Candidates describe the five most important actions they would take to improve Hamilton.
By RTH Staff
Published October 20, 2006
1. Preserve the unique character of Ancaster especially the village core heritage concept.
2. Preserve the 3 floor or 35' height restrictions.
3. Improve traffic flows on Wilson St.
4. Manage City resources and finances like a business.
5. Keep taxes down by spending responsibly.
6. Redevelopment of downtown Hamilton and brownfields.
One of the features of our current ward system is that candidates for Hamilton City Council are elected primarily on local ward issues and concerns, not those of the City of Hamilton in general. Once elected, however, they spend most of their time working with other Council members serving in the best interests of the City as a whole.
Reconciling these competing interests is not easy. This is especially true in a rural/suburban ward like Ancaster Ward 12, which retains a strong community identity separate and apart from Hamilton's industrial/urban core and with very different needs and priorities. "Improving Hamilton" is often understood here to mean dividing up the fiscal pie, unfortunately, at the expense of Ancaster.
As Councillor for Ancaster Ward 12 I would be but one voice on a City Council consisting of fourteen other Councillors plus the Mayor. Although there are therefore no "important actions" I could take independently to improve Hamilton without consensus on Council or the support of a majority of Council colleagues, I can and will be tenaciously dedicated to the points outlined below. Rather than speak of specific actions, I can only speak of important strategic goals for Hamilton and that I will work tirelessly to achieve sufficient agreement to move these things forward. These include:
1. Rehabilitating Hamilton's brownfield sites and revitalizing the downtown core. Hamilton is still seen as a city of heavy industry but in fact our industrial tax base is below average when compared with other Ontario cities. So is our commercial tax base, which explains why our residential taxes are so high. Hamilton has a post-industrial economy, but we lack a coherent post-industrial economic strategy to move us forward. Large tracts of land along Burlington Bay sit unused or underutilized but rather than rehabilitating them or reusing them, we keep ploughing under hundreds of acres of productive farmland and irreplaceable green space each year to build sprawling industrial parks of largely single storey construction. Compared to a commercial office block, these employ relatively few people, except during the period of their construction. Once these green field sites are gone, and they are in jeopardy, they are lost forever. Similarly, much of the downtown core consists of empty parking lots and small derelict buildings, but instead of directing new commercial development around Hamilton's historical commercial centre, we keep wanting to tear out unique architectural landmarks like the Lister building and replace them with non-descript modern buildings that no tourist would ever want to see.
Redevelopment and intensification -- building a better city within Hamilton's existing urban footprint, rather than destroying the country-side will be my goal to enhance to Hamilton's future success. Because Hamilton's Commercial tax is the second lowest in Ontario and Hamilton's industrial tax is so low, brownfields could be better promoted for redevelopment. On way for Hamilton to get value is to delay taxing the brownfields until the new proprietor has recovered the cost for cleaning up the land. Other promotions which have been used in other cities have also worked. We get clean land and new employment opportunities. Secondly, Hamilton must ensure, through monitoring, new Brownfieds are not created and businesses which exist on their contaminated land of their own doing, clean the land or have liens put on them.
2. Hamilton needs to become the destination.
With the completion of the Red Hill Creek Expressway, Hamilton will be encircled by a ring of expressways allowing traffic to completely bypass the City regardless of which direction it is coming from. Developments like Limeridge Mall and the Meadowlands conveniently built along those expressways have made downtown shopping unnecessary. Hamilton has GO transit service but its function is to take people away from Hamilton to jobs in the GTA. A hollowed-out, decaying downtown core is, at least partially, the unintended consequence of such developments. Hamilton's downtown urgently needs to become a desirable destination once again, not just a place one drives by on the way to somewhere else.
Utilize, broaden if necessary, the existing routes into Hamilton. Turning Hamilton into a secondary transportation hub along the GO corridor to carry commuters and tourists into Hamilton's core from both the GTA and the Niagara Peninsula would be an important step in making Hamilton's downtown core attractive to new commercial development. Also, the busiest tourist trail in Canada runs between Toronto and Niagara Falls, currently bypassing Hamilton. A lively downtown core with restaurants and new hotels could become the preferred location to base oneself when visiting these two cities.
3. Preserving and enhancing Hamilton's farmlands and green space.
Hamilton is the only major city in Southern Ontario with a significant portion of its tax assessment still coming from productive farmland. Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton have none, having pushed urban development to well beyond their municipal boundaries. Hamilton is also the only major city with significant amount of provincially designated greenbelt land within our borders, although that greenbelt is less than a kilometre deep in some places. Even this thin strip is threatened by proposals like the Mid-Peninsular Highway, now redubbed the GTA-Niagara Transportation Corridor, which is planned to run right through it.
