The StarPhoenix August 10, 2013 - For a city that increasingly runs on the internal combustion engine, having to hike taxes to pay for road repair would seem to be a simple case of the price of doing business. It's a price consecutive Saskatoon councils have been reluctant to pay. According to a report going before councillors next week, however, the bill has come due and it will require a stiff hit on average property owners - an additional flat charge of $170 per year per household or a phased-in increase of 2.9 per cent per year on one's property tax bill.
It's a bill that will be tough to avoid. According to the city's annual survey, the state of Saskatoon's streets and roads has become the top civic concern for citizens.
Potholes, slow street sweeping and poor snow removal have become the perpetual complaint of Saskatoon citizens, replacing bad weather, cold winters and high crime rates.
This state was entirely predictable. In the 1990s, civic administrators warned that streets required a proper level of regular maintenance or they would progressively worsen. Since then, the expansion of the city's roadways, inflation, changing weather patterns, and parsimonious councils have left some of Saskatoon's streets looking like a scene taken from the Mars landers. This has an impact on the city's economic sustainability, the safety of its infrastructure and the quality of life Saskatoon can offer.
There are already those who believe the city should forgo investing in cultural or recreational amenities to buy and lay more pavement.
But there will be some with more legitimate complaints. Commuting by automobile is vastly more popular in Saskatoon than any other method - 86 per cent, compared with 10 per cent who cycle or walk and four per cent who use public transit. That 14 per cent may wonder why they are so disproportionately subsidizing the transportation habits of the others.
And, although Saskatoon councillors and officials have talked for years about the need to do things differently in this city by moving to alternative means of transportation, their actions have consistently moved in the opposite direction. According to Statistics Canada's population counts, metropolitan Saskatoon had the third-lowest density of cities with more than 100,000 people in the country.
At 50 people per square kilometre compared with such other western Canadian cities as Calgary (238 people per km), Edmonton (123), Winnipeg (138), and Regina (62), Saskatoon's challenges will clearly get a lot worse before things turn around.
This is reflected in where the city invests its money. The report going to council next week calls for an eventual $20-million-per-year fund just to maintain roadways, compared with an as yet unrealized goal to find $500,000 a year to invest in cycling infrastructure.
Saskatoon now has nearly 281,000 cars and only about 186,000 registered drivers. Unless it finds a way to transfer a greater share of the actual cost onto the owners of those vehicles, next-week's call for a property tax increase for roads will be but a temporary measure.
The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.