Tax saving claimed in eco-plan

Councillor can agree with Crane Institute on ‘a lot’, but some ideas can’t fly.

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The day before city council met to approve its 2019 municipal budget, Crane Institute for Sustainability submitted a recommendation paper titled “2019 Sustainable Budget – Shifting Towards a Virtuous Cycle.”
The submission criticized “the current practice of setting budget, identifying tax increase, cutting services to minimize tax increase” as “unsustainable financially, socially, and environmentally,” offering instead an outline that would see funding redistributed from road infrastructure towards other programs that would promote active transportation, mobility, and access.
Crane outlined six primary recommendations in its submission, including “place a hold on new roads, reconstruction, and resurfacing projects in 2019,” which would allow the city to “redistribute $7.5 million in capital road funding to other core services for 2019 [and] reduce property taxes by 3.75 per cent for 2019.”
Robert Rattle, executive director of the Crane Institute, explained to Sault This Week why the submission focused on roads as the budget item to reduce.
“The mandate of Crane is to explore trends and practices around the world and introduce them here when and how they make sense,” said Rattle. “Reducing roads and lane kilometers has been shown to produce a myriad of co-benefits, not the least of which are economic, social, health, and environmental.”
The capital budget for roads is the largest single budget item, and although Crane agrees that Sault roads are “terrible,” the city’s own data shows that it is very costly to maintain them, Rattle pointed out.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the numbers and realize that there is absolutely no way this city can either afford the roads we currently have nor can we reconstruct them to their existing specifications. That analysis clearly suggested we need a new approach – to mobility, transportation, and access,” said Rattle.
Although the document provided specific examples of steps the city could take to adjust its budget, they were intended to be “non-prescriptive, more inspirational,” but all have been done in other cities around the world with positive results “improving everything from crime rates and poverty to air quality and environmental conditions, feelings of well-being and community pride, improved economic opportunities and development gains, all while reducing municipal costs,” Rattle said.
Because Crane’s submission came late in the process, councillors may not have had time to read it, as Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour admitted. But he did meet with Rattle shortly after taking office, he said
“While some of Mr. Rattle’s ideas are radical and impractical, there is a lot on which I agree with him,” Dufour told Sault This Week.
For example, Dufour agrees with Crane and Rattle about the flaws in focusing only on the levy increase at budget time, but disagrees with their capital figures. “By stating that any capital funding for roads is by nature a subsidy towards cars not transit, the Crane Institute is implying that public transit buses do not or should not use roads to move through the city. This is clearly not the case,” said Dufour.
Roads are a critical part of the infrastructure in Northern Ontario cities, and the Sault’s have been “underfunded for decades,” Dufour said, adding, the engineering department has incorporated many of Crane’s suggestions, such as increases to transit, road diets, and Hub Trail funding, into the just-passed budget without defunding roadwork.
Dufour’s ward mate Lisa Vezeau-Allen said she also had a one-on-one with Rattle, and that she also agrees with some of Crane’s aims, including improving access to active transportation. However, when it came to the budget, “I listened to my constituents… so I made decisions based on that.”
Rattle conceded the 2019 budget includes some “positive steps”, but “there were many items that lock the community into unsustainable trajectories for the next 10 to 15 years and beyond.”
For example, the city needed to purchase new buses to replace aging ones, but did not plan to buy based on the latest emission reduction technologies, he said.
“Given our fleet lasts on average much longer than most communities, this means our transit fleet will in all likelihood have to be retired before the end of its useful life in order to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates imposed on us by provincial, federal, and international agreements.”
Had council adopted Crane’s proposals, the $7.5 million in savings that would have been seen could have been redistributed to other services, such as the library budget, which was cut by $214,000, essentially requiring the closing of the Korah Branch, Rattle said.
Future plans are not yet made as far as submissions to future budget deliberations, but if the institute is to make a submission next year it will be done earlier – this year “for reasons beyond our control” Crane was unable to submit sooner.
“That said, if anyone wishes to discuss these ideas, we would welcome discussions to find ways that we can continue to work to improve our quality of life, reduce taxes, attract business and people to this city and direct our municipal finances at some of the more intractable challenges the Sault has and will encounter in coming years,” said Rattle.


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