Special Report: City Hall

City Hall or City Mall? A Vision of Transformation for Our Core

Rather than spending exorbitant sums fixing up 71 Main Street West, the City can purchase City Centre and transform it into a downtown City Hall that immerses Council and staff in the city.

By Sean Burak
Published November 26, 2008

Editor's note: this article comes a day after publication, but it fits nicely with the emphasis on City Hall in the current RTH issue, and it represents a bold, creative approach that acknowledges the connections between several challenges and opportunities facing the city.

It is becoming apparent that our City Hall controversy is to go on interminably until all of this generation is dead and buried.

--quip regarding the selection of a new city hall site, c.1950.

With recent focus aimed squarely at the materials cladding our city hall, perhaps it is time to take a step back and re-evaluate not only the building, but the location itself.

Until 1960, Hamilton's local government was housed in a majestic stone building, complete with a clock tower and bell. Completed in 1890, it was located on James Street North at King William in the heart of Hamilton's business district and, coincidentally, at the same spot where Council currently occupies its temporary office space.

After 60 years in service, our original City Hall was showing signs of age, and the site proved too small for expansion. A multi-year argument over its relocation resulted in the selection of the current Main Street West site, next to what was then the downtown public library. The old Hall was demolished to make way for the Eaton's department store.

The usual controversies over architecture and expenditures finally gave way to completion of our current City Hall, which began operating on the morning of Hallowe'en, 1960.

Since city hall opened, much has changed in our core, with many old buildings replaced by new:

This three-decade building spree opened up many new spaces to businesses, but the massive size of each of these projects served to drive a physical wedge between the human-scaled business areas of downtown (King Street and James Street) and the centre of our civic government at 71 Main Street West.

According to geography, City Hall is located downtown, but in reality, the Main Street West site is seriously separated from the true core of Hamilton: the corner of King and James. It sits in the middle of a barren courtyard that never quite turned into the public space it was meant to be. Gore park has historically been the true public centre of Hamilton, and will continue to be no matter what improvements are made to the city hall forecourt.

It lies across five busy traffic lanes from the back side of Hamilton's business district. It takes less time to reach City Hall by car from the 403 than it does to walk there from Gore Park. Simply put, City Hall separates Council and staff from the core of Hamilton, both physically and emotionally.

Ample parking and easy vehicular access to 71 Main Street West encourages Councillors and staff to live on the outskirts of the city, take the highway in, occupy their offices for eight hours, and zoom back out. Each day, our public servants could perform their duties without ever visiting a downtown business, walking a downtown street, passing a downtown resident, or giving a thought to the true heart of our city.

Out of the minds of most staffers, is it surprising that our core has crumbled?

City Staff Return Downtown

Fate, luck, and a lack of maintenance over the years has brought us to a turning point. In July of 2007, city staff began the move to their temporary offices at City Centre (formerly Eaton's Centre, and before that, original City Hall). Since that move, we have seen a flurry of activity in downtown hamilton:

After decades of steady decline, the core is sparking back to life. It is no accident that during the last year-and-a-half, City Councillors and staff have been housed in the City Centre - in the true heart of downtown Hamilton. Our public servants must now travel to the heart of our city to get to work.

They park a short walk from their offices, just like thousands of downtown workers. They interact with citizens on the streets. They patronize local businesses. They see firsthand the state of our city, and as a result they are starting to care for the downtown - something that has been long forgotten.

Make the Temporary Move Permanent

How can we maintain this momentum? We would all agree that our government cannot be housed in a mall forever, lest we become the laughing stock of the country. But City Centre does not have to be a mall. Rather than spending exorbitant sums fixing up 71 Main Street West, the City can purchase City Centre and perform some much-needed transformations there.

For starters, a grand stone facade could be built at the entrance across from King William. This could pay homage to our original City Hall, and the original clock and bell can be removed from the hokey Disneyesque tower at York, and moved to the new majestic tower freshly erected across from the Lister.

The rest of the building along James can be given a facelift, with ground floor street-facing retail space. This space could be offerred to current City Centre retailers at a discount, and would result in stretching the streetwall along James, linking the fresh activity of the arts district with the economic centre of the city.

From the street view, we would have transformed a bland, uninviting cement wall to a majestic City Hall entrance flanked by inviting retail spaces.

Inside, the building can be completely de-malled. On the upper levels, office space can be built up to the railing, with windows looking down to an atrium below. The lower level atrium can serve as public space, and all public service kiosks can be located there.

Converting City Centre into City Hall would carry some major benefits. The costs of renovation would be significantly lower than at Main Street. All city hall offices can be in the same location (including the ones slated to move to Lister, which would be directly across the street). Local businesses will continue to enjoy the benefits of hundreds of well paid workers within walking distance of their shops. A current blight on the James North streetwall will be renovated.

But most importantly, all City Councillors and staff will continue to be a part of downtown life daily, and this will be reflected in their attitudes and decisions, benefiting the entire city.

Adaptive Reuse for Current City Hall

But what of the current city hall? Rather than mothball or demolish it, the historical building can be passed on to another institution for a very fair price. It could be leased to McMaster University, which would enjoy the benefits of its grand spaces, surrounding courtyard, and even the ample parking.

In return, Mac would agree to maintain the historical features. McMaster's current downtown location (the courthouse) would be freed up. Rather than put it to waste, it could become Hamilton's equivalent to Union Station. Bus bays and an LRT station could be housed there, with a covered pedestrian link to the nearby Hunter Go terminal.

Spending huge dollars on renovating City Hall, and moving staff into the ivory (marble? limestone? concrete?) tower would represent a huge step backwards. We have moved forward into a time where the downtown has meaning again.

We cannot afford to empty out the City centre, remove our public servants from the heart of the city, and send them back to the suburban mentality fostered by 71 Main Street West over the past 50 years.

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.

