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Citizen wants to know how much development will cost taxpayers

City staff will try to come up with some answers to complex question
20160201 Guelph City Hall Council Chambers KA

Susan Watson wants to know the true cost of growth in the City of Guelph and it looks like the city is going to try and provide an answer.

The Guelph woman appeared before City Council earlier this week to question the 2016 Development Priorities Plan, a summary from city staff for council regarding the recommended development for the coming year.

That report said the Development Priorities Plan would come with "no financial implications" to the city.

"There's an illusion that growth pays for growth. I would go so far as to call this a fantasy," Watson said during a special planning meeting of council Wednesday.

In particular, Watson questioned how the staff report could say that there was no cost to the city for the development, that costs would be covered by development charges levied on those doing the developing.

Watson believes that infrastructure and other costs related to the new development will cost city taxpayers $23.5 million over the next three years, a figure that was neither verified or refuted on Wednesday, although Mayor Cam Guthrie did say he wanted it on the record that he didn't believe Watson's figures were accurate.

"I'm just a lay person. I made a best guess. If my calculation is off, I'm happy to hear from the experts what the number actually is," Watson told council.

"What is beyond question, is that money to execute this development plan will be coming out of tax coffers and you need to know how much that is," she said.

Watson later forwarded a report to media from a 2013 meeting of the Municipal Finance Officers Association that detailed how most, but not all, development costs are able to be recouped through development charges. That report was sent to her by councillor Cathy Downer.

Watson's presentation led to a discussion around the council table and with city staff. Eventually it was decided that staff would come back to council with a draft report coming up with an answer to the question to "does growth pay for itself?"

"I think we all know the simple answer is 'no,'" long-time councillor Karl Wettstein said, adding that it was a complex question to fully answer.

He also pointed out that growth is necessary in that it is both provincially legislated to a certain extent and that growth attracts people and jobs that enhance the city.

Councillor Christine Billings said many of the numbers needed to answer the question were available to council.

Deputy CAO Scott Stewart said coming up with answers would require some parameters and guidance from council, which could come when staff brings the issue back to the committee level in the near future.


Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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