Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
The infrastructure levy proposed by eight councillors ahead of Wednesday’s 2018 budget vote has turned up the volume on the grumbling over the mayor’s two per cent tax promise.
It’s safe to expect a pile-on by councillors who oppose adding another 0.5 per cent to the already-planned two per cent property tax increase. Many have been on social media and radio programs dumping on the infrastructure tax proposal, even accusing some of the backers of political grandstanding before the next municipal election in October 2018.
That’s what Coun. George Darouze wrote in a social media post on Monday, taking aim specifically at experienced councillors who have signed onto the infrastructure tax proposal.
“They should know better than to play such obvious political games,” Darouze wrote.
Other councillors have been even more cutting.
Coun. Jody Mitic wrote on Twitter that taxpayers in his ward won’t pay for “bully tactics.”
On 1310 News last Friday, Coun. Allan Hubley took aim squarely at Coun. Diane Deans in an interview about the proposed infrastructure tax, steering the conversation to a recent audit that revealed questionable subsidy distributions in the child care program and pointing out that Deans chairs the committee that oversees child care.
Deans fired back at Hubley on social media, dismissing him as one of “the mayor’s cronies.”
The councillors who back the infrastructure tax — David Chernushenko, Rick Chiarelli, Mathieu Fleury, Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Tobi Nussbaum, Marianne Wilkinson and Deans — say it would only cost urban landowners an extra $1 each month.
The extra $8 million raised could pay for repairs to roads, parks and buildings, they argue.
No other council member as of Monday had voiced backing for their eight colleagues.
So, the proposal is on a bumpy road to failure.
Coun. Michael Qaqish said he’ll go into the budget debate with an open mind, but he noted it’s unlikely he’ll support a 0.5 per cent tax addition.
Coun. Keith Egli, council’s transportation chair, said he wants to hear the debate but he has “significant concerns,” ranging from the 0.5 per cent announcement over Twitter late last week to what kind of infrastructure the levy would actually help repair.
The city had a special infrastructure levy during Larry O’Brien’s time as mayor, but it dissolved near the end of his term when property tax pressures became too much for council to handle.
The city’s 2012 long-range financial plan said if the upper-tier governments didn’t provide permanent funding for infrastructure repairs, the city would need an infrastructure levy of 0.25 per cent.
A refreshed long-range financial plan published in June 2017 makes no mention of an infrastructure levy as a possible way to raise funds to fix municipal assets. It might be little surprise since Mayor Jim Watson has strongly criticized the idea of an infrastructure levy, especially in an interview with this newspaper one year ago.
The new plan says the city’s asset maintenance program for roads, buildings, parks and other tax-supported infrastructure has been short, on average, $70 million annually. The city needs to pump $195 million each year into repairs to keep things in good condition, but it isn’t expected to get to that level until 2027 under the council-endorsed funding strategy.
Council, however, has been worried about the state of the roads, particularly after the harsh 2016-2017 winter. In a rare post-budget move, council voted last May to pour $2.9 million more into 2017 road maintenance programs.
The concerns have lingered into the 2018 budget cycle, prompting a faction of council to advocate for an additional half-percentage point on the planned tax increase to generate an $8-million one-time lump of cash for asset repairs.
Coun. Riley Brockington said he wants to see if the city treasurer can come up with savings on Wednesday rather than relying on the taxpayer to cough up more money.
The extra tax proposed by the eight councillors wouldn’t do much to fill the huge funding hole, Brockington said.
“We need a much greater conversation in the public about making people aware of what the gap is, what gets funded and what’s needed,” Brockington said.
If nothing else, the 0.5 per cent motion might raise that profile.