The opportunity for councillors like Whitehead, who persist in driving a wedge between the downtown and the suburbs, is to recognize that a thriving downtown serves the best interests of his constituents.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 30, 2015
this article has been updated
For years, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead has defended his bizarre anti-urban positions on controversial policy issues on the argument that his ward subsidizes downtown Hamilton so he has a right to oppose measures that might inconvenience his residents.
Yesterday, Whitehead posted a table on his website, listing the total property tax revenue per ward:
|Ward||2014 Municipal Tax Total by Ward|
According to Whitehead, this "proves" his contention that his ward subsidizes downtown.
It didn't take long for people with a more rigorous approach to evidence to point out some problems with Whitehead's data.
McMaster researcher Chris Higgins quickly noted that the numbers should be normalized by population. He posted a table adding the ward population and dwelling totals from the 2011 census and calculating the property tax per person and per dwelling:
|Ward||2014 Municipal Tax||Population||Dwellings||Tax/Person||Tax/Dwelling|
On a per capita basis, the average person in Ward 2 paid $1,368 in 2014 and the average person in Ward 8 paid $1,272.
There are other ways to consider the data. Look at the property tax revenue per square kilometre of area:
|Ward||2014 Municipal Tax||Area (km2)||Tax/Area (km2)|
Now the picture changes dramatically: Ward 8 generates $3,715,835 in property tax per square kilometre, whereas Ward 2 generates a whopping $8,451,102 per square kilometre - 2.27 times as much.
This last table starts to illuminate the other side of the revenue/cost equation: the cost side. When considering the cost of municipal infrastructure, a useful heuristic is population density: the number of people per square kilometre.
Suburban land use is inherently far more expensive than urban land use. Municipal services have to travel farther to get to individual properties, and that means more pipe, asphalt, concrete and so on to build it. Water systems need to pump fresh water a lot farther to reach suburban destinations, so that means more and more powerful pumping stations.
In addition, roads are generally wider in suburban developments - and newer streets are wider still - and all that extra asphalt and roadbed needs to built and maintained. Further, services like garbage collection, police and fire have to travel a lot farther so operating costs go up.
The inefficiencies of suburban land use are cumulative and self-reinforcing. Because the density of land use is low and destinations are separated by use, it is difficult to get anywhere without driving. That means every destination needs to have lots of parking, and all that extra parking pushes destinations still farther apart. On top of that, the necessity of driving means increased wear-and-tear on roads when most trips are taken in cars.
In contrast, as density goes up, the same amount of municipal infrastructure serves more people and the cost per person goes down. Bringing destinations closer together makes it easier for people to walk or cycle for some trips, so car use per capita goes down. That reduces the need for parking, which brings destinations even closer together and makes still more productive use of land.
Lets add density to the last table:
|Ward||2014 Municipal Tax||Area (km2)||Tax/km2||Density (ppl/km2)|
Ward 8 is actually moderately dense at 2,871 people per square kilometre, but Ward 2 blows the rest of the city out of the water with 6,119 people per square kilometre.
So even though the average income of Ward 2 may be lower than Ward 8, the vastly more efficient use of municipal infrastructure means Ward 2 still ends up ahead.
And just to be thorough, here's the same table but using only the area of each ward that is within the urban boundary:
|Ward||2014 Municipal Tax||Urban Area (km2)||Tax/km2||Density (ppl/km2)|
Perhaps most amazing, this is true even though downtown Hamilton is significantly under-performing its potential. In a recent article on downtown parking, Higgins pointed out that downtown Hamilton still has an excess of low-value surface parking and other vacant lots:
Downtown Hamilton Parking (click image to view larger
The potential for downtown Hamilton to generate additional property tax revenue is huge - if our political leaders can bring it upon themselves to understand the dynamics and to make policy decisions that support urban growth.
Former Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark pointed this out at a May, 2014 public event on taxation, in which he acknowledged that urban development is vastly more productive for the city than suburban development, and that our tax and fee rates should encourage the kind of development we want:
[W]e need to ensure that the incentives are across the entire city for all of the downtowns. But more importantly, we need to educate the suburban voters as to why those subsidies are so vitally important in the downtown.
So I hear frequently, as I have been knocking on doors and talking to people, that the suburbs are concerned about all the money going into the downtown. They don't really understand the economics, because quite candidly, we've not done a good job of explaining those economics.
