FROM THE MAYOR’S DESK: PAYING THE COST OF A GROWING CITY

Earlier this afternoon, the Public Service’s review and administrative report dealing with proposed growth fees was published and made publicly available for everyone to review.

All members of the public, industry representatives, media, as well as Councillors are now able to review the Public Service’s report, and I certainly encourage everyone to do so.

What are growth fees, and how did we get to this point?

Earlier this year in February, in my State of the City Address, I spoke openly and publicly about the need to find a way to better manage and pay for the cost of a growing city.

Together with our surrounding municipalities, we are on track to grow steadily and strongly over the next 25 years, and are expected to surpass one million people strong by 2035.

But on a per capita basis, we are not investing in infrastructure needed to support growth at a level that is common across Canada.

So, right now, existing property owners are having to pay for all the infrastructure costs associated with a growing city.  

I don’t think it’s fair to expect existing property owners and existing home owners to pay all these costs through significantly higher property taxes.

Growth fees are one way to stabilize the use of property taxes because they help rebalance responsibility for paying the cost of new or expanded infrastructure required as a result of a city’s population growing onto those driving these infrastructure needs.

Without these fees, existing home owners and existing property owners have to cover all these infrastructure costs through their property taxes.

The Public Service is recommending we introduce impact fees (which is another way to describe growth fees). I certainly support this, and I want to quickly highlight a few key aspects of what’s being recommended by the Public Service in their report.

First, the establishment of a reserve fund.

Industry groups, and others, have expressed concern over the possibility the revenue generated from a growth fee would be used to pay for “the sins of the past”.

I believe it is critically important that revenue generated through the introduction of an impact fee be used to fund growth-related infrastructure that builds our city for the future.

Establishing a dedicated reserve fund will ensure revenue deposited into the fund will be used to fund only growth-related projects, and it ensures open and transparent accounting of the revenue deposited into the fund.

I strongly support the establishment of a dedicated reserve fund limiting the use of funds to only growth related projects.

And, I strongly support the open and transparent accounting of projects funded from the fund.

Second, questions have been raised about the City’s legal authority to proceed with implementing an impact fee.

The administrative report clearly cites the City’s legislative authority to impose fees.

It also includes a draft bylaw which cites the legal authority derived from The City of Winnipeg Charter.

The Charter also gives broad authority to Council to govern the city in whatever way Council considers appropriate within the jurisdiction given to it under the Charter. 

As such, the Public Service has concluded the powers currently available to the City in Part 5 of the Charter, particularly sections 209 and 210, can be used to support the proposed by-law.

Third, policy exemptions.

The administrative report is recommending that garages, decks, porches, sun rooms, gazebos, and basements be exempted from calculating the fee for residential development.

It is also recommending an exemption for dwelling units identified as affordable housing.

I fully support these exemptions. In particular, I support an exemption for affordable housing.

Also, I have heard lots of feedback about infill development, and the importance of ensuring policy alignment with respect to infill.

Although not mentioned in the administrative report, I feel we do need to consider policy tools that could be used and applied to infill as it relates to the introduction of an impact fee.

We need to begin planning and building today in a way that positions our city and prepares us for a future that we know will have more people… and more homes.

If we want to build Winnipeg for the future and build a city we can be proud of, status quo isn’t an option.

I have met and spoken with many different industry groups over the last several days and weeks.

And I have been listening.

I think the administrative report, available today for everyone to review, puts us on the right track and sets the right direction.

However, I do want businesses, developers, industry groups, and Councillors to have additional time to review the administrative report and its recommendations in the same way that everyone was able to review the Hemson report.

As such, Councillor Orlikow and I will be recommending at next Wednesday’s Executive Policy Committee meeting that consideration of this report be laid-over.

This will allow additional time for review of the administrative report.

While I do feel some additional time is required to publicly review the administrative report, I want to be clear this is not a new debate. As a city, we have already spent years discussing this, and I do not feel the need to spend years discussing it further.

Delay for the sake of delay is not on my agenda.

From day one, I have been encouraging an open and transparent approach to this discussion. I have encouraged everyone to be respectful of different opinions. I remain committed to being open and accessible to industry groups, and remain committed to working toward positive change.

I continue to be guided by these principles, and it is my hope we can continue to discuss this issue openly, and also respectfully.

We need to move Winnipeg forward, and we need to begin building our city for the future, today.

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