not fair.

While all Canadian and Landed Immigrant students pay the same tuitions once they enrol in UOIT, city taxpayers continually subsidize the university operations through grants, subsidies, tax revenue losses, tax deferrals, and lost development charges...and that is not fair.

City taxpayers subsidize the university operations and still end up paying the same tuitions as out of town students. City taxpayers have subsidized the university operation to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, and there is no recognition of these investments when our local students enter UOIT...Just not fair!

Why should the families of Oshawa students pay more to UOIT than non-local students? In Oshawa, you keep paying and paying and paying, and come tuition time, you’ll pay again!

City taxpayers provided outright grants ($8M towards a $11.6M campus recreational complex, an additional $2.5M towards the downtown campus), Tax deferrals worth $2M and foregoing development charges on Dundurn student housing.....and these are only costs arising from a cursory few minutes of research.

In addition, city taxpayers have also lost tax revenue for all the downtown buildings owned, leased, or used by the university which amount to additional millions. Again, shortfalls will be made up by city taxpayers.

And now, the city has announced public meetings for Feb 28, 7:15 pm, in the Council Chambers to provide more largesse to the university to ease its student housing problems.

At that time, the city will consider amendments to the city official plan to: a) allow the city to provide financial incentives from your tax dollar for the development of student housing, and b) make some specific student housing lands exempt from development charges.....both changes that will cost taxpayers additional millions.

All of these taxpayer costs are subsidizing the operation of the university and subsidizing the costs of student attendance at our university by out-of-town students. We are paying more so out-of-town students can pay less. Just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever!

In June of 2008, Councillor Tito Dante Marimpietri proposed that local students should pay less for attending UOIT in recognition of the fact that they’d already invested heavily in the university, an idea he’d borrowed from his days attending University in Montreal where he discovered students who had lived in Quebec for 11 months or more were eligible for discounted tuitions. Marimpietri’s motion was lost (Report SIC-08-37) in a council vote on Sept. 22, 2008

While Marimpietri’s idea is a sound one, it was unfortunately not thought through sufficiently to sell it to council or to make it equal to each family’s specific contributions, which is now easily doable with computer technology.

In 2008 when Council turned down Marimpietri’s idea, an estimated $15M of city tax money had been gifted to UOIT in one form or another. The total is much larger now and continues to escalate.

I’d suggest that all these taxpayer costs that are surplus to actually running the city are excess taxation and are huge windfall benefits to the university and should be considered “prepaid credits” towards future university tuitions for city residents.

After all, they are monies given to the university that would otherwise be raised by student tuitions. And as long as city officials are willing donors of our taxes, the university will continue, like some street corner begger, to reach out and take whatever we’ll give.

According to census data, there are 54920 dwellings in the city. If we considered the minimum $15M tax largesse extended to the university in the first 2 or 3 years, this would work out on average to approximately $275 donation per household.

This figure, of course, does not include all of the lost tax revenues for university occupied buildings downtown that will have to be made up by taxpayers, all of the lost development charges, and all of the tax deferrals for student accommodation.

UOIT president of the day, Ron Bordessa, questioned how such an inititative could be funded saying it was clear the city wouldn't be subsidizing the discounts. He stated that the university offering tuition discounts to city students would make it impossible for the university to offer the same level of service.

It all comes down to point of view. Rather than suggesting lost revenues, Dr. Bordessa instead should have been suggesting prepaid tuitions. After all, it doesn’t make sense that city taxpayers continue to invest in the university without some return on their investment.

All of these prepaid tuition credits could be computerized in the city tax department when residential tax bills were being printed and would be proportional to assessed property values and the total values of all forms of city university subsidies.

City residents applying to UOIT would simply apply to the city tax department for a tuition credit certificate that had built up for their residence over the years and this certificate would be presented to UOIT admissions for a direct deduction from tuitions owing.

Withdrawn credits would be deducted from totals and could be rebuilt in subsequent years.

This micromanaging of tuition credit accounts is entirely practicable with computerization and is, in fact, being done in some places. In Delta, BC, for example, in the interests of transparency, tax bills list details of various amounts making up the tax bill. Delta taxpayers approved an arena renovation based on estimates of their annual cost printed on their personalized voter registration card and this cost continues, along with other components of the tax bill, to be printed on annual tax statements.

Such a tracking system would be easy for the city to set up. If the Air Miles program can keep an updated total of your frequent small purchases worldwide, the city could certainly develop a program based on your tax account number, your assessments, and the total monies of all forms advanced to fund the university and its operations.

These prepaid UOIT tuitions would accumulate on both owned and rented properties with renters applying annually to the city for tuition credits similar to the Ontario Property Tax Credits based on bedrooms or living space with any credits awarded to tenants being deducted from the total credits assigned to the property.

Those who did not attend UOIT would lose the credit although it could be passed on to direct relatives: sons/daughters, grandchildren, nieces/nephews very similar to a RESP. The credits could also be passed on to social agencies for assignment to worthy students who could not otherwise afford to attend university.

Your tax dollars are subsidizing UOIT and it’s time you got some credit for your investment. After all, fair is fair...wouldn’t you say?

I’d suggest all readers of this column flood city hall politicians with this demand and get all of your friends to do the same.

The university should recognize the basic truths that we all live with...there are no free lunches...a truism the university practises every day of its existence with students.

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

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