By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Durham residents can expect to see an increase on their next tax bill.
Regional councillors voted in favour of passing the 2016 budget which carries with it a 1.65-per-cent property tax increase, or about $40 based on the average house price of $362,000.
The lone addition made to the budget during deliberations in council chambers was an additional $100,000 to go toward social services.
Clarington councillor Joe Neal and Oshawa councillor Amy McQuaid-England initially put forward a motion to add an extra $100,000 to go toward child poverty initiatives, echoing a motion Neal had put forward at the finance and administration committee deliberations over the budget.
However, after that motion failed following a tied vote, the two put forward a motion to put the money into social services in general.
“This is a request to this council for a fairly token amount to address a significant problem within our society,” Neal said when introducing the initial motion. “I watch the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we spend on consultants, and I won’t get into that, but this is a fairly modest amount to ask this council to add to this budget.”
Bob Chapman, an Oshawa councillor and the chair of the region’s finance and administration committee, said that the region already does a lot of work for those facing poverty, and that the extra money was nothing more than a feel-good gesture.
“This is certainly a feel good motion because I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that doesn’t agree with the fact that we need to address these issues,” Chapman said, going on to detail the $8.2 million spent in the last five years on poverty and homelessness efforts, and how there are items in the budget dealing with priorities listed under the Health Neighbourhoods project, which details specific health and socioeconomic problems faced by different parts of Durham. “This is not a matter of supporting it. It’s a matter of everyone saying, ‘Yeah, we should do that to show our support.’ I think we show our support with passing the health and social services budget as it was.”
Fellow Oshawa councillor Dan Carter said that voting on an extra $100,000 to go toward a specific cause undermines the work being done already by regional staff.
“I believe that our social services department, along with our health department, have done a spectacular job of not dropping the ball and being proactive, having a vision of what we can do,” he said. “The problem I have is that either I recognize our staff and our departments as being the best that they possibly can be, or we don’t recognize them as the best that they possibly can be, and what we’re saying to them is ‘I understand that we know better than you.’”
The motion that called for an extra $100,000 be added to the social services budget passed 12-11 with six absent, with Chapman, Nester Pidwerbecki, Nancy Diamond and John Henry being the Oshawa councillors to vote against it.
The lone nay vote
When the budget came to a vote, the lone councillor to vote against it was Oshawa councillor John Neal.
Speaking before his fellow councillors, Neal said he couldn’t support the vote based on the amount of money being spent on the Durham York Energy Centre that could’ve been spent on other projects.
“The amount of money that we’ve had to put into the incinerator, which could’ve went into other works projects within the region, such as…replacement of piping, such as roads, which we need major work done on…and I don’t have to point them out because we all drive across the region,” Neal said.
“I basically said the same thing over at the City of Oshawa. Even though we were able to use some of our gas tax rebate, which came in handy toward our budget, we’re able to use zilch, zero towards any infrastructure in the Region of Durham, to do any type of upgrading, any kind of repair. It’s all going to come out of the property tax. It didn’t have to be that way.”
While he voted in favour of the budget as a whole, Ajax councillor Steve Parish agreed with Neal’s assessment on gas tax dollars being misspent.
“I’ve been saying this for a long time. We get almost $20 million a year from federal gas tax, and every penny of it is going to the incinerator, and has for the past decade and will for the next four or five years,” Parish said. “And it handcuffs us. We cannot provide money to other services – transit, roads and a whole lot of other services – that the gas tax funds can be used for, and we’re not using it for. And it’s not right.”