Source: The Toronto Star
San Grewal Urban Affairs Reporter, Published on Wed May 20 2015
Mississauga — a city known for asphalt, an iconic sprawling shopping mall at its centre and suburban-style monster homes — has a message: if you want to keep paving paradise, get ready to pay more.
In a move that’s a first for the GTA, Canada’s largest suburb and its sixth largest city will soon charge home owners and businesses for storm water costs based on how much of their property is covered. If you have a very small house that causes little run-off water, you will pay nothing. But if your home is in the highest of five size categories, it will cost $170 in 2016 for your share of the city’s storm-water management costs. It’s an approach that Toronto is also looking at ahead of its 2016 budget process, according to a city spokesperson.
At a Mississauga committee meeting Wednesday, the new funding system was passed unanimously and will likely get final approval next week. The new approach will raise millions more each year, as flooding in the city from major rainstorms over the last decade provided proof that its storm water infrastructure can’t handle climate change and all the increased run-off from so much covered land.
“You allowed too much asphalt and too many homes,” said Councillor Nando Iannicca, claiming that residents will call council members “morons that didn’t manage things well” once the new charge shows up on dedicated utility bills for single family units starting in 2016. City staff said the replacement value of the storm water system is $1.8 billion, which can’t be covered by the property tax bill. Much of the infrastructure is in need of replacement.
“You built Square One (the city’s downtown shopping mall) and that’s your problem,” said Iannicca, trying to predict what residents will say to him.
“It’s the environmental factors that are the issue,” he said, in the city’s defence. “There’s floods everywhere, in places that have never experienced floods.”
Storm water operating costs represent 1.6 per cent of the city’s portion of Mississauga’s property tax bill; this means homeowners, on average, are paying about $25 annually. (This does not include the capital cost).
Councillor George Carlson, council’s resident environmentalist, has championed the innovative approach since it was first examined in 2011. He recognizes the impact of climate change, but said development trends are also at the root of the problem. “You can’t use pipes the size of Dixie straws when we need massive concrete culverts,” he said after the meeting. “There were streets in Mississauga that looked like Venice in July of 2013 (when a major storm event wreaked havoc across the GTA).”
“But look at all the asphalt and parking lots and McMansions in this city. All of that covered land is sending more and more run-off water into pipes that were probably already too small. I can see the king and queen needing to live in a castle, but does every third person have to?”
Carlson is doubtful that $170 for the largest homes will curtail “McMansions” right away, but he said it’s about changing the attitude.
“I foresee in Mississauga, in a world of dwindling, finite resources and lower wages, the market for these houses is going to shrink. I can’t see, voluntarily, people wanting to hold onto these white elephants as all the costs for them rises and rises. And now this new charge is another cost.”
Christine Van Geyn, the Ontario spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the new charge will be just another tax.
“Creating a new and separate tax dedicated to paying for storm water infrastructure could cause the overall tax burden for the people of Mississauga to go up.” She said adding the new storm water charge “is going to drive people and businesses out of Mississauga and Ontario and into more affordable jurisdictions.”
Charges to businesses will be based on a formula that measures the total covered amount of space, but they will be able to save up to 50 per cent of their fee by putting in measures such as catchment basins and permeable material to prevent storm run-off.
Regarding the dedicated storm water fee, Van Geyn said “the city is just looking for a way to hike it to raise revenue.”
Staff agreed with that assessment Wednesday during the committee meeting, admitting that the capital needed to cover the $1.8 billion storm water infrastructure replacement costs can’t be found in the property tax base.