After having this conversation with dozens of residents since the budget was passed on March 25th, I thought it best to turn my response into a post. For those wondering about the impact of the 2015 tax increase on their household budget I offer the following.
At the outset, it is important to note that the approved 3.55% levy increase is (in itself) not a tax increase. Rather it is a budget increase that will affect individual property owners differently. The 3.55% is the council approved increase to the City’s Operating Budget from 2014 ($200M) to 2015 ($207M). How this increase is now dispensed and collected across the 55,000+ households and 2,000+ businesses in Guelph is a separate discussion which I’m happy to examine.
Note: To read my thoughts on the budget increase please click here www.ward1guelph.ca/2015/03/my-thoughts-on-the-2015-tax-supported-operating-budget
Unlike provincial and federal income taxes, municipal property taxes are based largely on assessed value and growth (not income). How this impacts households differently is the fact that in Guelph, property types are appreciating at vastly different rates. For example, with a Guelph housing market starved of single and semi-detached homes (stemming from the Places to Grow Act), these desired properties are appreciating much faster than others. As a result, while many Guelph residents are still seeing increases above inflation (>3%), others have been incurring significantly higher tax increases in recent years (6%-8%). In many cases this has equated to $300-$450 annually. So while some have stated the tax increase will only mean a “cup of coffee a week” for them, I’ll remind those people that for many Guelph families, seniors and young homeowners the 3.55% will demand real sacrifice. Further, for fixed and low income homeowners (the demographic most vulnerable to sudden spikes in inflation), the combined tax levy (3.55%) and water use (4.1%) increase may finally represent the financial tipping point between the pride of home ownership and a forced return to renting. It is these realities that make controlling the costs of living in Guelph increasingly important. Because while the 3.55% increase will mean something different to everyone, the resourcefulness needed to absorb it (i.e. a tax increase that once again outweighs the average increase in family incomes) will be a common burden placed on all Guelph households.
As a first term Councilor I’m cognisant of the fact that for a short period of time, this council inherits the decisions and directions from previous terms. While I hope to be a Councilor that defends more decisions than criticizes over time, I won’t compromise on the message of “change” sent by the Guelph electorate in 2014. That being said, although I am proud of the approved capital works budget for 2015, I do not support the 2015 Guelph Operating Budget as a whole. The following explains why.
The positives on the capital side are numerous and include funding for completing Eastview Park and Trails ($5.7M); funding for upgrades to the Victoria Road Recreation Center (>$9M); funding for the York Road Improvement Environmental Assessment ($200K); funding for the Woodlawn Road multi-use path ($600K); and a $250K contribution to the affordable housing reserve.
All of these capital investments directly benefit our collective living experience in Guelph and are broadly accepted across all demographics. It is equally important to note however, that the total cost of these projects do not contribute significantly to the 2015 tax increase of 3.55%. In fact, when all is accounted for, the 2015 budget will likely include an overall decrease in capital spending year over year (2014-2015) and a net positive impact to the tax rate (i.e. a decrease in taxes). So why did the tax supported budget go up by 3.55%?
The answer is departmental growth and budget increases greater than 7% or >$7+ million dollars. Specifically, increases related to a) salaries and benefits, b) new positions, c) service costs, d) purchased goods, and e) purchased services. All of which incurred significant increases in 2015. In total, these costs result in a >4.15% increase to the tax rate in 2015. Further, this increase was only reduced to 3.55% on budget night because of cuts to capital spending (year over year) and council’s decision to reduce the annual debt repayment stemming from the Urbacon ruling (a $5.3M payment now made over ten years rather than six). As it stands the ongoing burden of Urbacon will include $500,000/year or a 0.25% annual increase to property taxes until 2025.
In an attempt to mitigate the tax burden on budget night, I (along with a few other Councilors) proposed many fiscally responsible motions to reduce the overall budget increase to 2.8%. This (minus the original 0.5% cost of Urbacon repayment) would have represented a 2.3% tax increase and aligned with voter expectations. We had the opportunity to deliver this to the people of Guelph with all of the capital projects intact, but were continually voted against on budget night. For these reasons, I concluded that the election message of “change” was defiantly being ignored and I would not support, or defend a 3.55% increase.
