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October 21, 2010

National Capital Heavy Construction Association calls for infrastructure levy

Ontario election

Levy it and it will be renewed - that is the infrastructure message the National Capital Heavy Construction Association (NCHCA) has delivered to Ottawa candidates in this year’s municipal election.

“Advocating for a tax increase is a tough thing to sell to John Q. Public, and certainly to a candidate trying to get elected,” explained Lyall Steele, president of NCHCA.

“However, when you understand the reality of the situation it makes sense. We had a two per cent infrastructure tax levy that went specifically to upgrading our current infrastructure and that is called investment<0x2026>investment in something you have already spent millions of dollars on.”

The NCHCA has represented road building, aggregate, sewer and watermain construction industries in the Ottawa area since 1978. The association includes approximately 200 contractor and associate members that employ almost 9,000 workers with a total payroll of over $350 million.

The association considers Ottawa’s heavy construction industry an important economic driver in terms of employees, payroll, assessment, investment and taxes.

The municipal election is Monday, Oct. 25.

Steele and his association are advocating for a continuation of the two per cent capital levy, which raised $20 million in 2008 for the infrastructure renewal of roads, bridges and sidewalks.

Ottawa already has approximately $110 million set aside for infrastructure renewal in 2011. “The water and sewer work is rate supported, for the most apart, but for the reinvestment in roads and bridge, that is all tax supported,” said Steele.

“We are trying to tell people to elect a mayor with vision and that will make fiscally responsible decisions when it comes to infrastructure renewal.”

NCHCA members have been attending ward candidate meetings and mayoral debates to advocate for a vision and commitment to infrastructure renewal, but Steele admits it has been a tough sell.

“Our message is falling on deaf ears but that does not really surprise us. It is hard to advocate for a tax increase in an election year,” he said.

“But, at the same time, it is important to get the message out there and follow up with the new council once elected and see where we go with it.”

The lack of vision concerning lifecycle investment in municipal infrastructure during the campaign has been disappointing, added Steele.

“Everything in this world has a lifecycle and needs to be replaced but how do we do it? Do we do it through taxes or debt financing?” he wondered.

“Our current candidates for mayor and most councillors figure we should be doing it through debt financing.”

Steele noted that there has been a lot of construction activity in Ottawa thanks to the federal infrastructure stimulus program. But what happens next when the stimulus tap is turned off is also a concern.

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