I know it’s old news, but I wanted to talk about the issues around city council’s surplus (no, not this one, the original one). City pols and the public had been debating a possible levy to raise a few million to be devoted to infrastructure. Then, when the surplus was magically discovered, the levy proposal was withdrawn and these new funds were devoted to infrastructure spending. Kind of a win-win.
As it turns out, not every ward would benefit directly from those new funds. Of the four wards that wouldn’t see any new spending, three, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier and Somerset are represented by councillors who supported the proposed levy (the councillor for the fourth, Alta Vista’s Jean Cloutier, opposed it). A fifth ward–Osgoode, represented by a staunch opponent of the levy, George Darouze–wasn’t slated to have any new funding for infrastructure projects, but then he approached the mayor, and one of Osgoode’s projects got added on.
Upon first reaction, this might have seemed a little fishy, like some wards were being punished and one was being reward for disagreeing or agreeing with the mayor, respectively. But that’s not really the case. The city has a list of projects, prioritized, that need to be taken care of. The ones chosen were the ones “below the line”–ones that were next in line for future funding. (This doesn’t include the Osgoode project, but it’s not a big spend, so, whatever.)
So far, so good.
But I found some of the rhetoric in the debate that preceded the announcement of the surprise surplus a little concerning.
First, I disagree with the viewpoint expressed in these tweets from Rideau-Goulbourn councillor Scott Moffatt:
Here’s what I don’t like: when it comes to city governance, we’re all in this together. In some ways, different wards will get different service levels and this can’t be avoided (Somerset has more bus routes than Cumberland for some understandable reasons), but, roughly speaking, the city (all of us) pays for services for all areas of the city (all of us). This also means that some wards more services per person or per tax dollar than other. That’s just life.
To argue that the levy is a bad idea because your ward won’t receive any new funding betrays the concept of the city as a single political body. It also ignores all the money that currently goes into your ward.
Now, it’s maybe unfair to screenshot this twitter exchange and pick it apart without talking to Moffatt…so I emailed him, asking him two questions:
How do you square the opposition to the levy and its potential uneven distribution of funds, with the fact that Rideau-Goulbourn will receive project funding, but other wards, like Somerset and Rideau-Vanier, are not slated to receive additional funds?
Further, do you think there should be a relatively even distribution of this surplus?
He quickly and graciously replied:
You are correct, my preliminary glance at the budget documents in December led me to surmise that, if funds were just directed to road renewal as the budget was written, it would be unlikely that Rideau-Goulbourn received funding. My rationale there was that, specifically on road resurfacing, the next four or five projects on the Below The Line cutoff totaled in the neighbourhood is $8M. The roads that did end up being included in the surplus funding project were further down that list (Potter, Barnsdale).
One error that I made not assuming that the Below The Line section under Pavement Preservation wouldn’t have been a priority with the 0.5% levy. If you look in the 2018 Budget documents, you’ll see that below the line projects in that regard were dominated by Ward 21 roads (Eagleson, Dwyer Hill, Old Richmond Road). In my Twitter haste, I failed to consider that pavement preservation would also be considered. I often only think of road resurfacing since it’s a more permanent solution, relatively speaking. Pavement preservation usually buys an additional 7-10 years on a soon to be failing road.
On the distribution of the $10M, I certainly didn’t expect nearly $2M for Rideau-Goulbourn. I do believe any renewal funding needs to be done on merit using the priority ranking list that the City generates annually. It should not be doled out evenly across the wards. The only reason you would do that is for appeasement and political gain in an election year. If a road is in need, it’s in need. As an example, Rideau Valley Drive South is slated for renewal in 2018. More residents live on and use Rideau Valley Drive North and it is equally as poor. Resurfacing RVDN would be more politically advantageous but also just wrong. We can’t prioritize roads based on votes.
I don’t disagree that it’s odd the way the funds are spread out but, at the same time, Alta Vista is slated for $0 while Kanata North is one of the highest. From a conspiracy theorist perspective, that would deflate the notion that the eight Councillors who supported the levy were considered here. From what I can tell, this was driven entirely by staff except for the one specific issue that was already reported involving Councillor Darouze.
I think this all seems reasonable. I don’t want to think that Moffatt wants to abandon the we’re-in-this-together mentality (and I’ll note that keeping ward revenues within the wards they were collected, would disproportionately benefit urban wards and hurt rural wards).
I still don’t love the “not a cent…in Rideau-Goulbourn” comment, but objections around process and consultation are defensible.
So, though I’m concerned about his tweets…maybe it was just Twitter, it’s not like it was an official, well-planned press release.
Stay tuned for Part II!