If cities were less dependent on property taxes, they could resist the temptation to spread out and thus avoid construction in a flood zone, believes Suzanne Roy, of the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ).
“You are not able to offer more services to your citizen without having to grow bungalows,” says Ms. Roy, Mayor of Sainte-Julie and Chair of the UMQ Committee on Climate Change.
The Quebec government and the cities are in the process of negotiating the transfer of 1% of the Quebec Sales Tax (QST) to the municipalities. M me Roy believes that the severe flooding this spring will be one more argument to support this transfer. Without increasing the tax burden for Quebecers, such a transfer would allow municipalities to be less dependent on municipal taxes based on the value of each house or building.
At present, about 70% of a municipality’s budget comes from property taxes. “Compared to OECD countries, Quebec is late. Elsewhere, around 50% of the budget comes from municipal taxes, “says M me Roy.
The large use of property taxes encourages municipalities to always want to grow and compete with neighboring cities. Thus, it becomes tempting to grant construction permits in flood zones.
M me Roy believes is needed now that cities are becoming “more resilient” to natural disasters and that they avoid harming each other.
“Flood prevention is complex. We will have to work together, because if we put dikes in one place and send water to the neighbor, we have not won anything collectively, “she says.
The UMQ believes that there are many solutions for the future: rebuilding higher dikes, moving water into an unoccupied zone, better protecting homes, and also inviting people to relocate, as the new government program permits. “By cons, we can not think that we will move those who have been flooded,” warns M me Roy.
Towards a national policy?
“What we see this year, I think this is proof that we made bad choices in terms of development,” says Christian Savard, Executive Director of Living in the City and one of the spokesman for the ARIANE alliance.
Created in 2015, this alliance brings together urban planners, architects, environmentalists, agricultural producers, heritage patrons and municipalities. It is asking the Quebec government to adopt a National Land Use Policy to better preserve natural and built environments.
“In the past, cities have been left to their own devices, there has been laxity. This is not the time to point fingers, but it is normal that the government is tired of paying because cities have done the job badly, “believes Mr. Savard. He cites, for example, the case of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, a city that is “built in the lake on its floodplain”.
Several years ago, mayors made “epic battles” against the very existence of flood zones, recalls Savard. Today, the speech has changed. So many 13 cities and towns in Quebec, including Montreal and Gatineau, support ARIANE’s claims.
“A national policy could deal with issues that go beyond a city’s own interests, which can be made to make decisions to collect taxes in the short term,” says Savard. The drying up of wetlands upstream of a river can influence the fate of a municipality downstream for example.
During the last election campaign, the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) committed to “develop a national architecture and planning policy”. Mr. Savard indicates that communication channels are open between the ARIANE alliance and the government. The CAQ has initiated work to prepare an architectural strategy, but nothing similar has yet been done in terms of spatial planning.