Special Report

Area Rating Presents Opportunity For Leadership And Consensus-Building

Conclusions of citizens' forum presents City Council and Mayor Bratina with an opportunity to heal the community by resolving a difficult issue.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published February 27, 2011

The Citizens' Forum on Area Rating of Property Tax, a committee formed to examine the City's practice of levying different tax rates according to the degree of service various wards receive, will present their report on Monday evening.

The committee is composed of 20 citizens that were selected from a random sample of Hamiltonians. It includes one citizen per ward, plus five members who represent a cluster of wards.

Given this ward-based representation, you might expect the committee to behave much like City Council, which is also ward-based with the exception of the mayor. That is, you might expect it to be divided, politicized and focused on narrow ward-based interests instead of broader city-wide objectives.

Instead, it appears that the committee may have risen above pettiness and bickering to craft a principled, wise and fair solution.

According to the Spectator, the committee will recommend mostly eliminating area rating in suburban areas in favour of a simpler split between rural and urban areas.

Fire services would be rated in three ways based on the presence of hydrants and professional or volunteer fire stations. Culture and recreation would be paid for equally by all city residents. Transit's costs would be born equally by urban residents, with rural residents exempted; sidewalks and street lights would be split along urban and rural lines according to the degree they are present.

Because the plan would see taxes rise in suburban areas by as much as 5 to 7 percent, councillors from those areas are already expressing opposition to the committee's recommendations. Ancaster's Lloyd Ferguson is predicting a "mutiny", while Dundas' Russ Powers says, "My residents aren't up to that and I'm not up to that."

The stage is set for another clash between suburban and urban councillors. However, conflict is not necessary. Consensus is possible.

"Principled and Fair"

Consider the current system of area rating:

Public transit, recreation, fire protection, sidewalks and street lights are all public goods, things that benefit the public whether or not one uses them personally. We all benefit from having reduced traffic congestion and pollution as a result of public transit; from having healthy citizens because they can exercise at rec centres; from protecting our neighbours from dangerous fires even if one's own house never goes up in flames; from having signals at intersections to prevent collisions.

Both city staff and the citizens' forum appear to have concluded that these are all good reasons to institute a fairer, more sensible system of taxation. The Spec reported that 'Committee member Alex Lolua said establishing clear evaluation criteria was the foundation for coming up with "principled and fair" recommendations. He said much of the "bickering" around area rating is based on emotion, politics and a deep resentment about amalgamation.'

There's a powerful emotional component to the committee's conclusions as well. Reading through the Focus Group Results (PDF), I was struck by the repeated references to community healing as a possible and desired outcome of the process. Participants in these focus groups, which were held across the city, repeatedly referred to a fair and just conclusion as an important way to reduce anger over deamalgamation, build a sense of common purpose, and heal divisions.

Golden Opportunity for Bratina and Council

The citizens' forum is randomly selected, demographically diverse, and drawn from every one of Hamilton's wards. They've taken the time to consult with the public, hear from city staff, and deliberate - very likely agonize - over the difficult decision in front of them.

Their conclusions, then, are the result of getting educated about the situation and thinking hard about it.

The focus groups they consulted are correct that Hamilton needs to heal its divisions and move forward together. Given that this issue presents the opportunity for healing a substantial divide between urban, suburban, and rural residents, and given that it appears that all one must do to convince reasonable people that area rating must be reformed or eliminated is educate them on the merits and the fairness of doing so, this represents a golden opportunity for Mayor Bratina and City Council.

City Council can demonstrate that they're able to make principled decisions that are based on city-wide objectives. Mayor Bratina can demonstrate that he's able to build consensus among members of an often fractious council; moreover, he can use his strong communications skills and the rapport he built with suburban Hamiltonians as a radio personality to educate and inform them.

Bratina, who voted to form the committee, responded to critics of its formation by emphasizing the importance and democratic role of citizen's groups, neighbourhood associations and community councils. Although I believe that this was a decision City Council should have had the courage to make on its own, being able to tell Hamiltonians that the decision was made democratically, by ordinary citizens from all wards, makes it more palatable for the people who will be most affected by it.

Taking the committee's conclusions seriously is also important from the perspective of valuing citizen engagement in the democratic process, not to mention ensuring that the $95,000 budgeted for managing the process isn't wasted.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By hammie (registered) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 21:22:32

Good article, The rural folk really took it on the chin a few yrs. back. Its about time the load was spread more evenly for everyone in the city..

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 21:33:06

The suburban claim that they are taxed out of proportion to what they receive needs to be disproven. Your public good argument is bang on. I'd like to see a chart of what the costs are to service and maintain suburban wards are, when you include the full cost of municipal services, roads and water too. I bet the smaller share of transit services the suburbs receive is more than made up by the greater cost of maintaining their lower densities. Why do we area rate services but not roads and water?

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By Doubtful (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 21:40:46

If only proponents of area rating supported tolls on the Red Hill and the Linc.
This may be an opportunity to mend fences but I'm not holding my breath. Our current Council simply doesn't seem up to the task.
Hope that I am proven wrong.