The opportunity for councillors like Whitehead, who persist in driving a wedge between the downtown and the suburbs, is to recognize that a thriving downtown serves the best interests of his constituents.
Ironically, Whitehead insists that he wants downtown to be more successful, yet he continues to vote against the very policy measures that would ensure such success.
Update: Chris Higgins was nice enough to take my last table of property tax revenue per square kilometre and plot it on a map:
Municipal tax per square kilometre by ward
And lest someone point out that much of the territory of the outlying wards is rural and hence not developable, he also made a map using only the non-rural areas of each ward:
Municipal tax per square kilometre by ward, non-rural areas only
Update 2: Chris Higgins provided the ward-level urban area totals he used to generate hsi second map, and I used them to produce a table that calculates the property tax revenue per square kilometre by ward for only the urban areas of the wards. You can jump to the added table.
By Deamalgamate (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 09:47:01
Let's please end this garbage mega city.
Let the urban core take care of itself and stop subsidizing all these whiners who halt progress every opportunity they get.
By rgelder (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2015 at 11:51:54 in reply to Comment 108569
With respect, de-amalgamation is not the answer.
By RobF (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 10:06:32
Do we know what was included in the total tax revenue ... was this just residential assessment per ward, or does it include commercial and industrial assessment too?
Comment edited by RobF on 2015-01-30 10:06:44
By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 10:09:58
Thanks for this analysis.
Of course, any talk of "subsidy" must include cost and not just revenue!
Subsidy means that wards with higher revenue than costs are subsidizing wards with higher costs than revenues.
And it seems clear that tax per capita and, even better, tax per square km are pretty good proxies for costs. Per square km is better than tax per capita because many per capita costs (water, sewer) are paid at least partly through user charges. Other services (especially roads and fixed infrastructure) scale like area.
But it is should be absolutely obvious that when talking about "subsidies" ignoring costs and comparing revenues from wards of vastly different populations, sizes and densities is nonsense.
A good example is the new Stanton development at the site of the James St Baptist Church, which is expected to generate $750K in (the equivalent of 215 houses) annual tax on an area smaller than a suburban lot, and at no extra infrastructure cost! And, as Ryan points out, there is huge potential for tax revenue on all the surface parking lots downtown. Anything the city could do to encourage their development would lead to enormous payoffs ... like LRT or better transit for example!
Just to be clear, I assume the property tax revenue includes all commercial taxes as well (where is the $20M Stelco pays, for example?).
Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-01-30 10:24:13
Maybe ward 8 and TW would like to absorb some of the hundreds of assisted living, halfway houses and lodging homes that are jammed disproportionately into ward 2.
By Already Have (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 22:18:11 in reply to Comment 108576
There's plenty of City Housing Hamilton lodging in the ward. Disproportionately in Rolston.
By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 10:46:05
Great article. I noticed a few spelling errors: 'So even through the average income of Ward 2 ...' and the title on the first graph is missing a 'y'.
Feel free to delete this comment - I just wanted to offer my free editing services ;).
By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 11:45:21
I'm predicting that this could very well be the discussion that pushes the LRT stuff aside, both here on RTD as well as other locales such as The Spec. Especially given that LRT-wise, everything's in the Province's court, that nothing can really be done until the cheque's been cut...no matter what the Mayor wants to accomplish vis a vis a 'Citizens' Panel, which to me is a pretty safe bet for failure, and worse, yet another initiative to add to the historical 'Fail' column.
For me, the real question is 'Can Hamiltonians have an actual conversation that goes beyond typed exchanges or the maddening contributions of most of Council?' And if we can't, then I'm obliged to ask 'What are Hamiltonians capable of authentically discussing?' (Again, assuming that it's possible for so many invested parties to think outside the blog, the Twitterverse, creative lambasting by way of posters, and Facebook groups.)
Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2015-01-30 11:47:50
By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 13:38:28 in reply to Comment 108580
What is "RTD"?
By RaiseTheDowntown (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 22:19:20 in reply to Comment 108588
My guess it's Raise the Downtown, since that's all this site ever talks about improving.
By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2015 at 16:57:53 in reply to Comment 108616
No, the goal of this site is urbanism. Density, pedestrian-friendly, bicycle-friendly, transit-oriented design for neighborhoods. It's green, egalitarian, frugal, and pleasant.
