Tory’s perverse funding scheme hurts Ontario taxpayers

Toronto Mayor John Tory likes to complain that a $4.7 Billion gap exists between what Toronto residents pay in provincial and federal taxes versus what the City receives in transfers back from the higher levels of government.

There is a concept of economics called zero-sum-gain. It’s a perception that one party’s gain must automatically result in another party’s loss. In this case, Mayor Tory believes Toronto is coming out on the losing end in relation to its place within Ontario and Canada.

Toronto is not a loser within the context of Ontario and Canada. Toronto has done very well with the economic activity that exists within the Greater Toronto. With 2.79 million residents, Toronto is heavily dependent upon the rest of the GTA, who has a population of 3.6 million residents, to bolster its workforce and customer base. Investments in roads and other infrastructure within the broader GTA help Toronto get its goods to market.

The viewpoint of the York Region Taxpayer Coalition is to ask Toronto to tax its property owners on par with the rest of the GTA. For example, a home in Brampton which is assessed at $500,000 will pay $5,278 in property taxes. In Toronto, the same assessed value home only pays $3,495.

If every Toronto homeowner paid taxes on par with the average of the GTA property taxes, then Toronto’s funding shortfall would be solved.

Yet Toronto refuses every opportunity to narrow that gap.

This past week, after years of studying the solution, Toronto City Council refused to enact a levy that much of the GTA pays concerning storm water infrastructure. Since 2013, the City of Toronto has been studying this levy that would raise funds to upgrade infrastructure in anticipation of higher expected annual precipitation rates. In the backdrop of the flooding in Quebec and Ottawa regions, which should have underscored the need for flooding prevention measures, Toronto Council’s executive committee voted to defer the initiative at John Tory’s request.

John Tory is the epitome of a Mayor who is more concerned with re-election than with leading the City he was elected to lead. He wants to appear that he is fighting for infrastructure funding while refusing to use his proper authority to raise these funds himself.
It’s time for Queen’s Park and Ottawa to demand that the City of Toronto get it’s own fiscal house in order first before listening to any entertaining any further funding requests.

The rest of us are simply tired of footing Toronto’s bill.

York Taxpayers get action for women in York region

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During the March 22, 2017 York Region Police Services Board meeting, we raised our concerns with the number of reported sexual assault complaints that are closed as “unfounded” by the police. Unfounded complaints are considered by police as to never have happened.

Here’s the letter we wrote to York Region’s police board on February 16th asking for the police chief to re-open sexual assault files: http://www.yorktaxpayer.ca/uncategorized/our-letter-to-york-region-police-board-about-sexual-assault/

In York Region, almost 1 of every 3 sexual assault complaints reported to police are closed because the victim was either thought to be untruthful or unbelievable. It’s an astounding number compared to the City of Toronto, which has an unfounded rate of just 7%.

Thanks to our advocacy, the York Region Police Services Board has ordered the York Region Police Chief to conduct a review of how sexual assault complaints are investigated. Should the Police Chief discover any sexual assault complaint that was erroneously closed as “unfounded,” it’s our hope that he will reassign the case be reconsidered.

Victims deserve justice.

During our advocacy, the York Region Taxpayer Coalition heard from two York Region MPPs, Reza Moridi of Richmond Hill and Helena Jaczek representing Oak Ridges-Markham. We hope that this review of sexual assaults in York Region will encourage other York Region area MPPs to get weigh in on the importance of police response towards sexual assault crimes.

Upon completion of his review, the York Region Taxpayer Coalition will receive a copy of the Police Chief’s report. We will share any findings and/or recommendations with our members.

York Region wants to ask the province permission to implement new taxes. Here’s why.

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Since the formation of the York Region Taxpayer Coalition back in 2015, we have been warning our members about the alarming public debt load of the York Region Government. In 2015, the Regional debt was pegged at $2.54 Billion. Some estimates we’ve seen expect a $3.7 billion York Regional debt by 2020, an increase of approximately 50% in just 5 years.

Spending in York Region has gone unchecked and unmanaged under the present regime of Mayors and Regional Councillors.

