LONDON, ONT -- Each year city hall gives millions of dollars to London-Middlesex Community Housing only to have some of it returned to the municipality in the form of property taxes, but a councillor’s pitch to slash the tax bill on public housing fell short Tuesday.

Twenty per cent of London and Middlesex Community Housing’s annual expenses are the property taxes it returns to city hall on its rent-geared-to-income townhomes and apartment buildings.

Councillor Jesse Helmer argues charging multi-unit residential tax rates which are almost double single family home rates wastes money better spent on public housing.

“Get the property tax on those buildings down to the same rate as all the condo buildings, as my own property,” said Helmer.

He argues the public housing agency would eventually save $1.8 million each year, money first provided by London and Middlesex County and then returned in property tax payments each year.

“I think what Councillor Helmer is putting forward here is a reasonable discussion for us to have, and a reasonable thing for us to explore,” said Councillor Stephen Turner.

Several councillors argued lowering the tax rate on public housing was simply optics.

Arguing rents are based on income, not taxes, a cost-sharing agreement with Middlesex County would see the financial burden born solely by London taxpayers, and the current board of LMCH has not requested the change.

“This is a cumbersome way to do what I am not comfortable doing, which is to give out money without a plan attached to it,” said Councillor Phil Squire.

“It is very attractive to say we reduced the tax rate on housing properties, but the reality is, what is the actual effect?” said Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan.

When asked to weigh in, the city treasurer was blunt. If council’s goal is to increase funding to LMCH, The most cost effective method for London taxpayers, is to simply increase the annual grant, not manipulate tax ratios.

 “You would pay 15 per cent more, and it would be cheaper for the taxpayers to fund LMCH based on their budget submission directly, than it would be to reduce the taxes because of the write-off process,” said Anna Lisa Barbon, City Treasurer.

Ultimately, Helmer’s motion for a report on a 4-year phase in was lost 7-8, but he vowed not to give up.

“I’ll be back here 12 months and one day later bringing the same thing forward. And maybe we’ll have to go after a full exemption,” said Helmer.

Budget deliberations to set the 2021 tax rate begin on Thursday.