The Billboard Tax

05/05/10 – By JASON RAUCH

Revenue generated from this billboard in Bloordale could mean a lot to artists. PHOTO By GURPREET GHAG

What does the billboard tax mean to the Bloordale art houses?

Toronto passed a new tax on the city’s billboards back in December 2009, which was supposed to collect up to $10.4 million a year and be used to fund arts across the city.

Unfortunately not all the money is being spent on arts and much less than estimated will be collected, for this year at least.

“This year, because it’s a partial collection year… it’s only expected to collect between $3.4 and $5.2 million,” said Devon Ostrom of the Beautiful City Alliance, which helped fight to initiate the new tax and get the money put towards the arts in Toronto.

Ostrom also said only $1.7 million will be funneled into the arts after some of the money is used to remove illegal billboards and to fight billboard companies trying remove the new tax in court.

York Lethbridge, Director of Operations and Development at the Mercer Union art gallery, said he is unsure of what this means to Mercer Union and the $60,000 they currently receive from the city. The money, however, is something he thinks would be welcomed for ground level type projects.

“Organizations like stand alone galleries, like Mercer Union, I don’t know if it’s [the billboard tax] really on their radar,” said Lethbridge, “I know that a number of grassroots organizations could really use that type of funding.”

Ostrom says the tax is necessary not just because the arts need funding, but because businesses who own and use these billboards around the city contribute nothing other than advertising to the general public.

“On an ethical level they’re the only form of advertising that doesn’t subsidize some sort of educational or enjoyable content,” Ostrom said. “You look at TV. They provide 45 minutes of content for every 15 minutes of advertising. Papers, about fifty-fifty.”

With no need to off set the costs of providing content Ostrom said billboard advertisements are cheaper than any other form of advertising on a ‘cost-per-view’ basis.

“[This tax] levels the playing field,” said Ostrom.

While the sign companies fight to reverse this tax, the general public is already on-board.

“We did three rounds of public opinion polling…  there’s overwhelming support from Torontonians,” said Ostrom.

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