Desire for tax savings drives service reform

By Elisé Saraceni

In the decision about what new model of government will best serve the Centretown region, the only issue that seems to matter is money.

“The projected savings for one city are between $50 million and $80 million throughout the system,” says Watson. “That means taxpayers will see an almost immediate decrease estimated at $300 per property per year based on a $150,000 mortgage.”

Watson says the three-city model will not create the kind of tax savings the provincial goverment is after.
Fear that debt-free residents of Nepean and Gloucester will be required to pay Ottawa’s debt, has been a powerful argument rallying the troops against the one-city model.

But Watson says suburban mayors are ignoring the fact that Ottawa has a richer commercial assessment and higher payments from the federal govrenment that far offset its debt.

“The highest commercial housing is located in the Centretown area,” says Watson. “According to these facts, the argument for the three-city model doesn’t make financial sense. Gloucester and Cumberland don’t have enough commercial assessment to help pay the bills.”

Somerset Ward City Councillor Elisabeth Arnold agrees with Watson’s take that suburban mayors are simply ignoring the facts. Arnold says their argument for a three-city model excludes them from benefiting from Ottawa’s net assets or its revenue producing.

“Yes Ottawa has a debt, but we also have a much greater capacity to pay that debt and to pay for services,” says Arnold. “If the city of Nepean is saying ‘we don’t want your debt,’ they can’t also say ‘but we’re happy to take your revenue and assets.’ You have to look at both sides of the sheet: the debt side and the asset side.”

Advocates of the one-city model say there are other considerable savings to be made by eliminating duplication of services and governance costs.

Walter Robinson, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is one of these advocates.
“The area where you get the best community buy-in isn’t in talking about the number of politicians or the number of cities,” he says. “It’s in how you restructure the services to create tax savings for taxpayers.”

Robinson says the one-city model provides the greatest opportunity to enhance service delivery, providing a greater variety of choice that will better reflect individual community needs, even in downtown areas such as Centretown.

Fire services, for example, will undergo important and effective changes if the plan is to move to a one-city model. According to Ottawa City Fire Chief Gary Richardson, a one-city system means far better service and huge savings.

“I’m a firm believer in one fire department,” says Richardson. “What you’d see here is a tremendous improvement in service levels and an equalization of service levels throughout the city.”

Presently, there is a great deal of disparity in the level of service provided by the various fire services. It ranges from fully paid professional in Ottawa, Nepean and Gloucester, to composite paid and volunteer positions in Kanata and Cumberland.

According to Richardson, there are two significant areas of cost savings that can be made to the existing fire service system: dispatch and administration.

He says cost cuts to administration could save Ottawa-Carleton taxpayers as much as $2.5 million to $3 million at the top end each year.

According to Arnold, public libraries, which are currently provided by each municipality, are an example of how service will be improved and costs will be cut.

She says users will benefit from the convenience provided by a one-city system.

“Let’s say right now, for example, there is a library located within the city of Gloucester, but two blocks down the road it’s acutally the city of Ottawa,” says Arnold. “That means the people who live there can’t use the library without paying out-of-town user fees. All those glitches would disappear.”

Centretown residents would also gain access to library holdings throughout the region.

For Ottawa municipal politicians it’s clear the primary goal for this new local government is that it provide the same or improved services at less cost.

“We’re not issuing new taxes here and we’re not cutting services,” says Watson. “Every single service done locally is duplicated in each municipality. You’re going to see services streamlined and that means long-term savings for Centretown residents and for the entire Ottawa-Carleton region.”