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New levy in place for infrastructure

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Less than a week after the fund was established, city councillors were arguing about how to best spend the money inside it.

The new infrastructure reserve, set to be funded by a one-per-cent increase on the residential tax bill, was approved during council’s first day of budget deliberations on Jan. 17. Three days later, on the second day of budget talks, a motion from Councillors Nancy Diamond and Bob Chapman attempted to have $100,000 of that money given to Durham College to assist in the construction of its new Centre for Collaborative Education.

College president Don Lovisa officially made the request late last year for $1 million in support for the new building. The college has previously received financial support from both levels of government, with $22 million coming from the province and $13 million from the feds to help pay for the approximately $40-million project.

And while all of council seemed on board with providing the funds for the college, Councillor Amy McQuaid-England urged council to find another source for the money.

“I think we should be adding this as an actual change in terms of our budget,” she said. “I fully support this, but I think it should be separate and apart…we need to address our infrastructure deficit.”

According to the budget, the city has $464 million of unfunded infrastructure projects that will need to be completed over the next nine years. The one-per-cent levy put in place is expected to garner an additional $1.2 million this year.

However, other councillors seemed to disagree, with Councillor John Aker saying that using the infrastructure dollars was the most cost efficient way to do it, and an “excellent” use of the new fund.

“This is a win, win, win, win for Oshawa,” he said.

“Any forward thinking person would support this motion.”

City manager Jag Sharma informed council they were well within their rights to use those funds for the donation, as the budget does not indicate or specify what the $1.2 million would be used for aside from the broad category of “infrastructure.”

“We certainly don’t have a detailed breakdown,” he said.

It was also noted that if the funding source were changed, it would more than likely have an impact on the tax levy, which currently sits at 2.89 per cent ahead of council’s final day of deliberations today (Jan.25).

A motion from McQuaid-England to change the funding source failed.

According to the outspoken councillor, the funds being taken from the levy are removing dollars from a fund that is already falling short, labelling the increase as a “band-aid solution” for dealing with the infrastructure problem.

“We have a deficit of $464 million in infrastructure that we need to deal with,” she said.

However, Councillor Doug Sanders disagreed, noting the funds for the college really wouldn’t have that big of an impact down the line.

“To take $100,00 out of that fund…it’s not going to put a dent into what this infrastructure amount (is),” he said.