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By Chris (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 19:32:43

I think this is a solid plan that should be explored. I also think that if this plan is realized that any money saved should be put in a fund towards LRT.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 14:15:13

This is such a great idea, I really can't see any reason to oppose it. The city really should take the hint from the 1 Hunter St. E. renovation, where renovating an old building just made sense from a fiscal standpoint while also stimulating the local economy and generally improving the neighborhood.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2008 at 21:03:51

Sean, a great suggestion. There's no question that the influx of workers into the core has had a positive effect on the otherwise languishing JS and Hamilton City Centre building. I remember being dropped off in front of the HCC on my first day in the city (between the Lister and HCC on James N), and the effect was somewhat less than inspiring. Actually seeing a decent number of people walking around the HCC represents a significant improvement. I especially like the idea of converting the existing Mac downtown building to a transport hub. Aspects of this building could use a little sprucing anyways (like the east side of the facility), though I agree it should be maintained. Problems may arise, however, in getting Mac to cooperate with anything or anybody. (I say this, by the way, as a former student). Were such a thing possible, however, the spin-offs for downtown would almost certainly be very promising.

This is another issue entirely, of course, but the idea of splitting Hamilton rail service between two stations (especially when the northern one will be getting most of the daily rail traffic) makes establishing the southern station as the "Union Station" equivalent somewhat counterintuitive. Not to say that I don't like your idea - Quite the opposite: In fact, I actually wish that all of the daily rail service would go through Hunter. I guess we'll see what develops. . .?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 12:38:31

Because of the layout of the rails, VIA and GO will likely never exclusively use Hunter as a hub. However Hunter is still the best location for LRT, greyhound, GO buses, some trains and in my opinion, HSR buses as well. I think the best option is to group all of the services we can into and around hunter, and operate a fast, frequent, free shuttle to the James North location - perhaps in a dedicated lane on hughson with a quick stop at gore park?

Regarding the influx of workers - the direct effect of their presence on local businesses is great. But I want to stress that the most important aspect is the shift in mindset of city workers if they become a part of city life on a daily basis. It's not just about where they spend their lunch money. Its about how they view the city - and especially the heart of the city - once they become a part of it every day.

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By Robert_D (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 13:02:55

Whatever happens, whether City Hall moves back to their building or remains in the City Centre, I just hope that the workers of city hall don't forget the rest of the downtown. It's so close and really has amazing variety.

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By claudio (anonymous) | Posted December 06, 2008 at 01:06:13

The idea of moving city council/staff permantly to the city centre with renos is a great one and it seems that a lot of other people agree. Every comment on this article is supportive of this plan. Now how do we get city council/staff to consider it as a viable option?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2008 at 10:15:23

Contact your councillor (better yet all of them) and let them know you think it's a great idea. As it stands, over half the councillors don't even want to listen to the idea - they aren't even interested in the numbers. we have to open all of their minds! Feel free to quote this article :-)

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2008 at 15:50:34

Sean, this is a stupid idea. If you want to bring some life back to downtown Hamilton, cut business tax rates to 1%, drop zoning restrictions, and sell off every city owned building.

Private enterprise is the ingredient that gives cities their energy, not sterile, city owned tombs.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 11, 2008 at 21:37:01

The magic of the free market certainly worked well for the auto industry, didn't it? Your endless repetition is mind numbing.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2008 at 03:38:52

Seancb, where did you get the idea that the free market outlaws failure? If a company can't produce value from its inputs, then it shouldn't be in business. All the free market does is shift resources to those who create value, from those who do not.

The alternative is to let politicians control investment decisions, whereby output is based not on end consumer demand, but on the lofty goals of a few well placed bureaucrats.

Compare the centrally planned economies of North Korea, the former USSR and seventies China to western economies and the difference is telling. By allowing individual consumers to dictate where capital flows, society ends up producing what consumers really want and not what politicians think should be produced.

Just as it would be stupid for you to allow me to spend your income on what I think you need, it's equally as stupid to allow politicians to spend taxpayers money on what they think we need.

As to your point about my arguments being mind numbing, that is only because you are trapped in left wing dogma that equates intentions with results. Since you begin with the premise that businesses are greedy, and citizens are good, anything that appears to help businesses must obviously come at the expense of the "people". The world is a zero sum game in your mind, where all the rules must tilt towards the people and businesses must be treated with suspicion and fear.

The truth however, is quite different from your view of the world. The truth is, that by helping others, you end up helping yourself even more. Therefore, if Hamilton wants to help itself, it needs to help others first. By dropping commercial tax rates to 1%, the city would give businesses a strong reason to set up shop in this community. Yes, the reason would be purely based on self interest and greed, but who cares? In life you have to give something up before you can get something back.

Up to this point, it doesn't seem that Hamilton is willing to give businesses anything, but is stuck in the selfish "labour first" attitude that drove all the industry away in the first place. But don't take my word for it, the results of business hating Hamilton speak for themselves. A rotting, sad little community of government loving, wealth hating, envious little souls who would rather be equally poor, than individually great.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2008 at 10:59:30

But it's so much fun and so easy to spend somebody else's money. It's what they do.

PS
The free market worked great in the Auto Industry. The companies building better cars make money those that build not so good cars lose money. That's exactly how it's supposed to work. Governments stepped in and tried to prop up the underperforming companies in a bid to save jobs. (spending somebody else's money) Governments have been pouring our tax dollars into the Detroit three for years.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2008 at 19:48:14

Ryan, I agree with you. If the U.S. government had mandated higher fuel efficiency standards, the cars produced by Detroit would have been much more attractive to consumers and their present balance sheet problems would be much less severe then they are today.

By trying to be nice to the automakers, North American governments have made them soft, sluggish and dependent.

The same thing has also happened to City of Hamilton. By allowing Hamilton to be a net recipient of government handouts, the city has become scared and weak. If Hamilton started receiving less from other communities, we would see our domestic economic base grow larger and stronger.

All Hamilton needs to get back up on its feet is a little bit of tough love.


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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2008 at 22:46:49

The fuel economy argument is outdated and silly. California in particular has some of the toughest mileage and emission standards in the world and The Detroit Three can meet those.

The Detroit Three's problems are not particularly related to poor fuel economy since they have made great strides in that area in recent times. How many body on frame vehicles are out there? Not many, a few big pick-ups and SUVs, but all the manufacturers use that technology for those vehicles. Their problems are more centred on quality and dependability. Toyota's big vehicles are just as hard on gas, they're just better. The Detroit Three have many (too many?) fuel efficient models, again the problem is with reliability and repair rates. There is no magic, all gas engines have about the same efficiency. A 3000 lb vehicle with a comparable size engine and transmission is going to get similar mileage no matter who makes it. Look at mini-vans they're all similarly sized and powered and all get similar mileage. When spending big bucks on a new vehicle 1 or 2 mpg is not going to sway most peoples decision. Resale value, dependability, fit and finish, and overall quality will.

