A new fee for rural residents on septic systems and private wells was a major topic at the Osgoode Ward city councillor debate on Thursday evening.
Incumbent councillor George Darouze was attacked by his opponents for voting last year to approve a contentious stormwater fee after previously promising to vote against it. The fee charges rural residents on a private water well or a septic system an additional cost for stormwater service. This fee is normally included in a home’s sewer and drinking water bills, but homes on septic or wells don’t pay for those services.
Jay Tysick, one of the five candidates running for Osgoode’s seat on city council, said the fee is an extra tax on rural residents that amounts to an almost 4 per cent tax increase, double what he said urban residents are paying.
Mark Scharfe called the fee a “scam” and disputed that residents not using city water owe that money to begin with.
“If you have a well and or septic system you don’t owe that tax. Your drainage has been paid for already under the Drainage Act of Ontario. That is one of the oldest acts on the books,” Scharfe said. “George (Darouze) voted for that tax and I’ve got my sites set on [Darouze], I’m going to put him out.”
Darouze, who was elected in 2014, said the money is needed to maintain the city’s drainage systems and the culverts that run under bridges. He said the original proposal for the fee was to charge over $300 per home for stormwater fees, but with other rural city councillors he was able to compromise and negotiate it down to increases of $12 per year up to a maximum of $48. He said the fact that the money is collected as a fee is also important, which means it has to be used for the city’s stormwater system, rather than going into the general revenue fund.
“Every dime we pay is going into your rural culvert to keep your road maintained and so you are able to go from Point A to Point B,” Darouze said.
Kim Sheldrick said her property has drainage issues when it floods and she hasn’t seen the benefit of the city collecting the stormwater fee.
“None of that money has had much benefit where I am,” she said. “Why should I have to pay when I go out and shovel and fix the drainage around my place myself?”
Darouze said the money doesn’t go towards fixing the ditches in-front of people’s houses, rather the large-scale infrastructure that gets water moving when it rains.
“If we don’t fix these culverts you cannot go to work, you cannot go the hospital, you cannot have an emergency service coming to your house. This money is fixing your rural infrastructure,” he said.
He said the system before, where people on septic systems and wells didn’t pay the fee, was not fair and the new fee ensures maintenance is properly funded. He said the city could not afford to take the money from funds already allocated to road maintenance.
Auguste Banfalvi, the youngest candidate in Osgoode Ward at 23-years-old, said that while Darouze did break the promise to vote against the new fee, he was able to negotiate so that Osgoode residents only shoulder some of the cost burden of the $42 million stormwater program.
The next Osgoode Ward debate is scheduled for Sept. 18 at the Metcalfe Community Centre.