York Regional Government is considering asking the province for new taxation powers. This isn’t surprising: after all, with massive debt loads, York Region has no other choice but to seek new ways of taxing residents. After so many years of ignoring the fiscal crisis facing the Region, we are finally seeing some signs that the municipality will attempt to get its own house in order, yet again at the expense of the taxpayer.

There remains an open faucet of spending on vanity type projects at York Region government. Spending $225,000,000 on a new administrative annex is one example of a luxury item this government cannot afford. Committing tens of millions to an ill-conceived business plan involving broad band internet to service the MUSH sector is another. The Mayors and Regional Councillors love to spend, spend, spend.

The roots of York Region problems lie in the miscalculation the Regional Council made when it came to planning for new growth. Armed with the numbers from the Places to Grown Act, the Region committed to undertaking massive infrastructure spending in anticipated new development. Other regional governments were more prudent, taking a wait and see approach to development. By fast tracking infrastructure spending, York Region planned to recoup the money it borrowed through development charges. They did this by raising development charges to over $40,000 per single family home. When you add this charge on top of what the lower tier municipalities charge in addition, this adds up to a hefty cost for developers.

So, when growth failed to materialize, in part because high development fees decreased the profitability of new developments, York Region Government found that it had to borrow more and more to fund its on-going infrastructure commitments. Concerned about the amount of debt York Region is accumulating, Standard & Poor rating agency downgraded York Region’s credit rating, which makes the cost of borrowing more expensive.

York Region’s administration refuses to admit an error in its planning estimates. Publicly, the administration is saying that it still believes that it will hit growth targets by 2031. It remains committed to funding the infrastructure, which means billions in additional spending are yet to be spent.

To do this, new taxes are required be collected. This means additional taxes on land transfers, vehicle registration, entertainment, alcohol and tobacco and so on, which York Region is asking the province to greenlight.

York Region wants to request powers of new taxation from the province, similar to what Toronto was granted. But what York Region fails to see in their request are accountability and transparency measures, which are contained in the City of Toronto Act. We must replace the ADR (outsourced) Ombudsman with a legitimate Ombudsman who will stand up for residents. We must have an auditor general who can keep an eye on spending. For example: this past week the Toronto Auditor General reported bid rigging on paving contracts – resulting in a police investigation. And we must have a powerful Integrity Commissioner with a lobbyist registry to ensure our elected officials follow the rules.

There is too much money on the line. If York Region wants more power to spend our taxes, we must have the accountability officers in place who have real authority to make sure the billions of dollars our Mayors and Regional Councillors spend are being put to good use and to ensure there is no corruption.

Our letter to York Region Police Board about sexual assault

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After reviewing a Globe & Mail report concerning sexual assault investigations in York Region, the following letter will be delivered to the York Region Police Services Board, chaired by Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti:

 

February 16, 2017

Christopher Raynor, Clerk

The Regional Municipality of York Police Service Board

17250 Yonge Street

Newmarket, Ontario

L3Y 6Z1

 

Dear Mr. Raynor,

Please include this correspondence with your March 22, 2017 agenda of the York Police Services Board.

The Globe and Mail reports that the 5-year unfounded sexual assault rate for York Region Police is 31%. Of a total 2,058 complaints received by police between 2010 to 2014, 646 were dismissed because the police concluded that the alleged assault never happened. Of the sexual assault allegations received during this period, 790 resulted in charges being laid by police.

In comparison, The City of Toronto received more than 5 times the complaints of sexual assault over this same period of time. Yet, Toronto Police dismissed just 7% of the cases as unfounded. 78% of complaints about sexual assault received by Toronto Police resulted in charges being laid, compared to just 38% of complaints in York Region that resulted in charges laid.

Not too long ago, the Ontario Government launched a $41-million ad campaign asking citizens to help stop the spread of sexual violence. On social media, the hash tag #ItsNeverOK was used.  On television, commercials reminded us that when we do nothing, we are helping the perpetrator. When we do something, we help the victim of sexual violence. “Thanks for not telling,” was the tagline in these commercials.

With a population of 1,122,803, we see that incidents of sexual assault are under-reported in comparison to the City of Toronto.  It isn’t hard to imagine why victims are afraid to come forward to the police judging by the odds that their assault will be dismissed as unfounded by York Region Police.