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By Emptor (registered) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:09:05

Don't worry Lloyd, that new stadium will be here soon, bringing with it the promise of so many new businesses! It will all be just fine Lloyd! Review the numbers and tell them you can get it done for a lot less!

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:38:44

Unfortunately, this particular piece contains some misleading statements.

Area rating only applies to the tax levy base...it does not raise $$ towards any cause. The article points out that HSR is "starved for funding"; area rating is not going to solve this. If the cost to operate HSR is 'x' dollars today, the formula to offset that cost is our current area rating format. Regardless of what the new area rating will be, the amount of tax levy raised towards HSR will still equal 'x'.

I've never really been a fan of using assessment values of homes as the benchmark to measure the inefficiences of tax distribution under the current area rating system, as it's subjective. The better arguement for change would be to look at areas within Hamilton such as Centennial Parkway, wherein homes on the same street are assessed at different rates based on their former municipal boundaries.

We are the only municipality in Canada that area rates based on former municipal boundaries, and we only do so because it was meant to quell the angst of our suburban neighbours in becoming one large community. Now 11 years later, we are still grappling with how to right this unfair rating system. We should be assessing based on services (aka 'service rating'), not by former municipal boundaries.

The Citizen Forum's recommendations are void of cost and service implications; HSR conducted a study on their routing a couple of years ago, yet nothing has been stated of it's outcome; the former City of Hamilton is treated as one lump, yet the 5 former communities are treated as urban/rural settings giving one the impression that the level of service (in the former City of Hamilton)on King Street is the same as the level of service on Rymal Road.

While service rating needs to be overhauled in Hamilton, I'm not convinced that all parts of the current recommendations are the appropriate measures to resolve the inadequacies of our current area rating formula.

Comment edited by DanielRodrigues on 2011-02-27 22:39:36

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By adrian (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 09:30:45 in reply to Comment 60343

Area rating only applies to the tax levy base...it does not raise $$ towards any cause. The article points out that HSR is "starved for funding"; area rating is not going to solve this. If the cost to operate HSR is 'x' dollars today, the formula to offset that cost is our current area rating format. Regardless of what the new area rating will be, the amount of tax levy raised towards HSR will still equal 'x'.

That's only true if we decide to make it that way. We're not talking about a law of physics here, we're talking about political decisions about how best to run our city. If we decide that it should actually equal x + y, where x is what we currently pay the HSR from the levy, and y is what other wards could conceivably contribute if we decided to expand service while instituting taxation fairness, there is no reason we cannot do so.

That's what Ryan recommended when he wrote Area Rating Reform Should Not Be a Zero-Sum Game:

A number of sources at the city have informed me that the staff report is now in circulation. Unfortunately, I'm told the report recommends equalizing transit tax rates by reducing the old city's rate and increasing the other area rates so that: a) they are all equal and b) the change is revenue neutral.

Talk about a recipe for conflict. Instead of increasing suburban transit tax rates to put more operating money into the HSR, we're increasing suburban transit tax rates to ... cut urban transit tax rates? Suburban ratepayers are sure to cry foul.

The main purpose of equalizing tax rates should be to increase the revenue coming into the system so the city can afford to improve service. Making transit tax into a zero sum game simply pits urban and suburban ratepayers against each other yet again with, ultimately, nothing new to show for it.

I agree with Ryan on this point.

Re. "this particular piece contains some misleading statements", what other statements are you referring to? At no point did I set out to "mislead" anyone, but if I inadvertently made any errors, I'd be happy to set the record straight.

Comment edited by administrator adrian on 2011-02-28 09:30:58

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 14:23:06 in reply to Comment 60370

To Adrian: (I'm not sure how to capture quotes from other comments like you did), but if I'm reading your response to my comment correctly, you'd like to see area rating used for building a levy base towards increased service (in this case, transit). Have I got that right?

If I am to understand that is indeed what you are implying, then it's not simply a matter of Council making that decision. By law, the City cannot raise additional revenue over and above the operating cost of the City through the tax levies. That said, the City can impose a tax surcharge over and above what is required to operate the City, only if the whole City contributes to the surcharge. And, only if those monies went towards the specific surcharged project. The City of Mississauga did this in 2008, when it voted to add an additional 5% to all residential tax bills for infrastructure needs.

What is missing out of the Citizen Forum recommendations is the cost implications of their recommendations. Earlier numbers released showed folks in Ancaster and Flamborough seeing increases of 11 to 14% in portions of their property taxes, while the former City of Hamilton residents would see up to a 5% reduction in a portion of their property taxes. All these changes would occur with no changes in the levels of service...for either community.