The American and Canadian Governments have propped up companies building poor vehicles to save jobs and prop up our economy which is heavily dependent on the car industry. At the same time our governments did not insist that foreign governments let our companies compete fairly in their countries, especially Japan. They should have insisted that everyone competes on a level playing field. That probably would have resulted in one of the three going the way of American Motors (remember them?) Gone except for their best vehicles the Jeep line which still exists. The remaining companie(s) would be competitive.

Nothing to do with national fuel standards or gas taxes.


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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2008 at 06:51:11

A. Smith, where would you like city hall to be (assuming, of course, that "no civic government" isn't an option)?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2008 at 19:15:50

Grassroots, wherever you move city hall, that area will also become a dead zone. If we need politicians at all, I would rather we just pay them to sit at home. The same goes for all city employees. Give them a buyout and tell them that their services are no longer required.

I would also like to agree with you on one of your points regarding government spending, namely welfare payments. You believe that they are too low. Even though I don't believe these payments are necessary, nor do I believe they help the people receiving them, I would rather the government give people more cash, then go to the trouble of building housing, create training programs, etc.

By giving people more cash, you are also giving them the freedom to purchase what they as individuals feel is best for their situation. In this sense, you are replacing top down planning with a more chaotic economic model. In the seventies, when welfare rates peaked in Canada, the economy grew much faster than it does today.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2008 at 19:18:46

Geoff, sorry about the case of mistaken identity, I think I need to get my eye's checked.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2008 at 22:07:00

No problem with the mistaken identity. And, as I've said before, I agree in principle with much of what you say (Hamilton's municipal government is something less than a well-oiled machine). Just wondering though, taking the world as it is (we have a municipal government that will conduct its business somewhere), as opposed to the world as it ought to be (where government shrinks to an almost negligible size, with privately owned, competitive, and more efficient institutions picking up the slack) - assuming, that is, that city hall will eventually locate somewhere, I'd be curious to know where you thought that should be (ie. which location would represent the lesser of two - or three - evils?).

Personally, I'm intrigued by the more central location, which - at least symbolically - would represent a departure from an ivory tower idea of government to one that is more effectively engaged with the city's private sector.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2008 at 23:04:58

A Smith do you propose that we let people down on their luck starve? What about snow removal or restaurant inspections or parking or the myriad of other things the city does? Just curious.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 05:40:21

Geoff, if City Hall and the people who worked there were more like a business, then I think either location would be acceptable. To this end, I recommend instituting a performance based compensation package. This compensation package could be tied to any number of quality of life measurements, but ultimately would need to be in line with the revenues that the city brought in.

As an example, since property values tend to be strongly correlated with demand for land, which ultimately reflects the attractiveness of a city, politicians who increased assessment values faster than the provincial, or national average would be in line for large bonuses.

Other criteria we could use to rate our politicians would be things like unemployment, median hourly earnings, crime, traffic congestion, etc.

I tend to like the assessment measure the most, however, because it aggregates all of these quality of life variables, and allows the market to tell us whether the city is viewed favourably or unfavourably.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 06:04:08

Mr.Meister, since unemployment would be one of the major factors in measuring government performance (based on my performance based approach to government), allowing people to go poor would not be in the best interest of city managers. In theory, each person without a well paying job would decrease the potential earnings of our city councilors. Since unemployment decreases demand for property in the city, our city government would constantly be looking to put people to work in high paying jobs.

If there were still people, who for medical reasons, could not pay their own way, I believe that charity could step in to save the day. In a wealthy prosperous city, where residents have large amounts of disposable income (unlike present day Hamilton), most people would feel obligated to share their prosperity with others. Furthermore, since having people beg for money tends to decrease the attractiveness of city streets, and thus property values, it may very well be cheaper to build housing for these people, than allow property values to drop.

As for items like restaurant inspections and snow removal, these would need to be factored into a cost benefit analysis. If politicians believed that they added to the value of the city more than they cost, then we would actually get more of them.

Ultimately, all city programs would be viewed with an eye towards the bottom line.

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By Unreal (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 10:21:48

A Smith wrote "wherever you move city hall, that area will also become a dead zone." What are you smoking A Smith and where can I get some. It's like you just think about how things ought to be based on what you believe and then just project that onto the world around you so you see what you want to see. Since the city employees moved into the old eaton centre the place is much busier and livelier and so is Jackson Square and James North. The whole area is benefitting from city employee's working there, walking around and getting involved in what's going on. I've sat in Pam's at King and James and listened to public health dept people talking about walkable neighborhoods and how they never really thought of it before (when they worked at a "drive in" city hall on Main).

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 11:21:38

Unreal, what you don't see is the lost business elsewhere. Obviously if you hang around where the city employees now work, of course you will see more of them. That doesn't mean there is a net benefit to the whole city simply because you move them from A to B.

If you really want downtown Hamilton to pick up, I am really coming around to the idea of basing politicians' pay on how much they increase property values. Since property values reflect the quality of life in a city, rewarding politicians who increase this number makes it more likely that they will focus their decisions to do this very thing.

Of course, when property values rise in Hamilton, the big winners will be every property owner, since every dollar increase will be pure equity. It only seems fair to me that the politicians should be rewarded commensurate to the value they create for their clients.

By refusing to reward wise decision making, we're probably getting exactly what we pay for.



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By Unreal (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 11:27:59

No you wrote "wherever you move city hall, that area will also become a dead zone." Now you're changing the story. I'll tell you who's lost business after city staff moved, the cafeteria at city hall now closed for renovations. Otherwise they weren't spending there money at work. Anyway as Sean Burak says it's not just that they're spending there own money on businesses downtown it's more that they're THINKING about downtown in a way they just didn't when they worked at a drive-in city hall with it's own parking lot so they didn't have to interact with the outside world. They're starting to think of themselves as people in a city not people in a suburb who work in a business park that happens to be downtownish somewhere off a five lane highway (Main st).