Residents need to have confidence in York Regional Police and their ability to investigate crimes. We are seeking assurances that those responsible for sexual assault crimes will be brought to justice.

Other police services, such as the OPP and Brantford Police, have responded to the Globe and Mail’s report with promises to re-examine complaints closed as unfounded. It is frankly unacceptable that The Regional Municipality of York Police Service Board did not consider the Globe and Mail’s report during your February 15, 2017 meeting.

It is the responsibility of the York Police Services Board to provide civilian oversight of our police force. The issue of sexual assault crimes can no longer be dismissed/ ignored. We are asking you to direct Chief Joliffe to put more resources towards this criminal activity to ensure that victims of sexual assault are confident to report crimes to York Police. We are also seeking Chief Joliffe to provide answers as to why so many complaints have been dismissed/ ignored in comparison to Toronto Police records. And finally, we would like explanations why Toronto Police have almost twice the success at bringing charges against a perpetrator as compared to York Region Police.

We suspect that the answers to these issues lies within the area of proper allocation of resources within the police budget towards sexual assault investigations. This means that your Board and the senior management team at York Regional Police must do a better job of using budgets more effectively.

We look forward to your response to this very serious matter.

Sincerely,

Maddie Di Muccio

President, York Region Taxpayers Coalition

The high cost of silent politicians: York Region commuters will be paying for DVP tolls

Afraid to ruffle feathers with York Region’s neigbour to our south, York Region MPPs, Mayors and Regional Councillors have thus far been too timid to speak out against John Tory’s predatory toll charge proposal for the Don Valley Parkway.

The City of Toronto has a tax problem. Toronto’s City Council politicians don’t have the intestinal fortitude to charge property taxes that are commensurate with the services the city provides. In 2012, the average property tax rate in the GTA was $5,139, as compared to just $4,392 average within the City of Toronto. Toronto’s tax burden is less because the mill rate for Toronto at that time was 0.7929218%; the average GTA mill rate was 1.13843887%.

So when Toronto needs money, it often looks to the overburdened York Region taxpayers to help out. An example of this is the Toronto-York-Spadina subway extension. Each York Region homeowner is on the hook for $2,000 to help the TTC, owned by the City of Toronto, grow. This initiative was widely supported by York Region’s MPPs, Mayors and Regional Councillors. You can read more about the out of control TTC subway spending here: http://www.yorktaxpayer.ca/issues/are-york-region-tax-dollars-funding-a-cash-cow-for-the-city-of-toronto/

Receiving over $1,000,000,000 directly from York Region taxpayers for that subway extension wasn’t enough to sate Toronto Mayor Tory’s appetite for your hard earned cash. He now proposes to nickel and dime York Region commuters by charging a toll on the DVP. For York Region residents who travel to work in Toronto, on top of your costs for gasoline (rising on January 1st due to Kathleen Wynne’s carbon tax), the cost of insurance (rates are increasing as reported by the Toronto Star on October 19, 2016), commuters will have to shill out more for driving to use the City of Toronto owned DVP.

Most worrisome for our members has been the eerie silence from our elected officials. Other than Vaughan MPP Steven Del Duca’s promise to study the Mayor Tory proposal (as Transportation Minister, he has the authority to kill the idea if he wanted to, but that would require him to actually consider what is in the best interests of the very people who elected him), no other York Region politician has come forward to condemn Mayor Tory’s plan thus far.

Members of York Region Taxpayer Coalition are frustrated and feel underrepresented. We wish to assure our members that should the DVP toll plan go ahead, York Region Taxpayer Coalition is committed to making the present inaction of our Mayors, Regional Councillors and MPPs a re-election issue. We will remind voters which York Region politicians remained silent while Toronto Council drained the pockets of York Region commuters.

To support this initiative, please donate to York Region Taxpayer Coalition with this link: http://www.yorktaxpayer.ca/get-involved/

Another victory for York region Taxpayer Coalition

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In March 2015, our organization presented a deputation to York Region Council calling for the implementation of a Code of Conduct bylaw. At that time, our advice was ignored. York Regional Councillors clearly didn’t care to adopt one.