I'm an East Mountain resident who would love to see the current area rating service changed. However, it needs to be done so in a fair and equitable manner. If the impact of the transit levy results in a 5% reduction in the transit portion of my tax bill, then perhaps the City should look at neutralizing that reduction with a levy on say streetlighting (as an example). If that same impact results in a 11% increase in a portion of my property taxes, then perhaps the City should look at neutralizing that increase with a reduction of a service levy that I don't have...such as streetlighting, parks, libraries, etc. (as an example if I lived in Stoney Creek or one of the other communities).

I did not intend to infer that the article was misleading as a whole, however to state that the Citizen Forum may have crafted a "wise and fair solution" is subjective. Yes, there is (and has been) a great deal of bickering over the current system...and the fact that we are now over 10-years removed from its inception makes it that much more difficult to reach a concensus. The recommendation on the table still needs some work to get it to that "wise and fair solution" (IMHO).

As a matter of useless information: of all the communities who amalgamated prior to 2001 (including Ottawa, Toronto, Sudbury, London, Chatham, Hamilton, and others)...we were the only community to area rate by former boundaries. Other than take-aways from our current area rating formula (Flamborough Downs being the biggest), our Council has not altered or added any other service to the area rating formula. And, just because I've been known to bring a gun to a knife fight: Studies have shown that amalgamations in Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia failed to produce the expected cost savings. This includes the Toronto mega-City creation. That said, we need to move forward...and fast. This divisiveness is hurting Hamilton's ability to grow.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 08:44:45 in reply to Comment 60393

Daniel, I appreciate your well-reasoned reply (incidentally, you can quote people by placing a greater-than sign in front of each line of text you wish to quote - for more information, click the link at the bottom of each page that says "Guide to Comment Formatting").

if I'm reading your response to my comment correctly, you'd like to see area rating used for building a levy base towards increased service (in this case, transit).

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I would like to build a levy base towards increased service; no, in the sense that I generally disagree with area rating as a whole (although, if a rural/urban split still qualifies as area rating, then I can see its merits in that instance, as rural communities are very different from urban ones, and that can't be ignored.)

My primary preference is to increase levels of service and change the system of taxation to support those increases in service in an equitable manner, without reducing anyone's taxes (I don't think that we ought to reduce the levy in the lower city, though I do understand that this is what is being recommended, because it's a recipe for political disaster and doesn't actually improve services). I think that the public good argument makes good sense and that there's no real reason to treat the way we fund public transit any differently than the way we fund road-building, for example.

My secondary preference is for urban and suburban residents to fund public goods, particularly transit, equally, regardless of the level of service in any particular area. Ultimately, if we want to be a society where people pay for what they use, then it would be fairest to have no levy for public transit at all, and pay for it solely through fares. Of course, the same principle would have to apply to roads, libraries, water treatment, conservation areas, health care, etc., and that's simply untenable.

Suburban residents may well look at this as a tax increase, and I see where they are coming from. However, the other way of looking at it is from the perspective of urban residents, who have been shouldering an unfair proportion of the burden for all of these years.

Suburban residents are fond of pointing out that their homes have higher property values and thus they pay more in taxes, as well, they use transit less on average; I'd point out that these higher property values are a function of demand and not an arbitrary assignment by the city, that in my neighbourhood (Kirkendall) there are plenty of homes that are assessed in the $350,000 to $500,000 range, and that many urban residents don't use public transit either (I don't - I walk to work).

That said, we need to move forward...and fast. This divisiveness is hurting Hamilton's ability to grow.

Agreed. Regardless of whether or not the citizens' forums recommendations are accepted, I think that this presents an important opportunity to reopen the discussion and I am optimistic that reasonable Hamiltonians - like you and I - will be able to come to a creative resolution.

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2011 at 09:56:54 in reply to Comment 60444

Adrian, thanks for the reply and instructions on commenting. I will take a look at the process later when I have more time...I'm not exactly a computer genius yet!! lol!!

Durham Region does exactly what you are proposing: everyone pays the same for transit, regardless of where they live. The hiccup here is that Durham enacted that policy when they amalgamated, not 10-years later.

Any changes to the current area rating system is going to create an imbalance of tax assessment with no changes to the level of service. The City needs to create new avenues of levy revenue to offset those impacts of a new area rating system.

Since transit appears to be the primary focal point of the area rating discussion, I'm compelled to ask if we could change our identification of transit from 'public' to 'mass' transit? While there remains a social connectivity to transit, it does not need to be solely publicly funded by the tax payer. While the user contributes to the operating base, transit as a whole requires additional funding resource revenue, such as advertising. (And Hamilton's is a joke...but that's another topic for another day)

We are in the midst of seeking funding for an LRT line, citing the economic viability of rapid transit. The initial plan is scoped only within the former City of Hamilton boundaries, I suspect in part because if it was to be extended to either Dundas or Stoney Creek, the residents would see changes in their tax bill...significantly less than the folks in (former) Hamilton due to the current area rating system. With mass transit initiatives, we are better positioned to partner with developers in creating and offsetting the costs of those initiatives. The shift in wording from 'public' to 'mass' has been adopted by the Hamilton Chamber. By encouraging private industry to play an active role in mass transit initiatives, the impact to the taxpayer can be lessened.

