Treasurer's Report on Development Charges - Planning Committee

I can't physically get to Planning Committee today to present a delegation, so an emailed one will have to do.

Mayor Watson, Councillors:

With regard to the Treasurer's Statement on Development Charges Reserve Funds for 2012 (Planning Committee on April 23)

I encourage you to pressure the province to amend the Development Charges Act so the City of Ottawa can capture more development charges for public transit purposes.

We just broke ground on the Confederation Line - the largest infrastructure project the city has ever undertaken - and one that will cause a lot of intensification and development. Yesterday I attended the Western LRT technical briefing and learned at it could be started in as little as ten years. To be affordable both need a large ridership - and preferably riders in new developments within the catchment areas of the new stations.

The problem is - as you know from reading the first paragraph of the Treasurer's report - the province prohibits the City from capturing development charges for public transit that will be arriving in the future. Ottawa's LRT system will be a significant service level increase over BRT. But the Development Charges Act restrains the city from looking at the future and saying "LRT will exist - so we're going to start paying for some of it with development charges today".

Instead the city must use a 10-year, backwards looking service-level average. Even when LRT comes online it will take 10 more years for the increased service levels to fully vest - further inhibiting Ottawa's ability to extend the network with local revenue.

Allow me to quote briefly from the report:

The Development Charges Act requires municipalities to determine the ten-year historic average level of service cap in order to set their rates. This legislative requirement to look backwards restricts the funding available for future capital projects and financially limits a municipality’s ability to expand or change the delivery of certain services in their communities such as Public Transit.

These rules tie one hand behind the city's back. The remaining hand can do only one thing: ask for handouts from the province and federal government.

A few weeks ago this committee passed a motion authorizing the City Solicitor to write a letter to the province asking for a cap on commercial vacancy rebates. That was a worthwhile effort - but in truth - is small fries compared to the fundamental question of whether or not Ottawa can afford to build it's own future - or be constantly stymied by the province.

Asking for changes to the Development Charges Act is not without precedent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toronto has received special attention. In subsection 5.1 of the act, the Toronto-York subway extension received a complete reversal on how development charges can be calculated. Instead of looking only 10-years into the past - Toronto can look 10-years into the future. Toronto, in other words, get's to work with both hands.

With your leadership, I hope the provincial government will respond. Given the heated election climate you may want to contact local representatives of all provincial parties to obtain their support for your initiative.

Ottawa needs an amendment to the Development Charges Act so that intensification along LRT corridors, from Baseline to Blair, can help get a full LRT network built sooner - and extended faster - to Barrhaven, Kanata and Orléans.

Kevin O'Donnell
Deputy Leader, Green Party of Ontario