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 12:16:34

A. smith wrote: "I am really coming around to the idea of basing politicians' pay on how much they increase property values. Since property values reflect the quality of life in a city, rewarding politicians who increase this number makes it more likely that they will focus their decisions to do this very thing."

While I love the idea of civil service compensation being performance based, (including schools and hospitals), basing them on property values can't be the only metric used. It's too easy to artificially inflate the values, perhaps not as easy as it was during the housing boom, but other factors would still need to be applied. Which factors and what weighting to give each would be up to the sociologists but regardless, politics would need to be removed from the equation to keep this "Livability Index" (if that hasn't already been coined then I'm coining it now) as unbiased as possible.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 12:27:04

Unreal, I'm not arguing the obvious fact that city employees need to eat lunch, but there is a limit to how far city employees can revitalize an area. Do city employees stay around after work and frequent the stores, restaurants, bars and alike? Do city employees clamour for housing in the area? I'm not so sure.

Vibrant downtown's simply aren't based on government offices, but are driven by the private sector. The fact that people look to government for help in revitalizing an area, speaks to the complete lack of interest from people with disposable income. All the shifting of government money will not change the fact that the downtown needs to be subsidized in the first place.

Why not do something really easy and drop property taxes in the area? Since people make decisions based on incentives, lowering the tax burden for property owners will make it more attractive to live and work in the area, all things being equal.

I guarantee you that if this happened, you would see much more organic development take place in the downtown, both for residential and business properties. All you have to do is look at the recent experience in Toronto and their land transfer tax, to see how changing incentives can affect housing demand. In Toronto's case, single family home sales have dropped 16% compared to surrounding areas and home prices have dropped 1.5%, again relative to surrounding communities.

What the downtown needs, is less government and more entrepreneurs.
Lowering tax rates would be a great first step.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 12:47:14

UrbanR, I like property values because it reflects overall demand from the private sector. However, as home prices have shown us in recent years, they tend to move in spurts. Perhaps we would need to compare Hamilton's home prices to a national, or provincial average to get a better picture.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 14:09:18

A. Smith, comparing the local increase to the provincial or national average increase would definitely be better but I still think other factors should be accounted for (i.e. average time a resident stays in the area, average amount of non-work driving the residents do, average ratio of disposable income to total income, a general happiness survey, etc). As our own city has shown with the brownfield development fiasco, its easy to skew numbers by only looking at one narrow definition. Public oversight would also be needed, perhaps in the form of an ombudsman.

Realistically though, not many politicians would agree to this sort of accountability which is why I can go on Google and in 30 seconds I can see what Paris Hilton ate for breakfast, but not how local, provincial or federal government members have voted in past votes.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 22:45:52

UrbanR, I guess my thinking was that property values take into consideration all of the quality of life factors, but if this is not the case, then using a more well rounded set of metrics is fine as well. The reason why I like property values, is because increasing this number creates real value for people. If, for example, property values in Hamilton jumped up to the GTA average, people would see wealth real increases in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, not a small amount by any measure.

I do like the disposable income stat and think an even better tool would be median disposable income. This number would tell us how the average person was doing, rather than just a few pro athletes that come to town (if for example the city brought an NHL team to Hamilton).

In regards to politicians not warming up to this system, I think that would be true if their pay package stayed the way it is today. However, if they could earn bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, I think they might just like this new way of rating their performance.

Rather than treat political positions with the naive belief that it is a "calling" and that money isn't important, I think the residents of Hamilton would be much better off to treat the politicians as advisors. Therefore, if our advisors created real wealth in the course of their job, they would be entitled to a percentage of the city's success. By not rewarding politicians for their efforts, we may feel good about saving a few bucks, but in the long run I think we are only hurting ourselves. You get what you pay for in life, so I think if we want a world class city, we need to pay world class rates to the people who help make it happen. What do you think?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 23:01:11

A Smith, nice theory, a little over simplified but a nice theory. But in the end, do you let the poor or the unfortunate starve? We will never have a 0% jobless rate. I’ve seen how quickly life can change and take somebody down. How much can city managers really do to bring well paying jobs into the city? The city does not operate in a vacuum. Look at the airport, the city and numerous airlines have tried but nobody can make it work. Whose fault is it? A lot of what municipal governments do is provide fundamental services and there’s no way I want do without them. Remember Harris? He screwed so much of this province but did enough for the affluent in and around Toronto that he got re-elected. His 407 deal will haunt us for many years to come. I can see somebody coming in and slashing things like welfare and other services but keeping the majority very happy as well as having great “numbers”. I don’t think I have the stomach for that.
I’m a big proponent of less and smaller government, especially cheaper government. However I’m a bigger proponent of getting my snow and garbage removed.
As far as the downtown is concerned I’ve been advocating lowering taxes there for years. Cities like Boston and Pittsburgh have shown that to re-vitalize the core you have to get people to live there. Look at some of the gorgeous lofts that have been built in Boston. It’s not easy attracting people away from the great North American ideal, the house with the white fence. Lower taxes in general, and fees for renovations can really help. Having a thriving core would greatly improve many of Hamilton’s ailments.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 23:36:42

Mr.Meister, why is it that government officials seem to be the only people who can help poor people. People in Hamilton have wealth of their own, so if you see a problem with poverty, there is nothing stopping you from donating to charity.

I believe the reason why people like leaving it to the government, is because it gives them the freedom to blame someone else for the problem. Of course it was Mike Harris' greed that screwed over the poor during his tenure, not the fact that wealthy people living in Toronto (who tend to vote NDP and Liberal) didn't want to forgo some of their Starbucks, or vacations to Cuba. If poverty is such an important issue to you personally, then you should sell off all but the most basic staples of life and give it to the poor. If you are unwilling to do this, then your calls for bigger government welfare programs are nothing more than rhetoric. I have a feeling that you will not give away your material possessions and are as self interested as the rest of us.

That being said, at least at 2% unemployment, there would be less need for welfare checks in the first place. As a result, current charitable donations would likely go 2-3x as far as they do today.

As to your question about how effective city managers can be in bringing well paying jobs into Hamilton, I would argue they could be extremely effective. If they stood to take a percentage of the added wealth the city produced, their focus would be like a laser beam on that very goal.