My apologies for my passion on this particular topic, as I have been working on and off on Hamilton's area rating scheme for over 6 years now. I honestly didn't agree with the Citizen Forum, as I felt that two things would happen: (1) Council would park the recommendations by the Forum and (2)and that the City Staff's recommendations would be rubber-stamped.

You are right in that a creative solution can be achieved. I just wish we had the intestinal fortitude to start this process prior to amalgamation. Instead we bowed to an external consultant's recommedation who caved to the angst of anti-amalgamation zealots.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 09:00:04

Is anyone else surprised that Glanbrook pays more for transit than Stoney Creek?

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By Blinxer (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:00:57

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Realist (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 14:43:08

The people and their elected officials in the old city are demanding the "rich" suburbs subsidize the poor inner city.

The gaping problem with this city is that a majority of the lower city's housing have pathetically low property and assesment values compared to the mountain and suburbs like Ancaster. Property taxes, being punative in their nature ignores this fact.

A home assessed at $160,000 at Barton and Sherman will pay $2000-$2600 in tax and get access to the same or better services that someone in Ancaster paying $8000-$9000 on a house assessed at $650,000. The unit cost to provide those services is the same but we make the people in the burbs pay more as a whole. Likewise, increases are amplified for the suburbs. Newer and more affluent cities like Burlington and Mississauga don't have this problem because home values more homogenous and when EVERYONE pays more and keeps taxes lower.

People in the lower city should be thankful that they get first class municipal services courtesy of your much hated suburbs. Stop your bickering about things like construction of new expressways because we in the burbs paid for it and you did not.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 22:25:20 in reply to Comment 60397

The "unit cost" of providing services to suburbs is not the same as it is in the lower city. Lower densities mean more road, pipe and wire from house to house. New developments mean entirely new areas need to be serviced. Charging development fees on new houses which don't recoup these costs doesn't help, either.

And to the idea that Lower Hamilton recieves "first class services"? That's laughable and insulting. We've got schools closing left and right, century-old lead pipes, roads falling apart, missing cross-walks, basements flooding (thanks, largely, to new suburban development), rampant poverty and countless toxic brownfields.

All the evidence points to rampant subsidization of suburban sprawl by inner-city regions which seriously depleted our ability to sustain that sprawl and ourselves. How do you mitigate this kind of disparity without being "unfair"?

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By Realist (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 10:04:55 in reply to Comment 60433

Schools close because of falling enrollment, less families are moving into old Hamilton because they DON'T want to live there. Many of the people residing in the lower city have no alternative because thats what they can afford, i.e. renters by necessity.

The board also just built 2 new schools, 1 in Beasley and 1 in Corktown to replace other older ones. What's the problem?

There are broken roads and missing cross walks all over the city and burbs. And if you're upset that your basement is flooding after a heavy rainfall, then move into a highrise.

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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 01:56:24 in reply to Comment 60448

And if they don't want to live there then they shouldn't whine about paying more, I don't and neither should you. I actually care about this city (still not sure why, but I do) and I mean the whole city. I'm willing to pay my "fair" share for the betterment of all, as I do for healthcare etc. Also, my services have improved since amalgamation with Hamilton and I'm definitely happier knowing fire service is better and my calls to the city are easier.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 09:42:26 in reply to Comment 60636

comment from banned user deleted

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 10:08:50 in reply to Comment 60651

I can't believe I'm about to write this but I agree with Allan, amalgamation screwed everyone. What pisses me off is when people in the suburbs try to say amalgamation is only hurting them and that they're "subsidizing" the old city (as if they haven't been subsidized BY the old city all along through city money going into Wentworth Region).

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 00:13:35 in reply to Comment 60433

I was going to reply to an above post, but your answer is better. As for how the unregistered suburbanites can feel it is unfair - easy, when they use both sides of the same argument.

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By who speaks for whom (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 14:56:21

People in the suburbs and rural areas tend to keep voting conservative and it was the Harris conservatives that forced amalgamation of the old city of Hamilton.

Those in the suburbs for the most part tend to ignore the growing poverty in their own areas, those that may depend on getting things like better transit access as an example.

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By Brad Phelps (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 15:03:31

I live in Flamborough, I don't wish to pay for HSR because I don't use it, never will use it, and have never seen someone on one of the HSR buses in Waterdown. People that live here never go into Hamilton for any reason. Burlington, Oakvillle, and Mississauga are just as close and more convenient. Bratina should make himself useful and get going on de-amalgamation. It's the only reason he got elected. Then we could go on ignoring Hamilton and you can knock yourselves out wasting as many millions as you would like on minor-league football stadiums.

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2011 at 10:06:38 in reply to Comment 60400

I don't use HSR either and as a resident of ward 8, near the brow my assessment dictates that i make a grandiose donation to the HSR. I don't really have a problem with this, sure i would like it if we could utilize the HSR as i believe it is a greater good for the city but it simply isn't convenient. It would take myself 55 minutes to cover 12km to get to work, i can bike that in 25 minutes. Or alternately my wife 50 minutes to get to work only 8km away, when you're working 12 hours shifts you don't waste 2 hours commuting if you don't have to.

