Water Tax Is A Tax


ottawa logoEach time your agent sees the word “fairness” in a city press release, one wonders how much this “fairness” will cost us.

In the case of the storm-water flat fee, aren’t Ottawans already paying for storm-water pipes from the current water bill? And what of rural Ottawans? Must they pay a flat fee for exactly what kind of storm-water removal? Rural drains?

All of this “fairness” is beginning to look like a big tax grab. Will these extra funds be applied to the $42-million operating budget deficit?

And if this money is applied to the operating deficit, will this allow Mayor Jim Watson to say he is holding property taxes to two per cent? The “fairness fee” might turn into a Watson campaign promise fee that doesn’t show on the property-tax bill because water is not a part of it?

Now the city is holding a long string of consultations on this issue of “fairness” and if the city plays to form, it will say that after these meetings it has been found that this proposal has merit and will be applied and, yes, the city has consulted extensively.

Sorry for the cynicism but your agent has seen way too many of these consultations.

Here’s what happens. We’ll get a storm-water flat fee because that’s what the city wants to do. Ever seen the city turn down its own plan because of consultations? Oh the city might compromise. Perhaps allow people to pay by VISA in regular automatic installments. But pay you will do.

After all, the city consulted and consulted on Lansdowne and in the end went ahead and did it in the face of considerable opposition (and support). Sole-sourced it no less and killed an international design competition in the process. Wait a second. Process might be the wrong word to use.

If the city wants to raise water fees (and it hasn’t been shy about doing that with increases in recent years of seven and six per cent), just say you’re raising the water fee. As well, don’t charge a flat fee to people who don’t use much in the way of storm-water services. The city should be honest with the people who own the corporation.

Furthermore, tell large buildings and parking lots to find ways to return storm water to the ground rather than in a big, polluting rush to the rivers and beaches. Mention that to the developer concierges.

Lastly, don’t couch a tax grab as “fairness”. Fair to whom? People with two-per-cent tax-increase election promises?

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12 thoughts on “Water Tax Is A Tax

  1. Ken:

    A councillor has emailed saying that this is an attempt to make fair to all users of the city storm-water system (my summary of his comments). He also has mentioned vacant properties as not being taxed for storm-water usage since for example vacant paved parking lots do not use city water nor sewers BUT they do use the storm-waste systems.

    I question this since farmland equally does not use city water nor sewers and many villages within the wonderful amalgamated city also have either limited access or none to city water and sewers. Will these folks who at best might have a ditch which the city does nothing to maintain now be charged for storm water which runs through the ditch to a creek?

    What service is it that the city provides? And on what do the taxation people base the rate on? The city measures water and computes a portion so as to tax the sewer use but if you have neither of these?

    Many areas in rural Ottawa already have what is called a municipal drain. Costs to maintain these are apportioned to all who benefit even if your land does not abut the drain and it can be VERY expensive … will the city change this drain tax so those in the urban area share in the costs since they may drive down a road kept usable by a municipal drain?

    This is quite simply Ottawa trying to hide another TAX GRAB.


  2. Ken,
    Every nickel collected by any government IS A TAX.

    As an example:
    – Health Care Tax . Ontario insists it is not a tax because they call it a premium. Um; it goes on your income tax return; but, it still isn’t a tax.


    1. @Chaz, you got that right. No matter how they spin the term or what new word they are able to come up with… “all money collected by government is a TAX”


      1. There is a difference between a user fee and a tax. Currently, you don’t pay anything for water if you don’t use any. Payment is strictly related to use and tax dollars are not supposed to subsidize water usage. When you pay to get on the bus, it is a user fee because you are using the bus. The portion of the transit budget that comes from taxes is a tax because you have to pay a set amount regardless of whether you use transit or not. The problem with storm water is that it was charged based on the amount of water that you used, even though your storm water usage doesn’t have anything to do amount of stormwater that you create (unless it is from watering your car). If they look at putting a storm water cost on your assessment then it has as little bearing on stormwater created as your assessment has.


        1. Lorne:

          I defer to your expertise in this, but if I don’t use any water, am I still charged for the sewer surcharge and fire supply?

          Are those related to usage?

          Also if the amount of tax money going into water and sewer is reduced, does that not show up in the operating deficit? As I had that explained to me, the operating deficit is reduced because less tax money is going into water and sewer.

          Thus the storm water fee would be a bit of an end-around on the deficit.

          Is that correct?




          1. The sewer surcharge and fire supply is a service fee but it a fixed fee that all taxpayers have to pay regardless of whether they use any water or not. It is a pretty minor component of your water bill, however. In that regard, it is similar to the fixed charge that we pay for waste removal (which is the same rate for all homeowners regardless of you property assessment).

            Currently, the cost for running the stormwater system is supposed to come from the stormwater water charge, not the homeowners’ tax bill. Supposedly, if they charge differently for the wastewater system, then the wastewater charge can drop since the stormwater component will be billed separately. If the City tried to charge an inappropriately high amount for stormwater to cover the overall deficit, hopefully, it would be discovered. I also hope that the City charges for stormwater based on property size and permeable area not on property assessment. If they do the latter, then it will be just as inaccurate in allocating costs as the current system.

            For purposes of the budget, while water has it own budget, any shortages are rolled up in the overall budget deficit so I belief that the current deficit would have already taken into account the deficits in the water system and putting the stormwater charge onto the property tax bill won’t change that.


            1. Anon:

              Would not an extra charge on the water bill mean less tax money to support the water and sewage system thus have an effect on the deficit?




  3. A long, long time ago, this jaded old cynic came to the conclusion that the only “fair” tax is one that someone else pays more of.


  4. If the objective was “fairness”, we wouldn’t go through all these machinations to stick to an arbitrary number of 2%, and have an honest conversation about costs and services.

    In the absence of honesty, “fairness” can mean whatever they want.


    1. If you are expecting an “adult conversation” on this and other taxation issues, you are not alone. Unfortunately, precious few of our elected officials are prepared to hold one. Is it be because they know better than to try and defend the indefensible, or because they don’t feel qualified to hold an “adult conversation”?


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