We must "follow the rules", many of which were created and supported by Hamilton We are at a critical juncture - either we live within our exiting urban boundary or we continue paving over very last acre we have left. By necessity, Toronto and Mississauga's economic growth is now entirely fuelled by intensification. Our economic growth should reflect our unique natural heritage.
4. Developing a better working relationship with other levels of government.
Municipal taxes alone cannot pay for all the things Hamilton needs to get accomplished. We desperately need access to federal and provincial tax dollars too. Hamilton City Council has been notoriously ineffective in lobbying other levels of government and agencies to buy into Hamilton's future plans and has instead wasted a lot of time and goodwill frivolously challenging those same governments and agencies over jurisdictional issues. The recent changes over the fast-tracking of Aerotropolis has once again demonstrated poor co-operation with them. This is entirely counterproductive.
As amalgamation showed us, municipalities are creatures of the Province and rely on the goodwill of the Province to function effectively. We therefore need to respect the jurisdictional rights of other levels of government and work more effectively with them, not around them, to achieve our objectives. Hamilton needs an Ambassador Committee dedicated to liaise directly with Provincial and Federal Governments and their Departments.
5. Making the City more accountable to the public.
Hamilton has no state secrets to protect from foreign enemy spies. Everything that the City does or plans to do should be open and transparent to the public, unless there is a legal requirement to protect the privacy rights of individuals. The pervasive culture of secrecy around City Hall, most recently evidenced by the failure to disclose an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease, shows contempt for the public and for democratic accountability. Hamilton has a high debt to reserve ratio. In the last couple of years, the present administration has quietly frittered away the Future Fund. As well, our credit rating has dropped from AAA to AA. Now we pay higher interest rates on the money we borrow. There is a larger drain on the Treasury to pay the interest and less money for running the City. This puts the City in a debt spiral. Less money for the City means we borrow more, increasing the debt, lowering our rating, increasing the interest rate, making less money available etc. Why does Hamilton have the highest percent of uncollected taxes?
In camera meetings rarely need to be used and we must have more and more detailed information routinely available to the public. Open forums must be meaningful and involve all grass-root stakeholders for their input. There is no doubt that I have always favoured the establishment of groups to do this and so I will always support community councils in all of Hamilton's wards to make City Councillors more accountable to their local communities. Better planning and accurate costing avoids fiascos like "Gravelgate" and decreases our dependence on borrowing thus improving our debt to reserve ratio.
1. Maintaining and improving services in the city while minimizing any increase in taxes. Reduce the taxes at both residential and commercial level, if possible. Lobby the provincial government for the allocation of only our fair share of the education taxes (Hamilton businesses pay proportionally more of this tax than similar sized cities) and to be included in the social services pooling of resources from the GTA (Hamilton, although a magnet community for social services, is currently excluded from the pooling. and therefore requires annual emergency funding and significant portions of our local business and residential taxes to address the annual shortfall.
2. The creation of new jobs and redevelopment of both the downtown core and the industrial "brownfield" sites in the north end of the city ("removing the last of the rust"). Take the lead by cleaning up city owned property prior to resale. Use contaminated soil as "alternate daily cover" in our landfill.
3. Make improvements to the social and public infrastructure within the city. Increases in the levels of arts, entertainment and recreation should attract residents, tourists, businesses and students to the city. More people spending their discretionary income in Hamilton, means more money, more jobs, possibly less taxes.
4. Improve transportation within the city by recognizing that efficient use of existing services and new public transportation options are essential to the revitalization of the downtown core and would be of benefit to all taxpayers, and by lobbying the provincial government to finally include Hamilton in its plans for improving public transportation throughout the Golden Horseshoe and to direct a larger share of its resources to our area.
5. Make Hamilton the best place to raise a child, by supporting the initiatives of the Hamilton Roundtable for poverty reduction.
Single most important Issue for Ancaster (Ward 12):
Maintaining and improving services in Ancaster while minimizing any increase in taxes. This includes the preserving of the historical and cultural uniqueness of the Village of Ancaster, the maintaining of existing special events and activities unique to Ancaster, and the addition of safe and enjoyable recreation facilities and parklands for all residents of Ancaster.
This can be accomplished by being a strong voice on council to ensure fair equity in the division of services and infrastructure in the city and through the redirecting of existing resources, and allocating of the only the appropriate portion of our taxes dollars to city projects such as revitalization of the downtown core, redevelopment of "brownfield" industrial sites and the Aerotropolis.