Next year i'm going to do a media shindig with a big novelty check made out to the HSR.

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By Ezaki Glico (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 13:19:13 in reply to Comment 60400

This strikes me as one of the political quirks of transit funding: Flamborough doesn't get HSR service at all, correct?

Has anyone calculated the amount of buy-in under current area rating as compared to route frequencies/volume for various wards?

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By Why the resistance (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 15:15:26 in reply to Comment 60400

Brad Phelps: Maybe you do not know anyone who takes the bus to Waterdown, but I have talked to people who do and have.

I mean you speak for yourself only and not every person here lives in
Waterdown area.

Did you vote for Harris back in the day?

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By Brad Phelps (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:00:34 in reply to Comment 60403

I would never vote conservative. People may take HSR buses in Waterdown, but I see them everday and I have never seen a single rider on one.

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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 02:00:10 in reply to Comment 60479

I suggest an eye check then, I've seen plenty on buses everyday. Oh, and de amalgamating would cost Flamborough big time so your taxes would go up either way.

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 17:46:06

Mr. Bratina, please start the de-almalgamation process! This will never work when old city homes are worth $160,000 with corresponding low taxes and everyone else is paying taxes on $300,000 to 450,000 homes! It's not old city citizen's fault but everyone outside old city is highly subsidizing old city! I live in |Waterdown and never go to old city,I go to Burlington! Why we are part of Hamilton is totally beyond me other than financially supporting old city! Let my people go free!

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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 02:06:26 in reply to Comment 60414

I get a kick out of flambasterdases always saying you support the old city. The old city subsidized your development for years before amalgamation. I believe the number was 40 mil. Flamborough would have to pay Hamilton back to go it on their own back in 2000, correct me if I'm wrong but that number stuck in my head. I live outside of the old city in one of the drawn in towns and did so before amalgamation, god, get over it. Move on, become a part of your city. If not, go to Burlington and take a walk on the pier.

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By BratinaBro (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 22:35:59

Ya...I'll start the deamalgamation process just before the next election just in time to fool those idiots in Flamborough and Ancaster and Dundas and Glanbrook and Stoney Creek again.

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By RiDDleMeThis (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 03:53:45

Undustrial, you should probably gain a better understanding of what Development Charges actually pay for before contributing a comment on them. To clarify, the city (ie. ratepayer) does NOT pay for the roads, pipes, streetlamps and wires required for new subdivisions. Those costs are borne solely by the home buyer through the input costs of construction to builders/developers. And by the way, were you aware that the newer subdivisions in upper Stoney Creek and Binbrook are more intensified than many lower city neighbourhoods? The perpetuation of popular mythologies makes for poor argument.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 14:13:57 in reply to Comment 60441

While the initial capital costs costs are subsidized by Development Charges (I'm not going to acknowledge that they pay for such things completely unless you can point me to some concrete evidence otherwise), you must acknowledge that there are ongoing maintenance costs which ARE born by the city.

Also, many of these items (roads, pipes, electrical wire) connect to the existing grid, putting additional load on them, and resulting in increased costs. For example, additional electrical wiring puts burdens on existing substations/transformers which might accelerate the need to replace them.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:57:29 in reply to Comment 60459

as well as the sewer system, water processing, etc.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2011 at 08:31:00

Well...it did represent an opportunity to city build...until Council took the hard work of the Citizen's group, and threw it in the dumper in favour of a shockingly vague 'proposal' (I use the term loosely) from their good friends at the Chamber, which the city treasurer himself says is going to take him 6 months just to figure out what the hell the Chamber is on about in the first place. You can only study things for so long guys, at some point you're going to have to make a decision, and live or die (politically) by it... that's what we call leading. It is, in fact, what we pay you to do...

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By Suffering in Binbrook (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 11:08:23

Why the heck is the Chamber getting involved. This fight is mostly a residential fight...not a business one....am I wrong??

To Undustrial: Lets think about this for a minute. If you ask any Binbrook resident that lived here before amalgamation, 90-95% of the time he or she will tell you - WE DIDN'T ASK FOR OR WANT THE DISASTER OF THE NEW DOWNTOWN BINBROOK that now exists. That, my friend, was a pure result of amalgamation. Some of us rural residents are suffering with the toxic smell and overflows of a high pressure sewage line that deposits downtown Binbrook crap into a pit near our homes. We've had to deal with this for over 2 years. The Ministry of Environment is investigating the situation. We didn't ask for this either. Some of us have wells in the area - so a flooded basement is one thing and toxic undrinkable water is on a whole other playing field wouldn't you agree???

So these are the not so little things we've had to endure because of amalgamation and unresponsible City of Hamilton governmental decisions.

We made a decision and voted in a new representative - one of the few wards who did - in hopes things will change and get better for us.

