A Look at Mississauga's Budget

The 2017 Budget was approved last week by city council. Here are highlights on some of the most prominent points I found, my thoughts on specific spending items and one random idea that I don’t think anyone really voiced during the budget deliberations.

What is the Actual Tax Rate in Mississauga in 2017?

A lot of various media sources are saying that Mississauga’s property tax rate for the 2017 Budget is 5.7 per cent, but city officials will say that the it’s actually only 1.9 per cent. The actual figure, according to city manager Janice Baker, is 2.98 per cent, which is the combined rate for Mississauga and Peel Region. Mississauga’s portion is 1.98 per cent while Peel Region is approximately 1 per cent. There’s also a rate of 1.8 per cent for the commercial property tax bill, for those of you out there who are business owners.

What exactly is correct from this smorgasbord of numbers? Other media have been reporting the 5.7 per cent, while the city is saying because it’s a blended rate. The actual tax rate is actually 1.9 per cent on the city’s portion of the overall tax bill. Just following the tweets online between Mayor Crombie, city councillors and various online tweeters is enough to boggle the mind. Below is a response from Councillor Karen Ras to people asking her about the budget numbers.

And here is another exchange on Twitter, involving the Mayor herself responding to a media source citing the 5.7 per cent figure.

Here’s what I think the city should do; stop talking about this blended rate mumbo-jumbo and say in clear language what Mississauga’s tax rate is—period. If it is 1.9 per cent, then just say it’s 1.9 per cent. Also, they also frequently mention that the Region of Peel’s tax rate is separate from the city of Mississauga’s. Need I remind everyone that we, Mississauga, are still a part of the Region of Peel. Mississauga taxpayers are Region of Peel taxpayers as well.

The Churchill Meadows Swimming Pool

Initially approved back in 2015, the new swimming pool will be part of a larger $52 million community centre planned for Churchill Meadows in the Tacc Drive and Ninth Line area. Councillors agreed the city would take on the debt to fund the 25-meter indoor pool, anticipated to cost $18.7 million. The money would be recouped through the tax base with a special levy of 0.5 per cent to be collected over 10 years.

So in other words, there will be a charge on the property tax bill specifically for the Churchill Meadows community swimming pool, very similar to the infrastructure levy on the city’s portion of the tax bill from previous budgets, except this one will be allocated specifically for the swimming pool and not general infrastructure upgrades for Mississauga.

There was some back and forth between Ward 10 Councillor Sue McFadden, who had been fighting to get a community centre in her ward, and the mayor, who proposed reexamining the way the city was going to pay for the pool. Democratic societies rely on debate, and at least they had one here.

UTM getting $1 million a year from Mississauga…for the next decade

Another spending item that was reviewed was the money for University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). Back in 2013, the city approved a $1 million a year grant to UTM to fund their Innovation Complex. This is a 10 year project which will cost $35 million, and was a holdover (aka legacy project) from Hazel McCallion’s mayoralty. Last year, four councillors (Karen Ras, Chris Fonseca, Pat Saito and John Kovac) voted against approving the grant, citing concerns about a municipality footing money for a project that UTM should have no trouble getting money for.

We’re funding infrastructure that is not our own,” said Councillor Chris Fonseca, adding the university has a lot of other revenue tools at its disposal, whereas the city is limited to user fees and the property tax base. It may come as a shock, but UTM does possess more revenue generating avenues than the city because it’s a post secondary institution that can tap into streams such as grants. As an example, Councillor Karen Ras pointed out, UTM recently received a $7 million donation from Orlando Corporation for their cancer research facility.

While it’s not uncommon for a municipality to provide funding to local post secondary institutions—Kitchener-Waterloo and Kingston have done it for the University of Waterloo and Queen’s University respectively—I hope it is not going to become a regular practice. Perhaps it should be the purview of the federal or provincial governments to put up that money, but not a municipality which has limited enough money as they do.

Nearly $1 million to run Mayor Crombie’s office

This might be the line item that would upset people the most; the fact that Bonnie Crombie’s office budget is substantially more than what former mayor Hazel McCallion had during her 36 year tenure. Mayor Crombie’s proposed budget for 2017 is $962,000, up by $388,000 since Hazel left office two years ago. Much of Crombie’s additional expenses can be attributed to additional staff, a total of six, which includes newly created positions for a senior communications advisor and a special assistant to help with policy related matters.

At the risk of incurring some flack from the anti-tax and spend crowd out there, I’m going to attempt to defend these additional costs. Hazel McCallion’s political philosophy was different than what we are used to politicians today, a throwback to a time when municipal politics was more akin to a form of community service. Even as Mississauga grew from a smattering of villages to Canada’s sixth largest city, she kept her operations as though she was still running a small town, with probably no more than a few staffers. Also, Hazel was more of a hands-on type of leader, someone who got her positions on issues based on what she was hearing from people in normal, everyday conversations everywhere she went. I seriously doubt that Hazel needed anything like a policy or communications advisor. Most likely she fulfilled those roles herself.

But Bonnie Crombie is different from Hazel McCallion. Just as with the municipal campaign, when it was really the first time someone had to run an actual campaign to become Mississauga’s mayor. Now, figuring out how to run a big city mayor’s office like it should be run is new to Mississauga. So to do that, some additional spending would be required. I think people just aren’t used to a Mississauga mayor doing regular press releases, having an actual communications plan, strategizing over policy issues and having more staff in the mayor’s office.

That said, once Mayor Crombie settles more into her role (assuming she wins another term in 2018) she might want to review her expenses to see if she does still need that many staff on her payroll. The mayor did freeze her own salary for the duration of her term, but hopefully she can get these numbers back down to more acceptable levels.

Stormwater Levy is going to increase….already

You may recall that Mississauga recently instituted a stormwater levy as a way to mitigate the effects of flooding on homes by putting a charge on residential and commercial property based on the amount of flat surface area. The levy split funding from 40 per cent residential properties and 60 per cent commercial properties. But even though it was just being brought in, the city is increasing the levy already, by $2 per billing unit, per year, for the next four years.

Chris Mackie from the umbrella organization that represents ratepayers associations MIRANET, said it was premature to do so. Mackie asked if you’re going to increase the stormwater levy, why not increase other parts of the budget to balance it out? Although the stormwater levy was removed from the operating budget, the same Mississauga taxpayers would still be paying it. It sounds like just an unnecessary hit on people who already have to pay it.

Do we need a managerial staff culling a la Brampton?

I was kind of surprised that City Manager Baker indicated in her press conference a few weeks ago that after all the public consultations, nobody ever mentioned cutting back or scaling back increased salaries for senior management. The last time I checked, someone like Ed Sajecki (the Commissioner of Planning at Mississauga) was making over $200,000. Does he need that salary, or does his department need as many planners has it has? Is anyone asking these important questions?

The city of Brampton recently hired a new city manager, and what has resulted under the new manager’s tenure pretty much amounts to a culling of the herd in middle management. Now, I’m not saying that Mississauga requires such drastic measures as Brampton; Brampton’s municipal government has been a bit of a dysfunctional mess for the past few years so their actions were expected. But it would be nice for someone of importance to talk about taking tough medicine on their end if we’re going to pass budgets year after year with ever growing property taxes.

Finally, if you want to talk about revenue tools down the road, it should be offset by decrease in property taxes. A very utopian idea is to reduce property taxes and rely more on user fees and other consumption type taxes, because those are based on user pay which makes much more sense to finance infrastructure and public services. That sounds a bit like a pipe dream, but with councillors I’m hearing talking about how Mississauga can do amazing things, why not give this idea a shot?

Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic

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