However, even if performance based incentives did nothing to help our economy, they can't do any harm. Take median disposable income for example, if this number went down, politicians would only collect their basic pay, nothing more. If real wages for the average person went up, however, the city managers would be in line for a cut of the new wealth. As it stands today, even if politicians do a great job in bringing jobs to the city, they only get paid their basic salary. How is that fair? Furthermore, why should we be surprised that politicians don't go the extra mile to help the residents of Hamilton, if their efforts won't be rewarded.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 16, 2008 at 08:04:50

So A. Smith, let me just see if I understand what you're saying. You're suggesting that the city employees should be treated less like civil servants getting paid a negotiated fixed wage, and more like shareholders getting paid dividends on an investment? Also you're probably right about the median vs. mean disposable income. It not only smooths out bumps caused by those hockey players, but also those people with multiple mortgages and credit card debt up to their eyeballs so they can have granite counter-tops.

It's an interesting idea, it removes the ridiculous fact that politicians are allowed to give themselves raises above and beyond a nominal cost of living increase, but it still gives them encouragement beyond doing just enough to get re-elected. I know in England they use a similar performance based compensation idea for their universal health care system. Doctors get bonuses for each patient they get to quit smoking or slim down to a healthy weight, (how they police this and prevent abuse and fraud is beyond me).

Now I'm no libertarian (I fully believe the free markets can't do everything) but this doesn't seem like a big government vs small government thing. For me what it all comes down to is accountability, our elected officials and civil employees work for all of us and somewhere along the way everyone forgot that. A performance based pay package would be one way for them to be held accountable for their work, another would be an online repository showing how each councilor/MP/MPP has voted on various issues. It could be made sortable by person or by topic and would allow the average voter a way to cut through the "spin" and see hard facts about how the person that wants to represent them really feels about the important issues. I'd also like to a see monthly town hall style meetings that counselors hold to take questions/comments/concerns from their constituents.

Also I'd just like to say, even though I don't always agree with everything posted I always enjoy the debates on this website, 33 posts and not one reference to Nazis or someone being called "a fag". Civility on the internet, what a novel idea!

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2008 at 12:10:19

As for internet civility, I ran across this article some time ago:

askpang.typepad.com/relevant_history/2003/09/blogging_and_th.html

This will be my retort to those who think blogging to be a mere waste of time!

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By JP (registered) | Posted December 16, 2008 at 15:15:16

Has the EATON CENTRE been offered FOR SALE to the CITY OF HAMILTON? At what cost? What would be the cost of the Renovations for the JAMES STREET North stone-facade & interior, vs the $100 million for CITY HALL, current?

If the savings are considerable, the benefits of CITY HALL being returned to JAMES STREET North, with the current building being SOLD or LEASED makes the most sense, as outlined in this article...

Is is too late for this option to become a reality? What is being done about it to make it happen?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2008 at 16:02:53

Yes it has been offered to them. See the letter here: http://hammerboard.ca/viewtopic.php?f=2&...

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2008 at 14:25:03

A Smith, I never said that “government officials” (by which I assume you actually mean the government not the officials) are the only ones who can help the poor. I believe that we have a very generous and caring population by the amount of monies raised by the various charities in our city especially compared to the average income in the city. I never said Mike Harris screwed over the poor I believe he screwed over everybody. (How much is his 407 deal going to cost us in the 99 years the lease is good for?) I said he got re-elected by the affluent in and around Toronto for which he had done enough. Big difference. I never called for bigger welfare programs. I merely question your statement “Even though I don't believe these payments are necessary….”My questions are in response to your statement that welfare is unnecessary. I am just trying to wrap my puny little brain around your basic beliefs. Should we actually let the unfortunate starve?

If I take over running the city and stop welfare payments I can slash the city’s budget, the payments plus the infrastructure to assess and make the payments. (someday I’d like to see a breakdown what it costs to run the welfare system compared to actual welfare payments). With those savings I could do many good things for the rest of the city and boost my numbers and get those big bonuses you advocate. All that done at the expense of the poorest and most unfortunate in our society.

I am just as self interested as anyone else. I don’t believe I, nor anybody else, should or will “….sell off all but the most basic staples of life and give it to the poor.” That is why I question abolishing welfare.
Please stop twisting what I say. If you cannot, or will not, answer my queries that is fine but twisting my words is not.

I keep coming back to the same question you will not answer. Are you prepared to let the poor starve?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2008 at 21:18:54

Mr.Meister, like I said in my previous posts, having people starve on the streets of Hamilton is probably not a great way to increase property values, nor does it add to the wealth of the city as a whole.

Since I am recommending basing politicians earnings on creating wealth, it stands to reason that we would not have large amounts of people out of work, since this would decrease the potential earnings of city managers. For the people who find themselves unemployed for any number of reasons, I believe that private citizens, if not the government, would find it quite beneficial to the reputation of the city and therefore their property values, to set up temporary social supports. This could mean direct cash payments, or it could mean shelters that provide safe accommodation and nutritious meals.

If politicians did choose not to spend money on the poor, but left them to die on the street, there would be nothing stopping the 500,000 residents of Hamilton from picking up the slack. Assuming that politicians had been successful in bringing high paying jobs back to town, this would be far easier to do than it is currently. The way it stands today, we are so focused on helping the poor, we fail to focus on the real problem that causes poverty, namely a lack of economic output. You can only cut a pie in so many pieces before all you're left with is crumbs.

By rewarding politicians for creating real wealth, the problem of poverty would die not from direct attacks, but simply because you remove its cause, a stagnant economy.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2008 at 21:32:12

Mr.Meister, if the residents of Hamilton want to lift people from poverty, we could pay city officials bonuses for doing just that. For example, we could base part of their pay package on how quickly the bottom 10% or earners in the city grew their real wages. Therefore, as the poor increased their income, so would the politicians. By focusing on real opportunities for people, rather than handouts, the poor would stand to gain much more from a pay for performance system than they currently enjoy from our elected officials.