One thing I think is clear - very few (urban or rural) see the advantage of suburban sprawl - it needs to be controlled and the suburban sprawl that occurred in Binbrook was without thought and the planner who was put on that case should have been fired. The sewage infrastructure is not up to spec and is in danger of bursting due to over capacity. The roads are not capable of handling the additional traffic and accidents and sometimes deaths are occurring on rural roads due to increased traffic and people rushing to get to work.

The majority of the land in the new "city" is rural. Rural, suburban and urban - we just don't work. If we can't get deamalgamated, maybe we can rebrand the "city" with a new name - perhaps that would help - something rural. I like the name the City of Wentworth.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2011 at 11:56:06

Realistically, this all came out of the Conservatives looking to balance the budget by killing the Provincial government's obligations to impoverished Ontarians.

Simple - I love the city of Hamilton, but I'm not in denial about its problems. We have a massive amount of poverty and crime in the lower city, and much of this stuff should be a Provincial or Federal responsibility, but they have budgets they want to balance so they put it on us.... but so as not to completely guarantee our failure, they took as many affluent rural communities they could find and duct-taped them onto the city of Hamilton as a flotation device. Then walked away and said "your problems are yours now."

It was dishonest and unfair to everyone involved, but unless the province is willing to help out more with the drug-addled and impoverished mess that exists in parts of the lower city, we're stuck together.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 14:24:50

Many people are under the illusion that there is a simple "solution" to this problem. The one I hear most frequently is de-amalgamation.

Expand your horizons a bit and acknowledge that, with rare exceptions, no problem that our society faces today has a simple solution. If it did - it would have been solved already. The problems we face today are multi-faceted and complex involving many different views, theories, priorities, and interests, and there is no "easy way out" we have to slog it out in the trenches (as the citizens' committee appears to have done) and come to some kind of resolution.

Perhaps that resolution should be de-amalgamation (although personally I'm not in favour of it). However, to anyone who suggest de-amalgamation, I would point out that it is extremely unlikely things will ever go back to "the way they were". The impetus for amalgamation was to joint Hamitlon together with its neighbours so that they might all pay their fair share of services that Hamilton provides, and that are unavailable in the other communities. Previously some services were shared regionally, but with downloading the province thought it best to create a more inclusive regime of shared costs.

If you are to separate Hamilton and the surrounding municipalities, I'm willing to bet that the "terms of separation" will require cost-sharing much more like our present regime than our past regime.

The province is unlikely to permit the "rural" and "suburban" areas of the former Hamilton-Wentworth County to get away with decreased cost sharing, as such a move would put the province under greater pressure to provide additional budget support to the city to help cover enormous costs of social services located in Hamilton, and strangely absent from many of the surrounding former municipalities.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:42:32 in reply to Comment 60461

The impetus for amalgamation was to joint Hamitlon together with its neighbours so that they might all pay their fair share of services that Hamilton provides, and that are unavailable in the other communities.

Really? You seriously believe that's what was at the forefront of Mike Harris's thoughts (even typing that makes me giggle) with amalgamation?


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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:47:50 in reply to Comment 60550

comment from banned user deleted

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By taxpayerwithoutavote (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 16:07:17

From my perspective, the urban/suburban wars will remain as long as the perception of inequities in services and investment remain. I run a business in Waterdown, so of course hear and witness the suburban point of view much more than the inner city perspective. That being said, born and raised in the Hammer and having a number of relatives still resident, I often pass through downtown Hamilton and witness the changes taking place.

A couple of examples might illustrate how someone who never visits downtown Hamilton but lives in the suburbs would have a continual sense of resentment.

Parking meters were installed last year in downtown Waterdown, with the explanation being that such placement must be done across all commercial zones of the city for fairness. The meters were opposed pretty much universally by residents and business alike, but were installed anyway. I don't know for sure, but I don't actually think they have had much impact on business in Waterdown from a revenue perspective. I am positive that they have changed the image of the town, leaving most of the street parking empty and giving a somewhat ghostly impression. What happened was that people began using the abundant parking lots owned by the downtown businesses instead of parking on the more convenient street locations. I very much doubt that the Parking Authority will realize their expected $48,000 revenue stream from these unwanted and rarely used meters. I also doubt that we'll ever see a report that states the actual revenues.

Jump ahead eight months, and the news is full of the grand opening of the newly renovated Library and Farmer's Market at a cost of approx. $16 Million. One of the first things one hears after the initial hooplah subsides is that a Councillor feels it's only fair that the stall holders receive free rent for their first month due to the market only being open four of 16 available days in January." It's only about $45,000" was the quote I believe. There's the rub. An entire community with it's own downtown dating back to 1878 has an unwanted flock of meters installed to generate an unlikely $48,000.00, while downtown Hamilton promotes a similar amount to be overlooked as an insignificant subsidy to a limited number of businesses operating in an already subsidized and newly renovated multi-million dollar facility that had just benefited from vast promotion, advertising and publicity. By the way, I think the stall holders should be discounted 12 days of rent, but not 16. I do realize the meter revenue should be an annual thing and wouldn't be against them if they served a purpose (one has to have a need before one spends thousands on a system that requires manpower for installation, maintenance and paltry revenue removal), but that's not the perception people have when they hear similar numbers being tossed around. Resentment grows.