As a resident of east Guelph the question of WHEN comes up on a weekly basis. Some have been asking for 15 years. Others ask as part of their decision to buy here. Still others ask as they wait on their new home to close. Regardless, as I review the 2015-2017 proposed Capital Budget and reflect on this question, I’m encouraged. Encouraged because I can see the WHEN quickly converging with the NOW in East Guelph.
The proposed draft plan of subdivision for 55 and 75 Cityview Drive North includes the creation of lots and blocks to provide a total of 281 dwelling units, comprised of 111 single detached units, 32 semi-detached units, 19 on-street townhouse units, 71 cluster townhouse units and 48 apartment units. The draft plan also includes two new park blocks (1.17 ha in size) and 1 open space block (2.67 ha in size). The purpose of the proposed Zoning Amendment is to rezone the subject lands from the UR Zone and FL Zone to the R.1D Zone, R.1C Zone, R.1C-8 Zone, R.2 Zone, R.2-6 Zone, R.3B Zone, R.3A Zone, R.4A Zone, P.1 Zone and the P.2 Zone.
In advance of the Council Planning/Decision meeting on Feb 9, 2014 I posed the following questions/concerns to City Staff. Based on staff responses I chose to support the zoning amendment which was passed unanimously by council (13-0). Continue reading
One of the clearest messages I heard from residents during the election this fall was the desire to see elected officials strive for fiscal reform at City Hall and to look inward for efficiencies rather than constantly resorting to raising taxes and service rates. To this end, after reviewing the proposed 2015 non-tax supported operating budget, I did not support the 4.1% increase to water/wastewater rates for 2015. Notwithstanding the need for investment in City reserve funds to service ageing infrastructure, my desire was to limit expansion of the water/waste water division by not approving the proposed full time equivalent (FTE) positions. The following explains my rationale. Continue reading
Season’s Greetings Ward 1;
With the Holiday Season upon us I wanted to pass along my warmest wishes to you and your family this year. This has been a truly blessed Holiday season thus far in Guelph and I’ve had the privilege of attending numerous local events including, the inaugural Guelph Gives fundraiser on Dec 2nd; the annual Secret Santa Guelph fundraiser in support of the Children’s Foundation on Dec 7th; The Royal City Church and Life Center on Dec 17th, and the Lakeside Christmas Hamper program on Dec 19th. Each event served to remind me of the wonderful and caring neighbors that make up our Guelph Community. Continue reading
I’d like to thank the many residents of East Guelph for your comments, phone calls and email messages received in the weeks leading up to the Council planning meeting last night (Dec 8, 2014). I have been listening to resident concerns related to the balance of residential and commercial growth on the subject properties at Starwood/Watson and believe these concerns have served a reminder to council and city staff just how important the East End Node (inclusive of commercial development and a grocery store) is to our community. I’m proud of the level of engagement this file has garnered in the East End as it demonstrates the level of ownership residents feel toward ensuring our community is developed in a sustainable/desirable way.
Based on the questions/answers provided below my decision to support the proposed development at 144 Watson was based on the following factors;
Ward 1 Residents;
I was truly humbled this past week to see our campaign (which began in May), culminate on election night across our wonderful Ward. Ward 1 your collective voice was loud, clear and unmistakable…..No Longer Ignored! Continue reading
Urban renewal is a means for municipalities to maximize built assets/infrastructure, increase tax productivity and strengthen a city’s fiscal standing. To this end I support the concept of downtown renewal in Guelph. Not to be lost in this however, are the growing concerns over the recent tone and direction of our downtown revitalization aspirations. While the vision has merit, the social/economic tradeoffs in terms of increased taxation, affordability, capital project deferral and gentrification need to be better understood. Continue reading
For residents living east of Victoria Rd, the lack of commercial services and business amenities has been a long suffering issue. The reasons are complex but the facts remain true, since the rescinded “Superstore” proposal in 2003/2004, commercial growth in East Guelph has stagnated and frustrations have risen.
Despite the frustration however, there are (in fact) commercial projects working through the planning process for the envisioned East End mixed use node at the Watson/Starwood intersection. Street level commercial along Starwood is intended to create walkable storefronts (as per the 2014 Urban Design Plan), with the larger commercial anchor being situated on the south side of Watson Parkway (i.e. Loblaws grocery store/pharmacy).