Candidates describe the five most important actions they would take to improve Hamilton.
By RTH Staff
Published October 20, 2006
1. Accountable and Accessible Government: Accountable government can only occur if the citizens of Hamilton have meaningful input in the decision-making process of City Council. I will make it my number one priority, if elected, to establish a Community Council in Ward 7. I will work with the Neighbourhood Associations and the BIAs to make sure that their concerns are addressed by City Council.
Guaranteeing democracy works requires dynamic citizen groups that truly reflect the interests of our city. A process that mandates elected representatives to report back to the communities they serve on major issues coupled with a process to ensure the representative is fully informed by the community is essential to the creation and enhancement of dynamic participatory municipal democracy.
2. Economic Development and Poverty: Basic logic indicates that the way to eliminate poverty is to create economic opportunities for our citizens to have stable, well paying jobs. We need an economic development department that has the proper tools to do the job. I am concerned to learn that Sault St Marie, with a third of the population of Hamilton, spends more money on economic development than we do. It seems to indicate a certain lack of serious intent.
Our staff should be given the resources they need as well as a clear set of strategic goals based on our Vision 2020. The strategy of attracting well paying long term jobs that are environmentally sustainable has to be the City's number one priority. Along with giving hope to our unemployed and under employed youth, an expanded commercial base takes away from the unfair burden that residents shoulder in municipal taxation policies.
3. Downloading Public Services: The job of a City Councillor is to understand the role of all three levels of government. I am frustrated with both provincial and federal governments boasting about either balancing their budgets or even crowing about their budget surpluses while cities suffer. Their budget surpluses come at the expense of our quality of life. I will work with City Council to put maximum pressure on all levels of government to give back what they have taken from our city.
4. Infrastructure: The City has to guarantee that our basic services, those services that make a city livable like water, sewage, roads and sidewalks as well as others are kept in better shape. They might be basic, but just ask anyone who has had a basement flooded or an elderly person who has broken an ankle because snow wasn't removed or because of cracked sidewalk what basic means. We need to find the money to do this work and we should work more closely with our employees who deliver the services to find ways of doing it more efficiently. Contracting out work that could be done by our employees is a waste of money and we need to be more aggressive in making sure this work is being done in the best way possible.
5. Vision: I think that we have enough Box Stores and Warehouses in Hamilton. What we need are strong communities where people live work and play. We need communities where our children can play in the rec centers, and walk the streets safely. We need a downtown that attracts visitors and spurs economic development and a continuation of Harbourfront development that allows our citizens to enjoy the uniqueness of Hamilton.
We need a community that encourages family businesses, and cultural development. Hamilton is great place. As a Steelworker who has watched the changes in both my industry and in Hamilton, it is clear that we are at a crossroads. We need leadership to seize the moment and help make Hamilton an even greater city for all its citizens.
I am most immediately concerned with the overwhelming demand for accounability and commitment in Ward 7. To address this I have come up with the Harrington Guarantee, which you can find in full on my website.
1. I would like to see more police officers on our streets. A lot of money is being spent on ?police technology? such as video cameras here in Hamilton. Technology has its place in policing, but in my opinion must be a distant second priority to the need for more police officers on the street.
Front-line police officers have told me unequivocally that their greatest challenge is manpower. They have told me that there are simply not enough officers to respond to calls in a manner as timely as the public demands.
2. I would like to prevent graffiti and clean up what's already there. Ward 7, along with most of Hamilton, has recently experienced an appalling rise in the incidents of graffiti. Damage to our property is bad enough. The damage to our spirit and sense of community, brought by thoughtless and malicious perpetrators of graffiti, must be brought to an end.
I propose that the city, in the best interest of us all, clean up graffiti on private as well as public property at no cost to the landowner. Cleanup costs could be economically recovered from these criminals, and/or their parents where legal and feasible, by seeking restitution as a condition of diversion from criminal court or as a matter of criminal sentencing.
As a first step against graffiti I will seek to have the city's existing Graffiti Prevention Strategy expanded to include Ward 7.
3. Intenification, the practice of deliberately increasing population density to cut servicing costs, needs to happen but it can be done in such a manner, in Ward 7 and throughout the city, so as not to have a negative impact on existing neighbourhoods. The character of beautiful, mature neighbourhoods is not being considered appropriately as the city?s planning and economic development committee moves aggressively ahead with intensification.