The majority of the $16 million spent on the renovations went to the Library. Waterdown is getting a new library too. The renovated Main branch is touted as a wonderful attraction to the downtown core, an enhancement to pedestrian accessabilty and a magnet to improve the downtown as a people friendly, public transit accessible destination. Waterdown's branch in the downtown core is being closed and replaced by a new branch a km or two from that 1878 downtown core, dependent on auto access (5 lane highway) and completely in opposition to the intensification, pedestrian accessible and community building policies touted by the planning department. The reason why is because they're going to build on the 1970's Flamborough Town hall (not Waterdown) site which is free and thereby minimizes the cost. Resentment grows when $16 million can be spent on a renovation in concert with planning policy, and a new build throws those much publicized criteria out the window because free land is available to minimize cost. That's opportunism, not planning! As an aside, I tried to find out from a City manager why the Library was allowed to ignore the promoted planning goals and although I asked specific questions, the answers received were a combination of patronizing babble and political spin. Not what I was looking for of course.

If you'll recall, Waterdown had to accept the meters because of City wide fairness. One can't blame the residents if they perceive a lack of fairness when the differing approaches to a Library are compared.

I must admit that the Library issue isn't a big deal in the Waterdown community as the current branch is so inadequate that the replacement will be welcomed, but what I describe is in fact a true example of the differences in how communities within Hamilton are treated. I personally happen to resent this particular diversion of policy because my business is located in Waterdown's downtown core, where evidence of any municipal investment is close to invisible and we too could benefit from the odd taxpayer funded attraction. Heck, the LCBO even left for the big box development west of the Village - but close to the new library location. For comic relief, I must mention that while attending a public information meeting about the new Waterdown Branch and after running through the long list of how their plan contrasted with stated planning policies, I asked how the seniors and low income families that live within walking distance of the current branch will ever be able to access the new branch. A staffer brightly replied that they will offer bookmobile service!

A bigger giggle in Waterdown is the HSR service. Operating only at rush hour, it unfortunately serves only two purposes. A few commuters use it to access the Aldershot GO station, which by the way, isn't in Hamilton. One can't get there from here without considerable willpower. I attended a meeting a couple of years ago and Mayor Fred happened to mention that he had received a call that day from one of the Big Box stores that was about to open west of Waterdown. The store had relocated from Burlington and seems to have overlooked the fact that the Village lacked public transit, effectively blocking their ability to retain their minimum wage employees. In a sudden stroke of public transit importance, HSR service was initiated. Felt good to be an independent business person and watch that nonsense take place. For over a year now, it appears that Hamilton taxpayers would be better off to have bought taxi vouchers for the few residents that use the bus service than to have run the HSR operation out here. Must be lonely being the driver.

The residents of this community watch as hundreds of millions are spent on the AGH renovation, City Hall renovation, streetscaping of York St., Library/Market renovation, Lister Block purchase, McNab Street bus terminal, two way street initiative and on and on, while it took over 11 months for our fair City to replace two street lights, two park benchs, a fire hydrant, a planter and repair 8 ft of curb resulting from a 2009 car accident on Waterdown's main thoroughfare. I happen to support most of those downtown Hamilton initiatives, but I would hope that a reasonable person would see how a perception of inequity could develop in the many people who are not native Hamiltonians and are only looking at their tax bill and the news of the day.

Combining constant claims that the suburbs don't pay their way (inner city advocates and politicians) and "it's now time to start investing in downtown Hamilton" (inner city advocates, inner city poiticians, Mayor, Spec, downtown BIA, Chamber of Commerce etc.), it doesn't take a phd to realize that 8 to 15 percent tax increases for those burbs coupled with tax reductions within old Hamilton will create a bit of animosity - again. Lack of investment in the Waterdown area by the City is a myth (new arena west of Hwy. 6, Joe Sam's Park 2 km north of the Village, skateboard park/graffiti canvas and sewer upgrades after 10 year development freeze in core) and those that claim the area "gets nothing from the City" should open their eyes. Lack of investment in Hamilton's downtown core by the City is also a myth.

What I've described has almost nothing to do with most of the services that fall under the area rating system being debated which is exactly the point I began with. It will be very difficult to ever convince the cross section of citizens within the amalgamated City that they are getting a fair deal as long as a combination of erratic governance is coupled with erratic delivery of services - effectively perpetuating the resentment. A community that is in great numbers disengaged from their city (traffic flows east from Waterdown each morning, not south to Hamilton) is unlikely to be easily convinced.