A year later, in February of 2016, representatives of the York Region Taxpayer Coalition made a presentation before an all party committee at the Ontario Legislature. Among our recommendations for ways to reform the municipal government of York Region, we asked that the Ontario Government mandate York Region Council to adopt a Council Code of Conduct bylaw. We made this recommendation in response to demands from our members that elected officials be more accountable to the public.

And we were heard.

Earlier today, the Ontario Government announced changes to reform municipal governments in the Province. Among the changes is a requirement that all municipal governments must adopt a Council Code of Conduct.

With this news, we will be advocating that York Region Council accept the Council Code of Conduct modeled after the City of Toronto’s Code. This would include a lobbyist registry, something that is sorely missed in many municipal codes of conducts in place already. Our organization is aware of at least one York Region council member who is a government lobbyist.

The new York Region Council Code of Conduct would be the first to apply to this level of government. Our attempts at York Region Council to raise attention to the necessity of this important accountability measure fell mostly upon deaf ears. We are very pleased that the cross-party Members of Provincial Parliament acknowledged the need and have taken steps to remedy this issue and we thank them for working together.

Our condolences to the passing of Regional Councillor Danny Wheeler

The York Region Taxpayer Coalition is saddened by the news of Regional Councillor Danny Wheeler’s passing on Tuesday. Regional Councillor Wheeler was just 69.

Regional Councillor Wheeler represented the Municipality of Georgina with great distinction for 11 terms.

Flags will be flown at half-mast and this Thursday’s Regional Council meeting will include a moment of silence to honour his memory.

A book of condolences has been set up in the lobby of the Georgina Civic Centre located at 26557 Civic Centre Road in Keswick.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti crosses the thin blue line

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The York Region Taxpayers Coalition has been engaged with members of the York Regional Police and other front line police officers from other jurisdictions in Ontario regarding the controversy of Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who marched in Sunday’s Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Service Parade in Ottawa.

The 39th Annual Canadian Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Service was held in Ottawa on Sunday, September 25th. York Regional Police sent 30 senior officers and 50 front line officers, as well as 50 Auxiliary Unit members to participate in this solemn event. In recent years, York Regional Police lost two officers in the line of duty. York Regional Police officers continue to mourn the June 28, 2011 passing of Constable Garret Styles and the August 2, 2007 passing of Detective Constable Rob Plunkett.

Although he is appointed Chair of the York Regional Police Services Board, as a civilian, Mayor Scarpitti’s participation in the parade demonstrated a lack of respect for the men and women who put themselves at physical peril while performing their duties as police officers. Scarpitti’s proper place was on the sidelines along with the other dignitaries and members of the public, as our beloved York Regional Police officers honoured their fallen colleagues.

We’ve been told that the organizers of the Memorial Service had arranged a place for dignitaries to view the ceremonies.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition supports civilian oversight as an important part of our democracy. The York Region Police Services Board, with its appointed members, represent the civilian community in governing policing affairs. Members of the civilian York Region Police Services Board are not police officers and should never represent themselves at official events as such. Mayor Scarpitti would be wise to remember his place, as a civilian, at future official York Regional Police events.

 

Rapid growth of York Region’s working poor families puts pressure on affordable housing options

Man Paying the Bills

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition is concerned with the rapid growth in “working poor” living within the municipality of York Region.

Working poor are defined as being employed but earning an household income of less than $16,968 (for a single person household) annually or $33,936 annually for a household of two adults and two children.

In 2006, approximately 6.6% of York Region households, or 31,270 of those employed were considered working poor. In 2012, that number has increased to by more than 30% to 42,930 – or 8% of all employed residents. York Region estimates the total amount of employed persons at 538,060.

Most concerning is the average age of the working poor is increasing over this period of time. The most significant increase of working poor has occurred in the 45-54 year old age bracket. The number of working poor couples with children have skyrocketed by approximately 29% between 2006 and 2012.

Approximately 83% of York Region’s working poor reside in the Region’s most affluent cities – Markham at 38.6%, Vaughan at 24.1%, and Richmond Hill at 20.1%. And yet York public housing properties (Housing York) are most likely to be located in the Region’s northern communities, most predominantly in Newmarket and Georgina.

