City of Toronto to consider billboard fee

The Beautiful City Billboard Fee proposal would see major outdoor companies coughing up cash to fund public art projects - with preliminary estimates of more than $16 million, says OMAC.

On June 2, the City of Toronto Executive Committee is slated to vote on a new sign regulation proposal that would impose a fee on outdoor billboard companies, the revenues from which would be used to fund public art initiatives and public realm improvement projects. Preliminary considerations of the third-party sign charge would cost outdoor companies upwards of $16 million in annual fees.

Last night, about 250 activists, artists and members from about 40 community organizations in Toronto that support the initiative attended a meeting at Toronto City Hall to discuss the Beautiful City Billboard Fee (BCBF). If passed by the executive committee, the proposal, which would put a charge on city billboards, implement better enforcement of Toronto’s sign laws and fund public art and city beautification projects, is scheduled to be voted on by City Council in July.

Rosanne Caron, president of the Out-of-Home Marketing Association of Canada (which represents Astral, CBS, Titan, Pattison and the Outdoor Broadcast Network), says the fee suggested by the anti-billboard activists is unrealistic and flawed, as it does not accurately reflect current industry revenue or operations.

‘The issue is that the tax needs to be fair and reasonable,’ Caron tells MiC. OMAC members’ net revenues for signs subject to the fee are about $64.8 million before operating costs, says Caron. Based on this figure, the current BCBF proposal’s estimate of $18 million in revenue would mean a tax of up to 28%, which Caron says is excessive and untenable.

‘It would increase the cost of business. Ultimately, the costs would be passed on,’ she says of the impact on the advertising industry.

But Caron concedes that the current sign bylaws are not perfect, and the six sign bylaws that currently govern the city have caused a lot of confusion. At the town hall meeting, many youth expressed frustration at the prominence and excessiveness of billboards that they say are using public space while not giving anything back to the community.

But Caron says that OMAC members have been good corporate citizens – in 2008 they provided $6 million in free space in support of public service announcements, local charities and the sponsorship of community events in Toronto. OMAC members also provided $2.2 million dollars in free space to promote city programs.

In the end, some kind of fee seems inevitable – current proposals posted on the City of Toronto website include charge-per-sign, charge based on location, charge based on sign technology, and charge based on location and technology. View the charge options here.

‘Will we be taxed? Probably that would happen, yes. Are we opposed to a tax? Yes absolutely, because ultimately it affects our business, and it’ll affect other business,’ says Caron.