As acting chief administrative officer for the City of Winnipeg, I read your Nov. 6 editorial, Proposed house tax unjustified, carefully, and with concern. I believe this editorial misses several crucial points, all of which matter to citizens of Winnipeg.
The proposed growth-development charge isn't a tax: It's a one-time fee, which applies to people who build new homes. The purpose of the fee is to help pay for new infrastructure that is required as the city grows. And all our best projections tell us the city is going to continue to grow.
The editorial said that "homeowners in new subdivisions already pay 100 per cent of the cost of all infrastructure." Our best analysis suggests that information isn't fully accurate. It is correct that new subdivisions generally pay 100 per cent for infrastructure within the development, as well as adjacent upgrades to roads (i.e., intersections).
However, regional streets will become progressively more congested as development occurs and therefore require expansion, new routes or the provision of alternative travel modes. At present, the city has no ability to recover these costs from development and they ultimately become a cost that is fully funded through property tax. Here is where a growth-development charge could be applied to help redress the balance.
The city has to cover the costs of the new infrastructure that growth demands: new regional roads, the expansion of public transit and new recreational facilities. Those costs will either be partially funded by new homeowners now, or fully funded later by all homeowners' and business owners' property taxes.
Our analysis of the civic infrastructure deficit shows we ought to be doubling, or even tripling, our spending on infrastructure, and that at least half our infrastructure deficit is growth-related. As a matter of public policy, it seems only fair citizens who benefit from growth should contribute a portion of the initial investment in the new infrastructure growth requires.
When it comes to public health and safety, the public service does not share the view that "police and firefighters are rarely called to these new developments." Public health and safety are fundamental responsibilities of civic government, which we take seriously. A team of firefighters or paramedics could be required in any part of the city, at any time, and it is our job to ensure they are available in any part of the city, at any time.
As a public service, we always strive to find cost efficiencies before we recommend any request for new revenue. Winnipeg's infrastructure deficit, though, is large and well-documented, as is the case in most other Canadian cities. The one thing that separates us from most other major Canadian cities, and even from most of our neighbouring municipalities, is that most of them have adopted a growth-development charge to help them meet a portion of their new infrastructure costs.
As a public service, we have recommended this option to city council because we believe it to be the fairest way to help pay for the new infrastructure the growth of our city will require. We also believe that, in the long run, it will ensure a more sustainable city, just as our civic plan, OurWinnipeg, envisions.
For more information on this topic, we invite citizens to visit Winnipeg.ca/gdc.
Deepak Joshi is acting chief administrative officer for the City of Winnipeg.