In my last post, Which Wards Deserve City Funds, Part I: Rideau-Goulbourn, I talked about the proposed infrastructure levy, the magical budget surplus and the new road projects that are getting city funding. Further, I wrote about some objections made by Rideau-Goulbourn councillor Scott Moffatt about the proposed levy. Feel free to go back and read it as background for this post.
My basic concern was councillors objecting to a city-wide levy because the money wouldn’t be spent in their ward. That’s not really how city funding works, nor should it be. We all pay into city revenues and every ward gets some level of service. It means that some wards will pay more than other. That’s life. (And despite my concerns, it seems to be Moffatt’s view, also.)
Osgoode Councillor George Darouze also objected to the proposed levy, in part because his ward wouldn’t see any of the additional spending. Here’s his official statement on the issue:
This would be the key passage to me:
They claim that this motion will generate $8 million, yet according to the City Treasurer it will only raise $4.3 million, with not a dime going to Osgoode Ward 20. In fact, the infrastructure projects supported by this levy almost entirely exclude rural Ottawa. Do you think the Councillors that support the current motion would support a levy to improve rural infrastructure, taxing their residents for our benefit? I don’t.
As it turns out, Osgoode didn’t have any “below the line” projects that would receive funding from this surprise surplus…but after approaching the mayor, he was able to get some funding for one of his ward’s projects, leaving only Somerset, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier and Alta Vista as the only wards to not directly benefit from this new money.
As with Moffatt, I thought it only fair to ask Darouze about the apparent hypocrisy of it all. I had three questions for him:
1. If it was inappropriate for the funds of the proposed levy to exclude Osgoode Ward, and much of rural Ottawa, why is it okay for the funds from the surplus to go to all rural wards, but not four urban wards (including Alta Vista)?
2. If this was to be a non-political process, and the city was to just fund the next projects in line (if you will), why was it appropriate for the mayor to extend funding to a project in Osgoode Ward that was not initially on the list?
3. Finally, do you believe that tax revenues raised from residents in one ward should only be spent on infrastructure and services delivered in that ward?
And, like Moffatt, he responded to me quickly and thoroughly:
1. Securing $150,000, which is 1.5% of $10 million, is easier than getting a portion of $4.3 million. So comparing funding allocation from the tax levy to that of the budget surplus is kind of like comparing apples and oranges. Aside from asking for a portion of the surplus funds to finish off a project that had a shortfall, I did not participate in how roads were prioritized. City staff conducted that evaluation.
2. It was not political. 3.7 km of Mitch Owens was being paved and it needed 300 m more to complete the section of road. I took pictures of the road, showing how severely deteriorated the 300 m stretch was and brought those pictures to the Mayor. That 300 m segment of road will cost $150,000, which again is 1.5% of the surplus being distributed for infrastructure. None of the Councillors representing wards that did not get surplus funds asked.
3. No, and when we voted on the motion it really did not come down to the funding on a ward by ward basis. Some who would have gotten no funding supported the levy and some that were going to get funding opposed it. The “not a dime going to Osgoode Ward 20” statement that you quoted was only a small part of why I was opposing the levy. For example, if my Ward was going to receive $150,000 from the property tax levy, I still would have opposed it. For me, it primarily came down to it being a last minute tax levy (which I consider a very serious measure) being pushed forward without the appropriate public consultations.
Okay, so I don’t really get his first answer. It’s wrong for $4.3M to not be spread across all wards, but it’s okay for $10M of spending to exclude four wards?
The second answer is fair enough. I don’t really have an objection to the project, but considering his stance, there’s an incongruity.
Point number three is really the crux of the matter, and this is where I have a problem. I see a parallel with Moffatt’s tweets, here. Moffatt made a comment about money not going to his ward, but that was in the middle of a twitter conversation–not always the most thorough and thoughtful form of conversation; it’s much more extemporaneous.
Darouze claims that his objections to the proposed levy were primarily for reasons relating to consultation. Okay, fine, we can have many different reasons for supporting or opposing a proposal. But he issued a lengthy, thorough press release. This wasn’t him having an open and off-the-cuff conversation on twitter. This was measured. This was intentional.
And he still decided to include an objection about how there’s “not a dime going to Osgoode Ward 20.” I don’t believe that he would include such an argument if he didn’t truly believe it.
Further, I think it’s pretty slanderous that he suggested that councillors Leiper, Deans, McKenney, Nussbaum, Wilkinson, Fleury, Chiarelli and Chernushenko wouldn’t support funding rural infrastructure projects. In fact, the very proposal and the subsequent surplus allocation demonstrates that they do support funding rural infrastructure projects.
I think Darouze is projecting.
Rural wards receive more funding from the city than they contribute in tax revenue. Rural services are often more expensive to deliver than urban services. As someone in a central neighbourhood (who gets the double whammy of renting, thus paying a higher property tax rate), I’m okay with this. We’re all one city, and we all deserve services. Logistically, there are going to be different service levels, different service costs and different rates of revenue contribution. That’s just life.
I don’t like councillors pandering to their residents and making allegations that their (subsidized) residents are getting screwed over by city folk. It’s cynical. It’s dishonest. It’s divisive. It’s bad for the city.
I’m glad Mitch Owens is getting fixed. I just wish we could fix more of our city infrastructure. And I wish city councillors could be more honest about who pays for this.