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Council looking at tax bump for infrastructure

Lack of investment has city streets eroding more rapidly than expected

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Every year, the budget brings with it a question of what impact it will have on the taxpayers of Oshawa. For 2017, that number may have an extra percentage point attached to it solely for the purpose of collecting infrastructure dollars.

As part of the 2017 capital budget presented to councillors, city staff have made it clear they are recommending councillors consider a one percent addition to the tax levy in order to collect much needed dollars for the city’s aging infrastructure.

“If you build it, you have to maintain it. That’s the challenge and there has to be a happy medium,” says Mayor John Henry.

This increase was originally proposed in 2014 during preparations for the 2015 capital budget. At that time, it was identified that the city had an underfunded infrastructure gap of $212 million. The proposed method of gaining extra cash flows for infrastructure was also recommended as part of the city’s financial strategy endorsed by council in 2015. However, the recommendation was not implemented.

Now, due to the growing concern about a lack of funds to repair an aging city, council must have a serious discussion on the matter, the mayor says. However, he’s only willing to go so far.

“I’m in favour of having a discussion up to one per cent, nothing greater,” he says.

Looking at the tax revenue for 2016, a one per cent increase could collect approximately $1.2 million in additional funds, which would then be put aside in a reserve for the 2018 budget, or to be used to match funds provided by the federal or provincial governments to meet eligibility requirements.

However, the possible increase did draw the ire of some of those on council, with Councillor John Aker warning his colleagues that in the coming year, residents are going to be hit from every angle when it comes to taxes from other levels of government, such as the province’s cap and trade program coming into affect Jan. 1 and the feds proposed carbon tax in 2018.

“The exhausted taxpayer may be looking for some relief somewhere,” he said. “That cap and trade will add costs to the taxpayer for gas for their cars, natural gas for their homes, electricity and a myriad of other things…We just have to be very careful.”

For Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, she says that judging by the state of the city’s roads, perhaps more needs to be done to address the issue.

A 2007 report found that if more money were not invested in the city’s road infrastructure, which at the time was operating at 93 per cent (the percentage of roads labelled as in good or excellent condition), the city streets would decline to 67 per cent by 2025. At the time, the city was investing $3.5 million annually.

However, it would appear that advice was not heeded, and the roads have deteriorated at a much quicker pace, with the city dropping to that 67 per cent threshold in 2016, nine years ahead of the predicted schedule.

“I think that we have a serious red flag here,” McQuaid-England said. “I don’t think that we’re putting in enough money.”

Currently, as part of the time-sensitive capital projects, $100,000 was approved for crack sealing projects. The remaining capital projects will be part of budget deliberations in January.