I will take the time to learn the specifics of neighbours objections to unwelcome intensification, attend the committee meetings, and represent your right to be secure in that your beautiful neighbourhood will not be spoiled and overrun by poorly planned, cramped tenements.
4. Senior citizens who rent should get the same break on property taxes as senoirs who own their homes. Currently, senior homeowners, condo-owners and co-op owners enjoy a property tax break of $150.00 per year. This tax break needs to be expanded to include seniors who rent.
Those who chose to rent contribute as much to our community as those who own property. Rental buildings with six or more units are actually taxed at a much higher rate than smaller buildings assessed at the same value. Seniors whose financial position forces them to rent are equally entitled to this tax break and often more in need of it than their peers.
5. Roads and medians in Ward 7 and throughout the city, are a disgrace. Roads need to be well maintained and the Adopt-a-Median program needs to be revitalized and 'adoption periods ' cycled so that small businesses can afford to participate. The prevalence of posters stuck to poles all over Hamilton demonstrates a demand.
There are no 'magic bullets'. There are a few big issuses, but it will take a thousand or more little improvements to bring Hamilton to its full potential.
1. Establish zero-based budgeting and limit discretionary spending.
a) All department budgets start with zero dollars at the beginning of the budget process. Department staff will be required to explain the need for every single dollar requested each and every year before the Council Standing Committee they report to. The Standing Committee, after a thorough, line by line consideration of every spending request, then recommends the final department budget to the full City Council.
The full council must then approve the standing committee budget recommendation or, if the council disagrees with the Standing Committee, the council can send the department budget back to the Standing Committee for further review or the council can cut or increase the department budget as it sees fit. Zero based budgeting restores responsibility for taxing and spending from the bureaucracy to the elected council where it rightfully belongs.
b) As an adjunct to zero-based budgeting, City Council must review delegated spending authority with a view to restoring full political control and accountability for every taxed dollar before it is spent. According to Hamilton's Purchasing Policies and Procedures dated October 3, 2005, the City of Hamilton issued purchase orders totalling a staggering $373 million and paid out "$90 million for goods and services that "did not require a purchase order."
The purchasing policy delegates "spending authority" up to $100 thousand to General Managers. The City Manager holds the power to spend up to $250 thousand before seeking council approval. All tax spending must be undertaken with political oversight and approval in the full glare of public scrutiny to insure taxpayers are getting value for their money before it is spent. Any tax spending undertaken in private under current secrecy legislation must be fully disclosed in the public interest as soon as is practicable.
2. Appoint an independent auditor/ombudsman. The City of Hamilton has long needed an "independent, objective" legislated instrument to investigate concerns and complaints about the performance of City Council and the massive billion dollar bureaucracy it manages. I propose that council appoint an independent auditor much like the Federal Auditor General position currently held by Sheila Fraser.
We are all familiar with how effective an Auditor General can be in investigating and making public serious flaws, shortcomings and misspending by the federal bureaucracy. The billion dollar Human Resources boondoggle, the unaccounted for tens of millions lost on the long gun registry and the federal Sponsorship scandal come to mind. Auditor General Fraser's success investigating and making public these outrageous abuses and theft of federal taxpayer funds has done much good. Hamilton, like the City of Toronto, must follow the Federal Government's lead and appoint an accountability sheriff like Auditor General Fraser.
One of many Hamilton examples I can offer that cries out for an independent, objective and public investigation are the Grant Thornton external audits of Hamilton's accounting practices conducted by External Auditor Fay Booker in 2002 and 2003. In those reports, Ms. Booker courageously reported millions of unaccounted for tax dollars.
I quote Auditor Booker's 2002 Year End Audit Management letter of Recommendations presented to city council as an example: "Provincial Grants ? Approximately $7.8 million of balances accrued in prior periods as being due to the province could not be traced or matched (italics mine) to any specific programs or years, therefore representing cumulative errors or unsubstantiated amounts. Of that amount, approximately $5.8 million was taken into current fund revenues in 2002, leaving an unsubstantiated ending balance of $2 million as at December 21, 2002.
There continues to be significant weaknesses with respect to the City's reconciliation of, and accounting for grant balances. The schedule of continuity in grant balances that we were provided with by the City staff during our audit contained cumulative errors to ending program balances in excess of $3 million."
