Toronto city council debates new sign bylaw

Kimberlee Nancekivell

12/02/09

Toronto’s billboard industry will remain tax-free for another day.

City council was scheduled to vote on the proposed Toronto sign by-law Tuesday, but the debates were cut short to make time for a special meeting to discuss the distribution of ice time.

While councillors Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 St.Paul’s) and Pam McConnell (Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale) were all for the by-law, other councillors found themselves somewhere in the middle.

“Sheep are meant to be shorn, not slaughtered,” said Coun. Norm Kelly (Ward 40 Scarborough Agincourt) who wanted to soften the blow to the sign industry.

“It didn’t make sense to me looking at it from the perspectives of all the groups to introduce an unprecedented tax at the same time we introduce an unprecedented restriction on the industry.”

If the by-law were to be passed as is, owners of third party signs- companies that sell large advertising space like the billboards at Dundas Square and along the Gardiner Expressway- would have to pay the city a collective $10.4 million dollars in taxes per year, and a separate stipulation would make it illegal for electronic signs to be turned on between midnight and 6 a.m. Kelly asked that the taxes be reduced and the “hours of darkness” be changed to 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., saying that Toronto is becoming an electronic, 24-hour city.

“Why hogtie the industry if that’s the way it’s going?” Kelly said.

McConnell pointed out that Kelly does not lived in a high-rise apartment or condominium downtown where these electronic signs are right outside his bedroom window.

“You would have to admit that people have a right to sleep for seven or eight hours,” McConnell said.

Taking issue with the dollar value rather than the “hours of darkness”, Mihevc said “this is a very, very reasonable tax. This tax has already been cut two times.”

The by-law will return to council for debate following a special meeting on Wednesday.

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