One year ago, City Council voted to create a 1% "infrastructure levy" and a new "stormwater levy" to your property tax bill. These decisions were not without detractors, because for all intents and purposes, a levy is a tax. I supported thes motion to create the levies. Let me explain why:
1. Timing: Municipalities across North America are suffering under the burden of a massive infrastrucutre backlog. This perfect storm is due to the fact that cities boomed in the 1950s and 60s. We built post-war sprawling subdivisions to house baby boomers, heralding a new era of prosperity. All that underground infrastructure is coming of age and must be replaced.
2. Climate Change: The fossil fuel world is coming to an end and we must rebuild our cities to generate, store and transmit renewable energy. It's not a trendy thing to be "green" anymore, it's absolutely essential for our survival. The effects of climate change are already evident: we have experienced more flash flooding and clean up after wind storms over the past few years. Stormwater management in an urban environment requires rebuilding the size of our sewers, managing more stormwater on site, and increasing our urban canopy to absorb water and stabilize our greenspaces.
These two pressures - aging infrastructure and climate change mitigation -- have created a unique situation for cities. We either ante up, or we crumble. We are not alone in this predicament.
3. Transparency: The cost of replacing our infrastructure (sewers, bridges, etc.) has always been included in our annual capital budget. It's hidden in there with rec centre upgrades and new sidewalks and other capital projects. The new "infrastructure levy" and "stormwater levy" are nothing new -- it's just a name. We separated it out of the capital budget and gave each a dedicated fund that can only be used for that purpose. Now, when you see your tax bill, you see where your money is going -- the education levy, the social services levy, the stormwater levy, etc. This is much more transparent than one rolled-up tax bill.
4. Accountability: When you know where your taxes are going, we are all more accountable. Council must take greater responsibility to make decisions that achieve the goal of the levy -- to close the gap on infrastructure costs. And you and I are more accountable to conserve and take measures to reduce our levy. When we created the stormwater levy, we also included an incentive for property owners to reduce their stormwater impact through a service fee credit. Read more about that here.
We are living in interesting times. Taxes are rising. The challenges of building and maintaining a sustainable city are not going away. But we are also living in a time of incredible opportunity. We have a window of time to get it right and I am excited about some of the things Guelph is doing to get it right. Quality infrastrucuture is the foundation of our city and I am proud that we are creating a city that will stand the test of time for the next generation.