Downtown Hamilton has the best density, so it has a lot of the attention for this kind of improvement. But still, there is focus on the rest of the city too.
If the A-line LRT (James North GO out to Mohawk/Upper-James/Airport) were being built first instead of the B-line... well, I think the B-line is best because density, but still I'd support it and advocate for it, and I think most of the regulars here would feel the same. Sadly we've heard nary a peep about the A-line from ward 7 and 8 councillors who stand to benefit (Duvall/Whitehead).
When Tom Jackson killed an excellent bike-lane plan for Queensdale, we were quite disappointed. Queensdale is the perfect place for bike-lanes. RTH and CATCH were the only groups making any noise about this.
I mean, the B-line LRT plan itself is a perfect example, since the plan is Dundas to Stoney Creek. That's not "downtown" by any stretch, now is it?
Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-01-31 16:58:25
By dsafire (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2015 at 11:53:45 in reply to Comment 108616
Well, considering that "The Hammer" means Hamilton, and that ive never heard anyone not from the lower city say they're from Hamilton (even the upper ward residents will say "Hamilton Mountain" instead) I think that's appropriate.
By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 12:16:21 in reply to Comment 108632
What? Someone from ward 7 or 8 visiting Toronto or Vancouver won't say they're from "Hamilton"? People outside Hamilton would have no idea what Hamilton Mountain even is.
I understand that within the city, or environs, people describe themselves as coming from a particular area. I tend to say I live in Durand, others will talk about living on the East Mountain, and I know that many people living in Dundas or Ancaster still prefer those identifiers. But the further you get from Hamilton, the more ridiculous it is to keep insisting you're not really from Hamilton if you live in the City of Hamilton, especially if it was never an identifiable place at least somewhat known outside the immediate area (like Dundas).
It really is being a bit pedantic to claim that using the description "Hamilton" excludes everyone outside the lower city, even if some people prefer to identify with their own neighbourhood.
What would you call a website dedicated to City of Hamilton issues? "Raise the Ancaster/Dundas/Westdale/Stoney Creek/Hamilton Mountain/downtown/Glanbrook/Flamborough and assorted neighbourhoods who would rather not be associated with the name Hamilton".
Whether you like it or not there is an entity called "the City of Hamilton" and this website is concerned with issues affecting all parts of the city (other examples include the aerotropolis, or the A-line LRT).
Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-01-31 12:36:30
By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 09:51:29 in reply to Comment 108616
Ah, okay. So he is mocking and misrepresenting the goals of the writers and commenters on this site by deliberately using the wrong name, but passively-aggressively not actually spelling it out. It would have been nice if the fatalistic ItJustIs answered the question straightforwardly him or herself.
At least that's clear now.
I thought it might be a typo, or referring to something else.
As has been pointed out before, many of the common issues (like transit improvement and LRT, saving heritage and safer streets) are important to the City as a whole. But it should be obvious that the lower city faces many specific challenges and, as many suburban councillors like to point out, 'downtown is for everyone' so it is everyone's issue.
Most importantly, however, if you or anyone wants to write about issues you feel are specifically important to the suburbs, or a particular part of the suburbs you should just do it. It will be published and commented just like all the other articles. If no one writes the articles you want to see about the suburbs ... write one yourself. This is an entirely volunteer enterprise and, as far as I know, Ryan has never refused an article because it is 'about the suburbs' or presents a suburban point of view.
Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-01-31 10:02:34
By RobF (registered) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 12:51:07 in reply to Comment 108621
Agree with your comments. My experience is that RTH is concerned about quality of content more than policing a particular editorial line. Impressions to the contrary are about who contributes ...
The problem the "RTD" seems to mock, however, is worth a little bit more comment.
In my "professional" life i do research and write about suburbs/suburbanization. For all that i might contribute by writing about suburban matters in Hamilton, I've only lived in Wards 1&2 in my four years as a Hamiltonian. Perhaps more importantly, my work isn't about Hamilton empirically. From experience if i did comment on our suburbs or suburban issues based on my expertise, secondary sources, and firsthand knowledge of them I'm certain to be immediately attacked as one of those downtown "elites" talking about "the suburbs".