Auditor Booker's 2003 audit was equally critical of Hamilton's accounting and record keeping. And she concluded that little or no progress had been made on her recommended solutions as set out in her 2002 audit. In short, benchmark checks and balances recommended by Ms. Booker that would have restored public accountability to Hamilton's failed accounting methods, for the most part, were snubbed by Hamilton's ruling classes. Soon after, Ms. Booker left her prestigious and lucrative position as a partner in the international auditing firm Grant Thornton. Why? That is a question worth investigating.
These are troubling, unresolved financial dealings that cry out for an independent public investigation. City council, for reasons that totally escape me, opted to ignore Auditor Booker's shocking revelations that exposed serious accounting flaws that left millions in taxpayer funds unaccounted for. Where those millions are now remains unexplained. That city councillors did not move immediately to conduct a fully independent, public investigation into Ms. Booker's findings is shameful. If elected I will appeal to the new council to revisit the 2002 and 2003 external audits, re-examine the 2004 and '05 external audits and call for a full fledged public inquiry that, hopefully, will get to the truth of Auditor Booker's findings and make recommendations that will restore book-keeping accountability at city hall.
I submit that an arms-length Hamilton Auditor General/Ombudsman who receives their mandate from the council (without bureaucratic influence or interference) and reports only to city council in full public session will compel city council and the bureaucracy it oversees to be more open, honest and competent when spending the billion dollars (and rising) taxpayers pay each year for municipal government services. We might even see lower cost, more efficient government as a result. That would be a welcome development.
4. Establish a made-in-Hamilton Access to Information by-law. As the media, or any citizen who has ever asked the City of Hamilton to provide even the most basic public information is aware, Hamilton officials have morphed Provincial Access to Information Legislation into a denied information nightmare. Even if an information request is granted, most often after protracted, arduous bureaucratic stonewalling, citizens of modest financial circumstances are denied their information request by way of totally unjustifiable exorbitant fee charges to collect and copy the information requested.
The Hamilton Spectator can attest to the above in that they have been charged thousands of dollars for access to information requests for information that should, by all reason, be available and accessible in the public domain as a matter of democratic convention.
It is my intention to propose that council hold Access to Information hearings that will provide all stakeholders the opportunity to make submissions and suggestions to council on how to frame our made in Hamilton Access to Information By-Law. Those stakeholders will include, but not be limited to individual citizens, the media, business groups, community organizations etc.
5. Respond to constituents. All taxpayers, residents and other interested people deserve and are entitled to have their elected officials respond to phone calls, letters, e-mail or other enquiry's in a professional, timely, unbiased and prompt manner. Ward 7 residents, if I am elected, have my personal guarantee that every inquiry will be acknowledged within twenty-four hours and every reasonable effort will be undertaken to resolve and/or otherwise respond to their request as soon as possible.
Residents of Ward 7 want a strong voice to raise their concerns, and give positive direction to the future of Hamilton. They want to know they have been heard and solutions have been found to their problems
1. There is a need for more patrolling police officers. This ward has had too many car thefts and break and enters. People want and should feel safe and secure. I am committed to working with the police and community groups to achieve this.
2. I believe City Council needs to anticipate future growth in the Ward and to the area to the South of the ward. This growth needs to be sustainable. Any intensification can only be done with local input and acceptance.
3. There is a need to deal with the high property and business tax rate. It is too high and it places burdens on seniors, those in areas that have high property value increases, and kills business investment. City Council needs to redress this issue and bring tax stability and reduction.
4. We need to build on our city strengths of steel, post-secondary education institutions, and health care, to seek new investments. By creating more high skilled, high paying jobs, we ensure that we are establishing a sound economic foundation for the city and Ward 7, a foundation that will address the current problems of poverty and crime in our city.
1. Give each child who starts public school a Dell (or equivalent) wireless Notebook computer assigned and registered with them. Cost, $1.8 million ($400 per wholesale for an Inspiron 1300 Model). Raise development charges accordingly.
2. Initiate a true partnership with the local school boards to bring some economy of scale savings in Transportation, infrastructure and maintenance costs. All savings should be used to enhance the learning environments in classrooms throughout the District.
3. Lower the mill rate for multi-residential renters by one percent per year or until they are at or below the provincial average, in the final year of this term would be an appropriate time to raise business taxes to offset the tax cuts implemented on the multi-residential property tax classes.
4. Initiate a comprehensive service delivery review of all Transportation Services, including DARTS and the HSR, to integrate our transportation system throughout the District and beyond. Any economy of scale savings and efficiencies should allow for fares to be lowered and various routes expanded to better serve the outlying neighborhoods such as Ancaster and Dundas.
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