BY CRAIG GILBERT
City councillor Ted Callaghan insists a 13 per cent property tax hike in 2004 is ?impossible to live with?.
A staff report presented to Callaghan and his fellow councillors during the first official meeting of city council following the Nov. 10 municipal election indicates a huge tax increase may be needed to keep the city financially afloat.
For a typical single family dwelling with property taxes of $1,535 in 2003, a 13 per cent tax increase would translate to a $200 annual hike. General manager of corporate services Doug Wuksinic told council increases in property taxes would drop to less than half the proposed increase for 2004 in the following years, partially thanks to new money promised by incoming prime minister Paul Martin and new Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
?That?s the good news,? said Wuksinic.
Projects deferred and delayed from 2003 are partially to blame for the double-digit proposed increase for 2004, said Wuksinic.
Total expenditures for the city are expected to increase by about $16.6 million in 2004, while revenues will only increase by $3.2 million. That gap closes some in 2005 and 2006, but there is still a total shortfall in those three years totalling over $20 million.
Other good news comes from Sudbury?s standing in surveys of Ontario municipalities and their financial situations.
Wuksinic said Sudbury?s net levy per capita (the average tax rate) is higher than only seven of the 54 cities included in the survey.
In 2002, Sudbury?s average tax rate for a detached bungalow was third lowest of 54 cities in the province, higher only than Guelph and Norfolk.
Wuksinic said our low to mid-range position, relative to other cities with regard to tax rate, means the city has ?room to move.?
Callaghan doesn?t care what the books say. He said Greater Sudbury?s citizens simply can?t absorb a 13 per cent increase in their property taxes.
?It?s impossible for myself as a councillor to live with this,? he said. ?We need to look at our demographics and make the increase more reflective of the community we live in.?
The coming year, he said, will be a horrible one for Greater Sudbury and the rest of the province?s municipalities.
Ward 1 councillor Terry Kett said the senior levels of government need to be presented with a united front across the province and country through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
He said property taxes and a portion of the PST, as mentioned in staff?s report, are unfair forms of taxation. Cities, he said, need a slice of income taxes.
?Income tax is the best, fairest mode of taxation,? he said. ?The Americans have it to some degree right now, and AMO and the FCM should be aiming for it.?
As he told members of the previous city council on numerous occasions, the city has lost a total of $126 million in provincial grants since 1996, when 21.7 per cent of the city?s budget came from the province. In 2000, Queen?s Park chipped in 4.2 per cent of the city?s budget.
Sudburians may have to dig in their pockets to get the city?s infrastructure up to snuff, as well, he said.
Recommended in Wuksinic?s report is a 2.27 per cent infrastructure renewal levy aimed at closing the $40 million or so capital funding gap the city will run in each of the next 10 years. That levy is included in the 13 per cent potential tax increase.
Major increases in the city?s projected capital expenditures include $18 million for fire fleet and equipment and $5.3 million for ambulance fleet and equipment.
Wuksinic said emergency services were restructured by the former Tory government?s transition board, but no money was allotted for fleet renewal at the time.
Wuksinic said council can?t count on gas tax revenues becoming available for at least 12 to 16 months, something former Ward 5 councillor Austin Davey, a chartered accountant, warned council of during their last term.
Councillors selected for committees
Councillor Ted Callaghan said Greater Sudbury has a ?good mix? of council representatives on committees, task forces and advisory boards after the selection process Thursday night.
?I think it is reflective of the community,? he said. ?Everyone gave consideration to the jobs they wanted, there was a lot of calling back and forth before tonight, and that showed with who took what.?
Callaghan himself was named chair of the finance committee, and will serve on the Older Adult Centre board, the Greater Sudbury Public Library Board/ Sudbury Heritage Museum Advisory Board, the Children?s Aid Society (CAS) and the management committee for Pioneer Manor.
He will also serve out the balance of his term on the NORCAT board, which ends Sept. 2004.
Ward 1 councillor Eldon Gainer was named vice-chair of the finance committee. He will serve on the lake improvement panel, the police board and the SDHU board.
Ward 5 councillor Doug Craig and Ward 3 councillor Ron Dupuis were named deputy mayors for the first half of council?s term. Council decided to make the deputy mayor?s term 18 months instead of one year to cut down on the number of deputy mayor?s the Craig will also serve on the Greater Sudbury Utilities (GSU) board and the
Lake Ramsey advisory panel. Deputy mayor Dupuis has a fuller plate than most other councillors. He will serve on the planning committee, the technical steering committee, the Algoma, Manitoulin and Sudbury district health council, and the advisory panels, committees or boards of the Nickel District Conservation Authority (NDCA), Pioneer Manor, Volunteerism and civic awards, the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU), GSU and the CAS.
Ward 1 councillor Terry Kett was named chair of the priorities committee of council, and Ward 5 councillor Frances Caldarelli was named vice-chair. New Ward 4 councillor Russ Thompson was named chair of the planning committee, and Ward 6 councillor Lynne Reynolds was named vice chair. Thompson will also serve on the Sudbury Theatre Centre and NDCA boards.
Reynolds will serve on the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC), NDCA, public library/heritage museum, civic arts and culture, Flour Mill, parking and metro centre boards.
Veteran Ward 2 councillor Ron Bradley was named to the planning committee, the NDCA, the Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation, the police board, the licensing task force, the citizen advisory panel on agriculture, the court of revision, drainage act and the Bingo and charities advisory panel.
Ward 6 councillor Janet Gasparini will serve on the GSDC, Metro Centre, Earth Care, health research and lake improvement boards.
Kett will also serve on the technical steering committee, GSU, drainage, animal control, and accessibility committees.
Caldarelli will also serve on the planning committee, SDHU, social housing, Lake Ramsey, seniors 111, CAS and health research board/committees. Ward 2 councillor Claude Berthiaume will serve on the GSDC, SDHU,
accessibility and EarthCare boards.