A year on, Wat­son adopts rogue coun­cil­lors’ idea on tax for in­fra­struc­ture

PressReader - Tke Channel - A year on, Wat­son adopts rogue coun­cil­lors’ idea on tax for in­fra­struc­ture
The prop­erty-tax in­crease Jim Wat­son is propos­ing to pay to fix our di­lap­i­dated roads and pipes is only a start on the work Ot­tawa needs, but at least it’s that. If he’s re-elected mayor, Wat­son says, he’d be OK with tax in­creases of as much as three per cent a year, the high­est of his ten­ure, with much of the money de­voted to clos­ing the “in­fra­struc­ture gap” that’s only wors­ened dur­ing his eight years in of­fice so far. Re­call how sav­agely Wat­son took down eight coun­cil­lors’ at­tempt to raise taxes 0.5 per cent to raise $8 mil­lion for pot­holes and crummy side­walks at last year’s fi­nal bud­get meet­ing. He sprung a $10-mil­lion sur­plus from the past year’s spend­ing on them; he’d had a heads-up about the wind­fall as mayor and shared the in­for­ma­tion with some friendly coun­cil­lors but not the in­sur­gents. Their tax-in­crease idea died on the spot. That bought a year’s worth of ex­tra work. Now what? Erm, a tax in­crease. Wat­son pro­poses to cap tax in­creases at three per cent in­stead of two per cent, giv­ing the city wig­gle room to deal with the un­ex­pected — un­fore­seen costs from newly le­gal mar­i­juana, for in­stance, or from changes the pro­vin­cial Tories make to deal with the On­tario deficit. “If 20 per cent of those funds are re­quired to ad­dress un­ex­pected costs or losses of rev­enue, $8 mil­lion would be left to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture re­newal,” Wat­son’s an­nounce­ment said. What. A. Co­in­ci­dence. The cru­cial dif­fer­ence is that this $8-mil­lion in­fra­struc­ture boost is Wat­son’s idea and is there­fore right and good and in the long-term in­ter­ests of Ot­tawa. Last year’s $8-mil­lion in­fra­struc­ture boost came from a group of city coun­cil­lors who wanted to change the per­fect bud­get Wat­son had laid down, which made it reck­less and ill­con­sid­ered and harm­ful. In 2016, the city bu­reau­cracy told coun­cil­lors we need to spend about $195 mil­lion a year just to main­tain the roads and pipes and build­ings and bridges we al­ready have. We ac­tu­ally spend about $129 mil­lion. Wat­son pro­poses to raise it to $137 mil­lion, and then keep adding to it year af­ter year un­til the gap is closed. We’ll still have hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in de­ferred work to catch up on but at least the list wouldn’t keep get­ting longer. Ot­tawa has a long his­tory of not tak­ing in­fra­struc­ture se­ri­ously. When he was mayor, Bob Chiarelli uni­lat­er­ally cut the city’s cap­i­tal bud­get in half one year. Just didn’t spend hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to build and re­pair things, sup­pos­edly in the in­ter­est of fis­cal pru­dence. Un­der Larry O’Brien, city coun­cil ap­proved a three-year in­fra­struc­ture levy to try to eat into years’ worth of de­ferred work, and then can­celled the third year of it be­cause an elec­tion was com­ing up and coun­cil­lors wanted prop­erty taxes kept down. Ev­ery year — and as some­one who’s sat in a lot of bud­get meet­ings, un­der­stand that I mean ev­ery sin­gle year — the city’s fi­nance and pub­lic-works man­agers would tell coun­cil­lors that pay­ing to fix small prob­lems is a lot cheaper than pay­ing to fix them once they turn into big­ger prob­lems. Bet­ter to patch the roof than to fix the wa­ter dam­age once it starts leak­ing, and then have to patch the roof any­way. The thing about roads and pipes and side­walks and bridges is that you can al­most al­ways get away with not fix­ing them, patch­ing them, re­plac­ing them. The odds of a cat­a­strophic fail­ure in any given year are low, even for some­thing that’s well past its ex­pected lifespan. The pot­holes just get a lit­tle more nu­mer­ous, re­quir­ing a lit­tle more cold-patch to get through a win­ter. The pipes leak into the ground a lit­tle more but chances are there won’t be a sud­den huge sink­hole any­where. The side­walks get a lit­tle tougher to push a stroller or wheel­chair along but they don’t all turn sud­denly into gravel. Bridges start to shed bits of con­crete long be­fore they just col­lapse (usu­ally). You can prob­a­bly push it. The whole city feels a lit­tle crum­mier, day by day, but this year’s never that much worse than last year. Un­til some­thing does break. A col­lapsed cul­vert un­der a high­way eats a car. More res­i­dents start com­plain­ing about the warped wheels on their cars and bikes from smash­ing into pot­holes. A ten­nis star de­clines the city’s of­fer to name the courts of her child­hood af­ter her be­cause they’re too de­crepit. By then, the to-do list is so long, the price of plow­ing through it so high, that it seems im­pos­si­ble. Fix­ing this place up is pos­si­ble, though, if city coun­cil has the will and we’re pre­pared to pay a few bucks more to make up for what we should have been spend­ing all along.

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