What do you think about that?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2008 at 00:02:26

A Smith, we both know that's not how people think or act. I'm assuming that at the end of all your rhetoric you're ok with letting them starve. Am I wrong?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2008 at 21:52:12

Mr.Meister, no, you know how you think and act, but I don't think you can speak for the rest of us. If I saw someone who looked like they needed food and I knew that there was no government program to provide it, of course I would do my best to help that person. But to be truthful, in attempting to help that person, I would actually be trying to relieve my own pain.

Since God designed most of us to feel empathy and pain at others misfortune, by not helping people who truly need it, we are condemning ourselves to terrible guilt and anguish. In this sense, it is our own greedy self interest that makes us to want to help others. Keep in mind that the poverty I am talking about is something that does not exist today (at least in Canada), but true life threatening poverty.

If after this explanation, you don't agree with my characterization of human nature, then you obviously are one of the few who does not have an evolved conscience. In that case, I understand why you think it is necessary for government to force people to help others.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2008 at 00:33:53

A Smith, I was absolutely floored by your statement "Keep in mind that the poverty I am talking about is something that does not exist today (at least in Canada), but true life threatening poverty." Are you really that naive or so far removed from reality? Never hear of a homeless person freezing to death on a cold winter night? People getting sick because they cannot afford to pay for medicine?

I know how people act I see it constantly, anybody can all they have to do is take a minute and look. Like most things about the human species the old 80-20 rule applies, 80% is done by the top 20%. A lot of people live their life just whithin their means. If their income goes up so does their spending. Last month, with a big recession looming was the first time in 33 years that the consumer debt level went down. But this is getting way off topic. My whole point was that your concept sounds good at first thought but is based on an over simplification of life. How much more will people give?

I'm a big proponent of smaller cheaper government but not at the cost of the most unfortunate among us.

What I find most telling about all your comments is how you refuse to answer my very simple yes or no question: Are you prepared to let them starve?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2008 at 12:05:58

Mr.Meister, I have heard of people freezing to death, but I think that is more the fault of stupid government policies, than a lack of welfare money. If society was not bound by the charter of rights and freedoms, mentally challenged people who sleep and die in the cold could be forcibly brought to shelters, where they would stay until it was safe for them to leave. Furthermore, the fact that you mention these people, even though we currently have welfare programs, only weakens your argument for more government.

I now have a question for you, if you truly believe in smaller government, than how about linking government spending to the rate of inflation and population growth? By doing this, you will ensure that people keep the same government services they have today (in real dollar terms), but you allow the private sector to do the rest. When this happened in the early nineties, the economy grew much faster than it does today.

As I have said before, the numbers also show that increasing government social spending in the country is the best way to create hard economic conditions and ultimately hurt the very people you are intending to help. The Great Depression is a great example of this, when non military spending went from 8.59% of the economy to 16.42%, at the same time the U.S. economy shrank by approximately 25% in real dollar terms. Only when non military spending leveled off in 1933, did the economy start to grow again. Furthermore, after WWII, when government spending took up more than 10% of the economy (in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in Canada), the middle class was created. By allowing the government to waste people's money on missiles and fighter aircraft, government also provided the spark needed to make their life better. Since everything in life balances out, only when government is hard on the people does it actually help them.

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By Mr.Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2008 at 18:51:02

A Smith, again you refuse to answer the most basic of questions. Is it because you are ashamed of your answer?

Certainly current policies regarding forcing the mentally impaired to get help add to the homeless problem, but it is not the only factor. That aside there are others not mentally ill who have frozen to death or died in other ways. At present it is very difficult for some in our society to get by and taking away welfare would make it all but impossible for them. Just trying to show you how far from reality you are when you say "Keep in mind that the poverty I am talking about is something that does not exist today (at least in Canada), but true life threatening poverty." At least I think you were trying to say that, that kind of poverty does not exist in Canada today.

Your whole cause and effect from the thirties is a little out of whack. The massive government spending on the WWII coupled with circumstances forcing people to believe in the whole economic system again is what ended the great depression. When people felt they had to take the money out of their mattress and spend it or put it into war bonds, that brought about the end. The return of massive number of troops from years abroad getting married buying homes having children and spending, spending, spending really fueled the economy. And what were they spending you ask. It started with their salaries from the armed forces.

Like today's recession the thirties was about lack of confidence once the confidence returns the recession ends. Today's recession will end when people start regaining their confidence and start spending. A while back the states mailed out a lot of cheques hoping that people would spend it and kickstart the economy. The reason it didn't work was too many of them used it to pay the visa bill or something similar.

I think government spending needs to be curtailed not maintained, especially at provincial and federal levels. Our municipalities are still trying to cope with the downloading from years back. Our health care system is a mess yet the province refuses to look at a 2 tier system or some kind of user fees. having a MRI centre available for anybody who has the money to pay for it helps everybody. OHIP doesn't have to pay and that leaves more money for everybody else. On top of that it means there's one less appointment for the rest of the system to deal with. Everybody wins. Just one idea but there's lots of things that can be done.

I am very much for smaller governments yet I do not believe we should let people starve. The two are not mutually exclusive.

So will you ever answer my question? Or are you just going to keep spouting gobbley gook and hope nobody notices?

In the end do we let the unfortunate starve?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2008 at 06:41:03

Mr.Meister, I have given you my answer, I said I would try to help everybody I could if there were no government programs, so please stop telling me I haven't answered your question.

As to your idea about removing bans on private health care, that's a great idea. Why is it we are allowed to buy girlie magazines, cigarettes, junk food and yet we are not allowed to buy medical treatment for our children? This is very strange considering that politicians claim to want to help us.

Regarding the Great Depression, please look at the actual numbers rather than just regurgitating popular opinion. The fact of the matter is, economic output rebounded in 1934, way before WWII. In fact, from 1934 to 1940, real gdp averaged 7.2%, almost 3x what we average these days. Furthermore, if confidence was all it took to keep an economy producing real output, why is it that recessions tend to start at the height of economic exuberance. Moreover, recessions tend to end, when people still think that the economy is weak. The fact of the matter is, recessions start when government social spending outpaces that of the private sector. It has nothing to do with confidence, unless you are referring to overconfidence, in which case I agree.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2008 at 22:32:42

A Smith, The question was not how many you would try to help. In an earlier post you stated welfare payments weren't necessary. Since then I have kept asking the same question which you have avoided and ignored: Should we let them starve?