You really can't win to be frank, and i'm someone who's spent more time living in suburban places (mostly in Vancouver) than urban ones (in Toronto and Hamilton). The puzzling part of "RTD" is that it never addresses why members of our Council from suburban wards care so much about relatively inexpensive and minor projects in the "Core 4" wards (especially in 1&2). As has been noted, it's something of the absurd that a 2km bus-lane in Wards 1 and 2 that costs a couple hundred thousand $ of Metrolinx funds is debated to death at GIC, while Sam Merulla tells us that the "core 4" have largely deferred to their suburban colleagues on decisions in the suburban wards.
Millions spent on suburban infrastructure rolls by without a peep, but a bus-lane on King or cycle-track on Cannon gets sensationalized coverage in Spectator. Perhaps we should start to take a greater interest in suburban matters ... there's a lot of consequential things happening out there. But then we'd be told to mind our own business. You're from downtown, don't come out here and tell us what to do.
Comment edited by RobF on 2015-01-31 12:53:04
By jason (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 23:23:01 in reply to Comment 108616
Good point. Perhaps we should tackle all the code red neighbourhoods, crumbling schools, pollution issues and lack of safe transportation options in Ancaster, Waterdown and Dundas before we waste time on the Shangri-la lower city.
By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 23:32:21 in reply to Comment 108617
Jason, you're being your usual ridiculous self.
There's Code Red outside of the core. You know that.
When will we take on the issues surrounding Rolston? When will we devote the time, energy, and resources to improving quality of life on the mountain on major streets like Upper James, Mohawk, and so on?
By higgicd (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 12:12:26
From the maps, my take is people should remember that density pays. What's good for the core is great for the rest of the city's taxes.
Still a flawed assessment as the urban one doesn't take farms into account, but what can you do. Better than tax by population.
By slodrive (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 12:42:12
Thanks for pulling all this together, Ryan. Very insightful (and/or validating.)
By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2015 at 14:13:46
Once you figure in social programs the suburbs probably do subsidize downtown, but that's because this city is a dumping-ground for the region's social ills and the provincial downloading moved many social welfare programs into municipal purview for no freaking good reason. That seems the height of callousness to blame on the core.
But in terms of pure infrastructure/services? I'd be surprised to learn of any subsidy of downtown. Mountain homes may have higher assessment per-person, but they also have much more overhead in servicing. Their buses run half-empty, their roads require more plowing per-resident, etc.
By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 16:48:01 in reply to Comment 108589
There was an article on here in the summer which pointed out that the HSR makes a profit in the lower city in terms of cost to service versus fares, which is used to subsidize transit in the suburbs.
By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2015 at 17:03:35 in reply to Comment 108598
I'm actually confused about that because if you open the 2011 IBI report it says that the HSR loses money on every route, but that the 1-King is at almost break-even. Funny discrepancy in reports... I imagine it comes from deciding whether to include some overhead or not.
By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 17:11:30 in reply to Comment 108599
It could be due to different ways of accounting for costs, or it could have changed since ridership on the Main/King corridor has increased by 20% in the past five years and now accounts for 42% of the entire ridership of HSR.
By H1 (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 16:11:26
How about showing where the money is spent? What about the tens of millions wasted renovating Gore Park every five years? the Lister Block? City Hall? the Subsidy to events downtown?
By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 16:33:00 in reply to Comment 108594
To a first approximation, costs are proportional to population and inversely proportional to area.
But if you want to start talking about specific projects, it's worth remembering that festivals and events throughout the city get subsidies, the City has built nice new recreational facilities all through the suburbs (e.g. skating rinks and bocce courts). And The HDSB has moved its headquarters to the mountain. Not to mention street renovations and improvements in Stoney Creek and Ancaster.
But the elephant in the room is what has been spent on roads (I assume you would count the hundreds of millions spent building and maintaining the Linc and RHVP as money spent on the suburbs), and we have recently spent $75 million on the interchange at Clappison's corners (between the city and the province), and approved $18 million for a new street on the East Mountain and $20 million for widening a road in Waterdown.
And we're still pushing ahead with a massive expense, at least $120 million, to service the aerotropolis lands, much of which will likely become new uneconomic sprawl residential.
Where is your data showing we spend "tens of millions" on Gore Park every five years ... I've never heard that.
Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-01-30 16:34:14
By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2015 at 16:25:28 in reply to Comment 108594
events downtown? drop in the bucket. the number one budget item is roads. so road km per resident is probably the most important metric if you really care about tax expenditures. i'll let the public works manager's words speak for themselves:
"This is a significant issue for the overall roads program. We should be spending $180 million. We’re significantly below that. We’re not even providing 40%. We have a problem. We have a crisis. There’s not enough money to do all the roads then local roads suffer. To be as blunt as I can, when we have problems with bridges we close them. Roads may have to go back to gravel which is totally unacceptable but that’s where we’re heading until we get additional resources. I know it’s a challenge, but if I don’t address the collectors and arterials, we have a significant problem in the overall program. So it’s as candid as I can be. The roads are failing and they’re getting worse. Thanks."
Comment edited by seancb on 2015-01-30 16:25:45
By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 30, 2015 at 16:24:44 in reply to Comment 108594
What about you going back to your bridge?
By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2015 at 10:35:47
Thank you, Ryan. These are the sorts of numbers and maps I think the entire city needs to see and mull over. Any chance of the Spec picking up the ball here? Certainly the CBC would be nice, too. I don't say this lightly; RTH does a fantastic job of clearing the air and presenting the most pertinent facts. Sadly, the perception of RTH isn't universally lauded, which is an injustice to the hard work you folks do.
That aside, I think we all need to spread the word to our own networks on this one. If we can't break through our collective silos and show our more mainstream friends and readers what they haven't been told by their councillors, then we're going to lose the big fights to come.
By Eric Wind (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 14:10:37
All the technicalities and calculations aside, I see this as a case of "Why do I have to help other people with their problems while not getting any direct benefits for myself?" And, I think this is the wrong way of looking at the situation. One of the beautiful things about our city (and our province and country) is that we help one another through the re-distribution of tax benefits. In this way, the system IS NOT FAIR. Some people receive more help while others have to carry the burden of this need. The positive side of this is that it leads to a society that is more equal, and ultimately, more healthy and sustainable.
By kingkos (registered) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 15:01:35 in reply to Comment 108642
I like where your heads at Eric. Ultimately, humans ARE selfish beings more concerned with our own self interest than the helping others. This will eventually lead to out own self destruction, as it's already leading to our destruction of the planet. Terry Whitehead is an idiot, but unfortunately he probably does represent the direct interests of his ward. What he fails to understand is that having a vibrant downtown IS in the best interest if his ward but his short sightedness is his handicap. The problem here is that RTH tends to use things like "facts" and "studies" as opposed to emotions and hyperbole. This is a microcosm of the real problem that Hamilton has, which is lack of community and solidarity. This is a fractured city and the suburbs vs urban nonsense needs to end.....I'm just not hopeful that it will.
Comment edited by kingkos on 2015-01-31 15:02:10
By MediaWatch (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 17:14:42
Well said Ryan, but not the entire story is told. The 2014 Budget pie shows the following in terms of capital expenditures: Of the $158M cost $69.1M went to Pan Am (Stadium I suspect with the prov. paying $57M) $8M to Pan Am Precinct, $7.7M to West Harbour, $3M to Pan Am Rec Center, $2.6M to Downtown Projects and $.5M to city housing. Almost the entirety to downtown related capital works.
So who is subsidizing whom exactly?
And what about the majority of services like Fire and Police....what is the proportion demanded by downtown vs suburbs?
I like your analysis but this side of the story is seldom told.
By m (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 17:54:06
The only thing more terrifying than Terry's logic is his lack of understanding of basic language conventions; his defensive, petty, and embarrassing Twitter posts would be hilarious if not for the fact that this man's vote has the ability to significantly impact Hamilton.
I understand the concept of democratic elections, but it still kind of blows my mind that an individual so unqualified has the opportunity to shape our city. Sadly, most council members have absolutely no idea what makes a city great. To make matters worse, they completely ignore the recommendations of city staff who are educated and trained in these matters.
My current job required six years of university education. In addition, I am expected to continue my education through additional professional development courses. Admittedly, my profession has far less of an impact on an entire city's population than that of a councillor.
Have these councillors bothered to ever read anything about basic urban planning principles? Have they ever visited other cities to learn from and be inspired by?
Clearly, most councillors have no interest in such things. I'm aware that their interests lie more in self-preservation. Why learn about transit or economic development when it's so much easier to satisfy a constituent's request for a new blue box?
By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2015 at 11:57:17
5.12 Correspondence from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario respecting nominations for the 2014-2016 Board of Directors
(a) That Councillor Whitehead be nominated to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario;
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