Illegal Signs bylaw vote postponed: Toronto city council

by Saeda Raghe

Dec. 2, 2009

The vote for a proposed tax and bylaw to regulate the billboard advertising industry in Toronto was postponed by city council on Tuesday to debate allocating more ice time for girls hockey leagues on city owned rinks.

The bylaw, which is a seven year effort to stop illegal signs in Toronto while generating some tax revenue, saw heated debate from councillors dealing with everything from the environmental effects of having illuminated signs all night to the negative effects the tax will have on small businesses.

“What brings us here today on this issue is an unhappiness with the way the sign industry operates in the city of Toronto,” said Coun. Norm Kelly (Scarborough Agincourt). “This unhappiness is shared by almost everyone, the industry, interest groups, the staff at the city of Toronto, and members of this council.”

It has been proposed that the tax, which is estimated by city staff to generate $10 million in annual revenue, should be used to beautify the city and fund community and art projects in Toronto.

Coun. Adam Vaughan (St. Paul’s) challenged Kelly ‘s proposal to allow electronic static signs in all districts of the city until 1 a.m.

“You’re advocating [for] bigger signs, electronic, and lit up signs by reducing limitations on it…in exchange for all of these additional extensions you’re saying you’re going to cut the tax in half,” Vaughan said to Kelly. “You’re going to effectively double the size of the footprint of the industry, and cut half of the fee they’re going to pay.”

Vaughan stated outside the council chambers that he thinks the billboard industry has defied regulation and taxation for too long.

“I think the industry is deliberately under reporting their income,” Vaughan said.. “And if it comes to a choice between taxing home owners or cutting services, I’d rather tax the billboard industry.”

Rami Tabello, founder of Illegalsigns.com, an organization that tracks, reports, and is trying to abolish illegal signs, agrees with the staff recommendations but fears the bylaw won’t pass.

“The recommendations are good [and] most of the motions make sense,” Tabello said.. “There are some sneaky [councillors] there [who] are determined to cut the sign bylaw up, and I think they will get rejected.”

City council will reconvene Wednesday to debate and vote on the issue.

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