What's behind the current recession if not a lack of consumer spending fueled by consumers lack of confidence?

It's very easy to look back at numbers and stats, and mistake causes and effects. But you're right I am regurgitating the popular opinion of most economists and the few things I've read about the Great Depression maybe they are all wrong and you are right. I am not an economist I just go by the opinions I trust.

By the way what I really want to know is: Do we let them starve?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2008 at 00:04:53

Mr.Meister, GDP is comprised of a few things, one of which is private consumption, the others being private investment, government spending and net exports. Therefore, when government spending goes up, it does so at the expense of the private sector, both in consumption and investment. In effect, money spent by the government, is money not spent by the private sector.

Therefore, if your goal is to increase private sector consumption, the best way to do this is to decrease government spending. What has happened recently, under Stephen Harper, is that government spending has grown faster than GDP, thus limiting the amount of private sector involvement in the economy. I believe this reduction of entrepreneurial activity has led to reductions in real output, as consumer signals have been replaced by central planning.

Under Jean Chretien and Mike Harris, government spending was forced to grow slower than GDP, thereby having the effect of accelerating private consumption and investment. It was this private sector consumption and investment that led to Canada being one of the best economies in the world during this same time period.

Having said that, I do believe government can limit the amount of damage it does to the economy, if it insists on spending a fixed percentage of economic output. That is why I have said that spending money on things like welfare and other cash based supports is much more preferable than direct government spending on things like schools and health care. By giving people cash, rather than rather than government managed programs, you at least move halfway towards a true free market. While it would be preferable to leave the money in the hands of the people who earn it in the first place, I believe it is still better to let consumers spend the money on things they value, rather than let the central planners do it. In this way, the economy will consume and therefore produce a much greater variety of products and services, then simply health and education.

By diversifying the economic base, you also increase the chance that the economy will stay on top of the newest and most productive technologies, much the same way the U.S. moved ahead of the U.S.S.R. in the fields of electronics, computers and automation, The Soviets, using a much more top down approach to their economy, rather than a consumer driven one, got stuck producing items too many items that were obsolete.

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By Mr.Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2008 at 01:03:02

Again you have avoided the question. It's a straightforward yes or no. Do we let the unfortunate starve?

Ontario's spending didn't go down taxes did under Harris that's why he left us with record deficits. Those tax cuts is how he got re-elected. GDP is the total of everything we produce, goods and services, irregardless of were it is used. The problem with the old russian model is not that they produced obsolete goods but that their productivity was ridiculously low. How do you increase productivity without reward?

What I really want to know is: Do we let them starve?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2008 at 09:58:41

Mr.Meister, here are the public account numbers from Ontario...

Year Total Rev's Total Exp's Surplus
1990-91 42,892 45,921 (3029)
1991-92 40,753 51,683 (10930)
1992-93 41,807 54,235 (12428)
1993-94 43,674 54,876 (11202)
1994-95 46,039 56,168 (10129)
1995-96 49,473 58,273 (8800) * Mike Harris takes over
1996-97 49,450 56,355 (6905)
1997-98 52,518 56,484 (3966)
1998-99 55,786 57,788 (2002)
1999-00 62,931 61,909 1002
2000-01 63,824 61,940 1884
2001-02 63,886 63,442 444
2002-03 66,391 65,907 484

...as you can see, when Mike Harris took over, the deficit began its downward trajectory. Furthermore, your point about tax cuts leading to lost revenue is completely incorrect. From 1995 to 2000, revenues jumped by 36.6% or an annualized rate of 6.45%. Bob Rae, who raised taxes, saw his tax revenues grow a whopping 7.34%, or an annualized rate of 1.8%.

I am sure you are a nice caring person and your heart sounds like it is in the right place, but that is no excuse for being wrong. If you truly want to help people, it isn't enough to care, you actually have to produce results. I am sure you have heard the saying the road to hell is paved with good intentions, well I these numbers are a great example of this.

That is why I argue for smaller government, not because I hate poor people, but because I believe that smaller government produces better outcomes for these same people. My efforts are focused on helping Hamilton get back to a time when we actually produced good paying jobs, not whether I "look" like a nice person.

If this still doesn't answer your question, I really don't think anything I say will. You are locked to the idea that government is the only saviour for poor people and therefore anything that works against government programs obviously dooms the poor to misery. I don't believe this, will never believe this and I will not answer a question that forces me to agree with that premise.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 27, 2008 at 16:00:38

ASmith...I'm all for lowering deficits and debt loads, but to hold up Mike Harris as a great example to follow is laughable. We have massive shortfalls in social services now in this province, along with infrastructure, energy supply, transit, health care and we have wonderful additions to our provincial landscape such as Ontario Hydro and the 407 that were developed by the public and then sold off by Harris to private groups who now gouge us to death at every turn. Taxes have soared and quality of life has diminished thanks to his 'lowering' of the deficit.

There was zero leadership displayed there. It was simply robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we're still paying for it all these years later. You call that good government????

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 27, 2008 at 18:53:32

Jason, Mr.Meister said that Mike Harris' tax cuts led to massive deficits and I was simply showing that this was not the case.

However, if you didn't appreciate Mike Harris handling of the provincial finances, then I'm not going to try and change your mind. You like the idea of big government, so there is likely no amount of facts or persuasion I can present to you that will change your mind. When you hear about economic growth, you automatically assume that rich people are stealing from the poor. I don't know if this is some sort of deep seated psychological issue, but I know that short of an miracle, you will keep believing that rich people are evil and that their mission in life is to steal from the poor. Never mind that the poor receive more from rich people than the other way around, these are simply facts that get in the way of your established narrative that needs to play itself out in order for you to feel fulfilled.

Perhaps one day you will find that the truth is the best elixir for your life, in which case I would be glad to discuss how to make our province and city a much more energetic, positive place for all income brackets.

