Mississauga council passed a 6.1 per cent increase on the city’s portion of the 2014 tax bill Wednesday, as councillors fretted about the city no longer being debt-free, projects going unfunded, and a growing infrastructure deficit. “The property tax is not sustainable for municipalities across the country,” Mayor Hazel McCallion said just before the 2014 budget was given final approval. McCallion, 92, has said this will be her last term but, with the city she has led for 35 years facing dire times financially, after stepping down she’ll continue campaigning for better financial support for cities.
The city tax increase, plus a 0.6 per cent projected increase in the Peel Region portion, results in a 2.4 per cent hike in the overall tax bill for a Mississauga property owner in 2014 — assuming the provincial education portion remains unchanged, as it has for about a decade. Mississauga’s tax hike alone represents an extra $18 on every $100,000 of assessed property value.
With numerous infrastructure projects having to go unfunded to keep the tax increase reasonable and $36.6 million of new debt on top of the $50 million in debt issued this year (the city had been debt-free for decades), MIRANET, a ratepayers umbrella group, had grim words for councillors about the city’s “economic difficulty.” McCallion acknowledged that a city once flush with development dollars has found that revenue source depleted as it has been built out.
“That is why we’ve been out of debt for so many years, because we’ve had those reserves to call on,” she explained. MIRANET criticized the budget for its failure to set aside funds for the planned $1.6 billion Hurontario LRT, which has yet to receive any senior government money. McCallion is adamant that the city should not have to cover any of the capital cost of the LRT, given that the province is paying the capital costs of Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown project. The province has said municipalities need to pay their share of transit expansion. MIRANET called for a freeze on the salaries of non-union staff, but council voted to approve the 2 per cent pay increase included in the 2014 proposed budget.
The city’s total labour costs, including benefits, have risen from $379 million in 2010 to $445.5 million in 2014. A resident at Wednesday’s meeting questioned the labour costs, suggesting that departments such as planning and building should be scaling back. “Shouldn’t you be cutting back on these staff, now that there’s no new development?” he asked. Development-related revenue is indeed plummeting, such as building permit fees.
Only $19.9 million in development charge revenues are projected to go into city coffers in 2014, compared with the post-2000 peak figure of $52.7 million, garnered in 2007.