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City stamps 1.79 per cent tax increase

Council juggles spending with staff capacity

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

After a months-long process and a pair of full-day budget deliberations, Oshawa city council has approved a tax increase that will see the average homeowner paying approximately $46 more on their tax bill.

On Jan. 19, council approved a 1.79 per cent increase to the city’s 2018 budget, wrangling down an initial 2.29 per cent increase brought forward by staff in December.

The bump will see an average increase of around $50 for Oshawa homeowners with houses assessed around the $400,000 mark.

For councillors, the two days of budget deliberations saw numerous debates on issues pertaining to infrastructure, debt repayment and funding for city organizations.

The larger savings that allowed council to pull down the tax increase are attributed to putting off fleet purchases for city staff to later years, pushing work at Union Cemetery to next year, as well as construction plans for the redevelopment of Conant Park, which more than likely will not progress until 2019.

With those aside, council was also able to add a 0.1 per cent increase to its one per cent infrastructure levy established last year, garnering approximately $132,000 more to be put toward the city’s infrastructure deficit.

“I really wish we could have a gazillion dollars in that account,” says Councillor Dan Carter, noting that even with the extra money, staff just wouldn’t have the time to do the extra work. “We don’t have the capacity,” he says. “I think that by paying down debt, saving money on interest payments, interest charges and debt payments, allows for more money into infrastructure.”

The city’s capital budget will see approximately $23 million worth of purchases over the coming year, including new technology, vehicles, road repairs and building enhancements.

The budget also included $12.4 million for the city’s external agencies and advisory committees.

However, while it will be a busy year for Oshawa, there was a lot of work that was either too much for city staff to handle in 2018, or there was just not enough money to afford it.

In fact, the number of projects on the deferred list more than doubled over last year, with $9.5 million deferred in 2017, to over $20 million slated to be deferred in 2018, the large majority of them being roads, sidewalks and buildings projects. In particular, the amount of road projects being left behind are significantly higher this year, growing from $2.851 million of projects deferred in 2017, to $9.847 million in 2018.

However, that fact was not an issue for Councillor John Aker.

“I will support most of these deferrals, in fact, probably all of them,” he said. “They’re deferred, they’ll probably all appear for positive approval in 2019, and I’m sure the council of the day will approve them.”

The 1.79 per cent increase is slightly lower than the 2.37 per cent approved in 2017, and is more or less similar to what council has done over the course of its four year term with a 1.44 per cent increase in 2014, 1.82 per cent in 2015, and 2.52 per cent in 2016.