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted December 28, 2008 at 01:43:08

I've been enjoying this discussion, especially the part about property values. In 2001 the Spectator wrote "Lament for a Downtown", including the essay.."Rotting in the Core", citing depressed property values. Our Downtown Loans program turned the vacant post office building on Market Street into the Staybridge Suites Hotel. Taxes before...$40,000 per year. Taxes now...$345,000 per year. The building was assessed at $11 million when we negotiated the loan, and sold this past year for $17 million. Land values all through the Downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods have soared.
We're nowhere near our potential, but we're a long way from the "lament" article. The City Centre deal is not done as far as I'm concerned. I'm working on an independent professional evaluation of the proposal, which should include the impact on downtown leasing rates by "dumping" commercial space onto the market, and the potential assessment value to the City taxpayer of the sale of the City Hall site and building. Although there is a role for government to play in the healthy development of the municipality, there is no excuse for supporting construction costs of $400 and $500 dollars per square foot when the going rates in this community are between $80 and $150 psf. Private corporations would never spend this kind of money to provide themselves with office space. For the next 20 years our accomodation costs will add about 1 per cent to taxes, whereas staying where we are would be revenue neutral, and we would end up owning the asset.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2008 at 06:46:28

Councillor Bratina, incentives are the magic bullet that can turn Hamilton back in to an economic powerhouse. We used to supply businesses with cheap electricity and the result was that businesses flocked here in droves. Over time, I think we forgot this lesson and we started treating businesses like they needed us more then we needed them. The result has been that businesses have fell out of love with Hamilton, just like a wife does when her husband forgets to treat her like the important partner that she is.

Therefore, I think that by reducing tax rates on businesses, perhaps beginning with the downtown core, we could once again bring businesses back to this city in large numbers. I believe the recent commercial tax rate reductions have helped substantially in this regard, but seeing that business tax rates are still almost 3x as high as residential rates, we still have a long way to go.

Perhaps a small test project in the downtown could serve as a great example of how powerful business incentives could prove to be. I like the idea of dropping commercial tax rates in the core to around 2%, since that would be competitive with most other jurisdictions in the GTA. When this tax rate took effect, I guarantee the downtown would soon become the fastest growing part of Hamilton, proving that the lessons we forgot many decades ago, are still valid today, just as kindness has never gone out of style and never will.

Finally, even though I understand you can't agree with me for obvious political reasons, I truly think it is a shame that our elected officials aren't rewarded on a performance based system that promotes success. Like I have said before, you tend to get what you pay for in life, so I think most residents of Hamilton would be far better off paying people like yourself based on your results, rather than capping your pay because we can save a few bucks. Keep up the good work in helping to make Hamilton a prosperous place to work and live.

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2008 at 11:20:17

I'm not sure what you mean by "obvious political reasons". Our problems begin with the fact that the current Council structure does not facilitate good decision-making. What goes on is a kind of power struggle to see who gets to do what with the tax money, thereby enhancing one's own profile with the electorate, thereby hopefully ensuring your re-election. The classic example is the east end bridge from the Rennie Street dump across the Queen Elizabeth Highway to the Beach trail. What would enlightened businessmen do with a $14 million dollar grant and an annual operating cost of $300,000? (remembering that a useable bridge could be built to cross the QEW at Rennie Street for $1 million, according to our staff). How does this middle-of-nowhere investment move us forward?

With regard to incentives...absolutely. We generated $200 million in development Downtown with the expenditure of 1.4 million dollars...the interest portion of our interest-free loans program, along with our "Enterprize Zone Tax Incentive Program." Simply by reducing some of the banks' exposure the projects went ahead, such as Staybridge Suites, Chateau Royale, Spallaci's Terraces on King, Rebecca lofts, etc. etc. The Tax Incentive program works like this. For each grant application approved, the program authorizes a five-year grant, in an amount not exceeding the increase in municipal realty taxes as a direct result of the development or redevelopment of the land and/or building. Approved grants are 100 percent of the municipal realty tax increase during the first year, 80 percent in year two, 60 percent in year three, 40 percent in year four and 20 percent in year five. The new Simpson Wigle office building on Hunter at James South is the most recent example of that program, turning a zero-assessment vacant public health building into beautifully renovated professional offices which will generate $140,000 a year in taxes.

So we do have some magic bullets. Our problem right now is the stretch of King Street between Catherine and James, beginning with the vacant Connaught Hotel. That's a much higher priority than the Lister Block, upon which we will spend over the next 20 years $44 million dollars for 60,000 square feet of office space. This is flat-out tax spending, with no application of incentives, which could have been used to create a much more useful residential-loft building.

The business community understands this. The leaders on Council either don't understand or don't want to know.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 30, 2008 at 00:20:59

A Smith, why are you so ashamed of your stance? We've all figured out by now that you are more than prepared to let them starve. I'm a little disappointed that you don't have the gumption to just come out and say so.

Harris managed to get some of his numbers down by selling (leasing for 99 years) the 407 which previous governments had been spending on. He downloaded huge costs like welfare onto municipal governments. We are still paying for his foibles and will for many years to come as will our children and grandchildren. It's not just a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul but a case of screwing all of us to make that payment.

Bob Bratina, I'm a big fan of those downtown projects especially the residential ones. As I've stated before the key to bringing life to the core is getting people to live there. Do you have any hope for the long empty building at Dundurn and Chatham? I heard some reports a while back it becoming lofts but nothing for quite some time.

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By bob bratina (anonymous) | Posted December 30, 2008 at 00:37:16

There is a development plan underway for the Dundurn building. You'll notice some signs of activity over the next few weeks. It'll be residential.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 02, 2009 at 13:14:43

Councillor Bratina, why not drop the commercial tax rate to 1% on the area between James and Catherine? This would require zero upfront costs to the city, but it would be pure profit to anyone who currently owns a building in that area. On a $1 million dollar assessment, this would translate into a savings of $35,700 per year. This figure, 3.57%, would also be the extra return on its gross invested capital.

In effect, the city would be removing a 3.57% fixed cost to investors, creating a huge incentive to locate in this area. Over time this tax advantage would be bid down to zero, but by that time property values will probably have increased 2-300%.

Even if the city simply broke even on the amount of money it got from lowering commercial tax rates, it would likely make it up on the residential side. Since there would be many more jobs coming with the new commercial developments, demand for residential properties would drive their prices up as well. Therefore, assuming that residential property tax rates remain unchanged, the added commercial activity would still ensure that the city saw a marked increase in overall tax receipts.

Just think of low commercial tax rates as being a loss leader, but to be more accurate, probably a break even leader.

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