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Mississauga passes new storm water tax with higher fee for larger homes

Council approves McMansion tax, but gives only businesses and multi-unit buildings a shot at cutting their fee by reducing run-off.
May 27, 2015
By San Grewal

A new Mississauga levy for storm water management based on the size of homes has been approved to start in 2016, but owners of houses won’t be eligible for the relief available to businesses and highrise residents.

Businesses and highrise buildings will be able to cut their storm water charge by up to 50 per cent if they reduce the amount of run-off entering the municipal storm system.

On Wednesday, city council discussed a staff report that recommended not extending that incentive program to homeowners, based largely on the estimated $525,000 cost if the credit program was extended to single-family dwellings.

A council vote approved the levy without giving homeowners a way to reduce the tax paid by installing rain barrels, permeable driveways or other features that could reduce the run-off from their properties.

“I’m disappointed,” Councillor Pat Saito said after the staff recommendation was presented. “It would have been a good message, encouragement for (homeowners) to make changes.”

House owners will pay between $50 and $170 a year, depending on the size of their home.

Those with very small houses, with a roof print of 287 square feet or smaller, will pay nothing.

Houses near Lake Ontario, where storm run-off goes directly into the lake, will be exempt from the new charge.

The new fees will help bridge the funding gap for storm water infrastructure in the city. What’s currently collected from the property tax base can’t meet the needs of an aging system, whose replacement cost is pegged at $1.8 billion, according to staff. Residents will pay the new fee on a separate utility bill.

“I think it would be absolutely criminal of you to make me pay one cent,” Mississauga homeowner Ed Bavington told council. He questioned how the city could charge him the new fee even though he long ago took steps, such as directing water coming off his roof to his cedar hedge, to ensure rainwater on his property does not go into the municipal system.

Christine Van Geyn, Ontario spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told the Star that Mississauga’s decision to not offer rebates to house owners, even though businesses and highrise residents can benefit from them, is unfair. “It's not equitably taxing people,” Van Geyn said. “They're trying to sell this as a user fee, but you can't call it a user fee if some people aren't using the infrastructure.”

Council ignored the example of Kitchener, which faced a backlash from residents in 2011 when a similar charge was introduced without giving residents the option of reducing their costs through an incentive program. Kitchener was persuaded to relent, and offered house owners rebates of up to 45 per cent rebate for reducing storm water run-off.

Councillors agreed to refer the issue to the city’s environment committee, leaving open the possibility of introducing some sort of recognition or incentive to residents in future.