A Resident’s View
Words by Don McVie

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines prosperity as “the condition of being successful or thriving”.

Our community prosperity might be thought of in terms of how connected we feel, how many opportunities there are, our sense of personal relevance and our collective sense of well-being.

I attended the recent City/Region Budget Open House, and the bad news is that we are facing another property tax hike which includes a provision for doubling our “infrastructure levy” to 2 percent. In 2012, we will go into debt for the first time to fund cost-saving technology and transit planning.

No one likes any kind of tax increase, but the good news is that the Open House process is informative and respectful of citizens. I came away feeling that staff and leadership answers to the challenge, while not perfect, were measured and responsible. Even the decision to borrow for the first time was based on matching longer term improvements with longer term financing. While somewhat difficult to accept in a City that has always been debt-free, it makes good business sense to me particularly when not doing so would raise taxes further.

We should all acknowledge that the hard working folks at MIRANET (the ratepayer’s umbrella network) have been our budget watchdogs for the past three years and are making our collective concerns known at City Hall. As was made clear, at present our local government is supported only by one class of taxpayer: the property taxpayer, who alone is responsible for funding so many aspects of our communal well-being.

The simple truth is that property taxes are not the most appropriate way to fund all of the services we require. The demands on the system are huge. You would be shocked to know how many 911 calls our fire, police and paramedics responded to last year, how many riders rely on our buses daily and how many thousands of our fellow residents need our help to be housed and cared for. It is daunting. Notably, the huge education portion of our Region’s budget remains a black hole controlled by Queen’s Park with very limited accountability or input from local ratepayers.

Watching how the money is spent is crucial, but our future prosperity will depend on how we change the deal and increase the tax base over which the burden can be spread. The issue then is not just about how we spend our money, but where we get it.

We need to promote policy changes which will allow the City to participate directly in consumption taxes such as those on sales, hospitality and entertainment.

We need a greater say in how much we contribute for education through our property tax bill and power over how it is being spent.

We need decisive strategies and policy action around brownfields (contaminated sites) so we can unlock latent employment and residential capacity, particularly on our waterfront.

We must compel change in our deal with provincial and federal levels of government so that our partnership with them creates the tools necessary to preserve our prosperity.

Beyond changing the deals with others, we need to amend our own perspectives and priorities.

Our tax base needs to improve wherever it can. This includes densification, particularly around transit corridors. It includes creating policies and zoning conditions which allow the City to negotiate for community amenity contributions (also known as Section 37 benefits). It means that even our most affluent and established neighbourhoods must come to grips with change.

Mississauga is a prosperous place of aspiration and opportunity, chosen by its residents from a world of other options. As residents, we need to start thinking of the decisions we make as being our contribution to our collective prosperity.

The job cannot be left solely to the folks at our City Hall.