It's not really fair to ramble on about issues like this without offering some thoughts on a solution. I strongly favour limiting City councillors to two terms in the hope that some turnover will bring fresh ideas to the table. I'm also in favour of adding a number of city wide councillors to the mix (something like the old Board of Control) in an effort to beat down the ward centric views that seem to rule the thinking of so many elected officials. Finally, Council and the City Manager must find a way to reduce the size of the municipal government including both programs and staff. That's what private business has had to do for the past number of years. As a starting point, might I suggest that the City funded Library could possibly do away with their upper floor Art Gallery at the Main branch for some other pressing duty since the taxpayers are already funding the AGH only a block or two away? If they did so, maybe they could find the money to live up to the planning policies in which they operate.

If I was to guess the area rating outcome, I expect it will be done away with and the new tax structure will be along the lines of the Citizen's Forum recommendations. That's certainly what I felt when I moved my home to another municipality last year in anticipation of taxes that I could no longer afford (not saying they were unfair - just that I couldn't afford them). Hate to say it but it's been so refreshing that the thought of moving my business has now popped into mind from time to time.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2011 at 19:14:27

Development charges do not cover the cost of servicing new developments. Though they've been coming closer in recent years, but we're still not there, and still one of the cheaper municipalities to build in. A recent freeze on proposed increases to these charges is estimated to have cost the city $8.7 million. We borrowed $25 million to make up the difference. Any guesses what the rampant sprawling of the last decade has cost us taxpayers?

http://www.hamiltonmountainnews.com/news/article/209751 http://www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_articl...

The fact that suburban houses pay more taxes because they're worth more confuses the issue with that of progressive taxation (where richer people pay more). When the issue is that poorer, less valuable residences in the lower city are paying taxes at a higher rate per dollar of value, it is not a progressive tax at all. It's a regressive tax.

The fact that suburban areas are also neglected and exploited only proves that amalgamation's been bad for everyone. And if demalgamation is the alternative, then I'm very interested. But failing that, maintaining this status quo will only keep the inner-city destitute, suburbs sprawling, and basements flooding everywhere.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 01:30:58 in reply to Comment 60478

Thanks for making this point:

poorer, less valuable residences in the lower city > are paying taxes at a higher rate per dollar of value, it is not a progressive tax at all. It's a regressive tax

A central problem is that the suburbs derive benefits from the urban density they don't share, then because of their lower density they claim breaks on tax contribution to maintaining that dense centre that drives their value. The net result is an outflow of capital from the centre to the suburbs, which accelerates all the more as new developments are built further and further out.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 10:51:13

Adrian - You wrote "Hamilton is the only municipality in Ontario that levies taxes like this." True enough but Hamilton is different from every other municipality in Ontario. Nowhere else do you see such a mix of urban and rural areas together. The real kicker is that most of the people did not want the amalgamation. When the powers that be at Queen's Park made this decision they should have dictated the terms of the tax system. They were already hated by the residents here anyway. Just another reason to show that Harris is the worst leader this province has ever seen. I have never seen anyone create so much crap for so many other people. All that aside I do not see amalgamation ever being undone so we need to live with it.

What portion of our taxes pays for road maintenance compared to transit subsidy? Seems to me that people in Flamborough and the like have a lot more miles of road per house than downtown Hamilton. The tax system should be the same across the entire city. Decide what the number is in a revenue neutral way and then implement it with everyone seeing the changes happen at a predetermined rate, maybe 1% per year. That way in 5 or 10 years we are done with it and we can move on.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 10:57:14 in reply to Comment 60536

True enough but Hamilton is different from every other municipality in Ontario.

Oh PLEASE give this excuse a rest, lots of cities have crazy mixes of urban, suburban and residential, just take a look at Ottawa (also amalgamated by Harris).

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 14:32:24

And Ottawa is the destination city for miles around not some crazy mix of city and Toronto suburb. Can you really not see that Hamilton is a very unique city? There really is no other city quite like it. How many people who live in the greater Ottawa area regularly commute outside the area for work? recreation? dining? Where is there to go? Montreal which is 2+ hours drive away?

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By RiDDleMeThis (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 00:36:56

Undustrial ... sorry but you simply cannot compare development charges municipality to municipality and make such vague blanket statements. It's apples and oranges especially in consideration of the different market realities. In short, realative to median price, Hamilton is actually one of the most EXPENSIVE cities in Canada in which to build according to the most recent paper on Government Imposed Charges released by CMHC.


At 17.6 per cent of the price, Hamilton is 4th highest in Canada. And since the data was collected prior to July's $7,500 increase in Development Charges, it is a safe bet that the percentage is even higher now (and perhaps too is Hamilton's position on the list).

And Robert D ... 'ongoing maintenance' IS paid for by the city, you're right. But the funds to take care of that are called property taxes. Development charges are NOT collected to pay for maintenance. If they were, every homeowner in the city would be getting a HUGE retroactive bill in the mail for sewer and watermain replacements.


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By candle (anonymous) | Posted March 17, 2011 at 03:42:49



I AM impressed by your working knowledge of the HHHBA latest key messages

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