Toronto Stormwater Tax - Underhanded Double-dipping or Transparent Equitable Service-Based Fee?

While a Toronto Councillor has lifted his middle fingers to a stormwater 'tax' in the City of Toronto, suggesting such as charge is underhanded and a way of charging for a service residents already have, he's wrong.

A proposed stormwater utility fee based on hard surfaces is a more equitable way of allocating costs for drainage services in Toronto - currently residents and businesses pay for stormwater management capital works through their water bill - yes, depending on how much water you use. Water consumption has nothing to do with runoff, whereas hard surfaces do.

That is why many Canadian municipalities have implemented stormwater rates to fund operating programs and capital works related to stormwater. Local municipalities near Toronto with stormwater rates in place include Richmond Hill (flat rates), Markham (flat fees for residential and variable fees for businesses of various sizes), Mississauga (based on flat fee tiers for residential and variable based on hard surfaces for other properties), Kitchener and Waterloo (similar approach as Mississauga), Aurora (flat rates), St. Thomas, and London. And stormwater fees are in the works for Guelph and Vaughan.

Do these fees fund existing services? Sometimes they do and municipalities transfer program funding from existing funding sources (water bill or tax bill) to the new dedicated stormwater fee. In that way it is hardly underhanded, but rather transparent and equitable, where the fee is in proportion to the service being provided.

Toronto's project backlog for basement flood protection has grown considerably as Municipal Class Environment Assessment studies are completed across the city, identifying infrastructure upgrades that come at a considerable cost. As examined in other posts, design standard upgrades are required to address level of service limitations in many areas across the City of Toronto. This is especially needed in areas with partially separated sanitary sewer systems with high extraneous wet weather flow rates that overwhelm drainage systems during extreme weather events.

Extreme rainfall is not more severe in Toronto, so there are not new rainfall stresses on infrastructure - there are stresses due to intensification and urban growth over decades as noted in previous posts. Nonetheless, there is a considerable legacy of designs with limited levels of service that should be addressed with sustainable, equitable service-based funding. A Toronto stormwater charge based on hard surfaces, sometimes called impervious surfaces, will be an improvement over current funding through the water bill.