Guelph has learned that you can’t just put up a “for sale” sign on a vacant lot and hope for the best.
One of the keys to redevelopment success in the downtown has been an innovative program – financed from the significant increase in taxes earned from the redeveloped property and not taken from existing taxpayers – that has attracted private sector investment to transform several underutilized and contaminated properties. The City is attracting new revenue now because of this approach.
It will take a similar enterprising approach to attract the private sector investment necessary to complement the funds we do have available to redevelop the Baker Street District and Guelph Innovation District.
Recently, some attention has focused on the potential of a special tax levy to do this.
I do not support a special tax levy for two key reasons.
First, we have to live within our means. In 2009, we removed $273 million of capital projects from the capital budget – more than 50% of the value of listed projects. We did this to ensure we lived within our means. The discipline we established in our capital financing program is working. Our financial position continues to improve every year. That same discipline needs to guide how we accommodate the building projects of two local boards (public health and police) as well as the impact of the court’s recent ruling in the Urbacon case.
Second, raising funds through a special levy is just too easy – it saves us from having to work hard at building the case for investment. Our disciplined approach is driving innovation – it is forcing us to do business differently, to seek new partnerships and to demonstrate a clear benefit to taxpayers at every step. And it is working.
We are in transition between two worlds – between the old economy and the new economy where cities are in competition for investment, jobs and talent, and where all municipalities face significant fiscal and demographic challenges. We need new tools that will enable us to fully embrace smarter, more enterprising city building and seek new forms of revenue, without losing the discipline that has built our strong financial position and local prosperity.