York Region Taxpayers Coalition recommends that York Region Council review the number of public housing units the Region currently owns (approximately 2,483 units in all serving approximately 4,000 residents), and determine if this represents an adequate supply to accommodate the Region’s 43,000 working poor, including those unable to work due to disability, those who are unemployed, on Ontario Works, and low income seniors. We would also suggest that if new properties are to be considered, that these properties be located within the cities where to working poor currently reside – Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill.
York Region residents pay higher property taxes than others within the GTA because we support having a social safety net to protect our most vulnerable of residents.

York Region Taxpayers wishes to ensure that public money intended to support those in need actually goes towards investments in public housing units as opposed to red tape and high cost administrative bureaucracy.

Working poor families should be commended for taking low paying jobs as opposed to giving up and relying solely on government assistance. The municipality of York Region must do its part to help make their lives better by making a better effort to provide more affordable housing options.

We also encourage York Region Council to look into ways to reduce red tape to those who provide private sector rental housing. Examples of this could be eliminating development charges on construction of new rental units.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation doesn’t speak for us on York Region Policing investment

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The York Region Media Group recently published a “Point/Counterpoint” column asking should York Region make the same cuts to policing as the City of Toronto.

We want to clarify the position of the York Region Taxpayers Coalition.

In April, the Coalition leadership met with representatives of the York Regional Police Association (YRPA) which was beginning a work to rule campaign against the municipality’s police services board. We listened and we learned plenty. We agreed at that time that the York Region Taxpayers Coalition would not speak out advocating for either side in this labour dispute. Our Coalition remained neutral at every step along the way until both sides eventually settled their dispute.

Some members of the YRPA may have perceived that the column written by Christine Van Geyn of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is a reversal of our position. The York Region Taxpayers Coalition wants to assure these YRPA members that we have no affiliation with Ms Van Geyn. We are not using the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as surrogates to “attack” the front line police officers of York Region.

To the contrary, the position of the York Region Taxpayers Coalition can only be described as polar opposite to Ms. Van Geyn’s.

Now that the labour dispute between the YRPA and the municipality has ended, the York Region Taxpayers Coalition feels it is important to let the public know that our organization values and supports investments into police services.

It’s a fact that York Region invests heavily in crime prevention. The benefit of this investment is that we live in a municipality that not only has one of the lowest crime rates in all of Canada, we live in one of the safest municipalities in the world.

What makes the low crime rate even more incredible is that we have achieved this community safety while being located within one of the largest urban centres in North America: the GTA. The GTA has over six million people living within its borders, yet due to investments in crime prevention, we see real economic benefits of not suffering the crime waves that even much smaller urban centres in North America deal with.

Much of what we have accomplished in York Region to achieve this level of community safety is a direct result of the proactive hard work and dedication of our front line police officers.

We will continue to challenge the politicians, like Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who attempt to place the current economic woes of our Regional Council at the feet of front line police officers. The predicament that we find ourselves in as a Region has much more to do with decisions that the multi-termed Markham Mayor has championed while on York Council. He should leave the police officers alone and own up to his own issues.

We will also continue to challenge politicians, like Newmarket Mayor Tony Van Bynen, who believe that front-line police officers can be replaced by photo radar or intersection cameras. The economic benefit that a police officer provides in being a visible advocate for community safety far outweighs the “gotcha” revenue that a photo ticket can provide a municipality.

To our own members who may be concerned that the York Region Media Group has published the Canadian Taxpayers Federation instead of a column from the York Region Taxpayers Coalition, we believe the newspaper’s decision probably rests with this article that we published in November 2015: http://www.yorktaxpayer.ca/issues/advisory-to-our-members-on-metroland-media/

As an organization, we challenged York Region Media Group not to show bias in favour of York Region Council. Publishing the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, which parrots Markham Mayor Scarpitti’s viewpoint, shows that the newspaper’s bias is as strong as ever.

It’s our understanding that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has zero members who reside in York Region. None of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation leadership live in York Region either. The fact that the York Region Media Group would ask this organization to advocate for the position of York Region Council against the front line police officers, despite the fact that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has no presence here, is a serious blow to the newspaper’s credibility.

York Region Taxpayers Coalition members are exclusively from York Region and our leadership lives and works here too. We understand the value of the York Region Police and we enthusiastically support their continued success towards making our municipality one of the world’s safest places to live.