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.

 

 

 

If Stouffville gets it right, why can’t York Region?

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Unlike York Region Council, the Council of the Town of Whitchurch Stouffville continues to hold meetings during the summer months.

One of the matters covered by Stouffville’s Council during their July 19th meeting was a unanimous decision by Council to proceed to implement a Council Code of Conduct Bylaw and hire an Integrity Commissioner.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition applauds this decision.

Yet the Town of Whitchurch Stouffville, which collects approximately $23 million in property taxes annually, is small potatoes when compared to the Regional Municipality of York Region, which has annual budgets exceeding $1 billion.

If the Town of Whitchurch Stouffville appreciates the need for its council members to be accountable to the public, then why doesn’t monolithic York Region get with the times? Why can’t their mayor support one for the Region (he was mum about it).

All advocacy by the York Region Taxpayers Coalition to get our Council to consider accountability measures that would be similar to the City of Toronto’s has regrettably fallen on deaf ears.

Our organization is looking for a York Region Council Code of Conduct, appointing an Integrity Commissioner, and the establishment of a lobbyist registry.

We believe that these accountability measures are appropriate considering the size and complexity of the budget this Council is responsible for and the duties that voters have entrusted them with.

So far, many measures to make York Region Council more accountable to the public have been resisted by the elected council members themselves. They have refused to endorsed Bill 42 to allow for the election of the Regional Chair. They have refused to address the need for an Integrity Commissioner and an Auditor General.

Earlier this year, York Region Taxpayers Coaltion was successful in advocating for an appointed York Region Ombudsman. We will continue to advocate for measures of accountability in York Region.

Whatever happened to electing a York Region Chair?

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Too many politicians these days pretend to care about issues when all they really care about is the photo op or the write up in the local paper.

Take for example the advocacy of local politicians towards electing a Region of York Council Chair.

The push has been on for more than a year by many local politicians to support Bill 42. Four of the nine lower tier councils endorsed the private members Bill that would have allowed York Region residents to vote for the Regional Chair, just as Durham and Halton Region voters do already. (Currently, only Mayors and Regional Councillors have a say in electing what is undoubtedly one of the more politically influential positions in Ontario).

Even five members of York Region Council supported direct election – although the majority did not, for obvious reasons.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition provided feedback to the legislative committee studying Bill 42 earlier this year. We spoke in favour of electing the Chair, but asked for changes to align the rights of York Region residents with those of the City of Toronto.

We were also the first to publicly raise the alarm that Bill 42 was doomed to failure.

And we were proved to be right about that fact.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition has spoken to some members of the lower tier municipal councils and demanded to know why those who endorsed Bill 42 are now silent on the issue of electing the York Region Chair. We did not receive any response from these lower tier council members; only backlash from those who refused to support the bill.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition acknowledges that the York Region Liberal MPPs – Helena Jaczek, Reza Moridi, and Chris Ballard – have failed on three attempts to pass a private members bill on electing a York Region Chair.

We are now calling upon the two Progressive Conservative MPPs – Gila Martow and Julia Munroe – to pick up where their Liberal counterparts have fallen short.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition would like one of these PC MPPs to table an improved private members bill, not only allowing the public to elect a Regional Chair, but also requiring the Region of York to adopt the following accountability measures:

1. An Ombudsman.
2. An Auditor General.
3. An Integrity Commissioner (including a Lobbyist Registry and a Council Code of Conduct).

Are York Region Tax Dollars funding a cash cow for the City of Toronto?

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The Ontario Government recently announced that $55 million has been set aside to study the feasibility of extending the Line 1 TTC subway line along Yonge Street to Highway 7 in Richmond Hill.

And as we see politicians in photo-ops brag about spending our money on transportation studies, the York Taxpayer Coalition is calling on all levels of government to reflect upon the lessons learned during the construction of the Toronto Yonge-Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) project to avoid committing the same costly mistakes.

Originally slated to cost $2.6 billion, the 8.6 km long TYSSE project has experienced more than a half a billion dollars in cost over runs that can only be described as ‘out of control.’ The most recent budget is now pegged at $3.18 billion, was originally announced in 2006, and supposed to be completed in the fall of 2015. We are now looking at the end of 2017 before any riders will be able to ride the new line.

While cost over runs and delays are sometimes unavoidable, it’s the agreement signed between the three levels of government that caused York Region taxpayers the most grief. Because the Federal and Provincial level governments “locked in” the sums they were contributing, it meant approximately $550 million in additional costs were shared exclusively between the City of Toronto and York Region alone. Being one of Canada’s most indebted municipalities, the extra costs are an unexpected burden that Regional Municipality of York could ill afford.

Before committing any more money to subway extensions, the York Region Taxpayers Coalition is calling on York Region Council to be completely transparent about the cost of a Line 1 Finch to Highway 7 extension. Before the shovels hit the ground, taxpayers have a right to know:

1. How are costs to be shared between the federal, provincial and municipal governments?

2. Will there be a balanced approach to cost over runs?

3. What are the environmental costs of this project including any flood mitigation concerns?

4. Does the cost sharing agreement offset the additional revenues that the TTC will receive once the extension is built? Should York Region tax dollars go towards funding a cash cow for the City of Toronto?

5. How will the funds for the subway extension be raised? Will it be through development charges, additional debts, or higher taxes?

Considering that any subway extension into Richmond Hill will cost York Region taxpayers several hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s best that we get answers to these questions as soon as possible.

The TYSSE cost each York Region household over $2,000 to build – on top of the debt homeowners already have. With that kind of money on the line, York Region residents are right to demand to know what the Richmond Hill extension will cost us too.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition expects that the Municipality of York Region will provide answers before voters head to the polls in October 2018. Candidates and incumbents right across York Region’s nine municipalities should be prepared to speak about how much money and resources they are willing to commit to these additional subway stops in Richmond Hill.

York Region Taxpayers calls on the provincial government to fully fund hospitals

Even as the Ontario government lead by Premier Kathleen Wynne makes plans to spend $7 billion on climate change, it’s a time of austerity when it comes to other provincial responsibilities such as education and health care.

While the province is mandating extensive population growth in York Region through its controversial Places to Grow legislation, York Region Taxpayers Coalition is calling on the provincial government to meet its obligations to fund infrastructure related to that growth.
Tomorrow at York Region Council there is a motion to fund new construction at local hospitals. This new construction is required due to the rising populations in York Region.

Although health care is a provincial obligation, the Wynne government only funds up to 90% of new construction with the remainder to come from “community sources.” When factoring in the cost of purchasing furniture and equipment for the new construction, the provincial portion of the funding decreases to approximately 65%.

Clearly the province is shirking on its obligations.

By global standards, the population of York Region is very well off. We have plenty of people who are in a financial position to donate to any of the four hospitals that serve our communities. When wealthy people attend a gala fundraiser, they are given a generous tax credit off income tax. So a portion of the 35% of new construction funding comes from federal coffers.

The remaining funds that our hospitals need comes from property tax payers at the municipal level.

In a 2009 memorandum of understanding between York Region and local hospitals, York Region agreed to provide at least $12 million annually to local hospitals. This agreement runs until 2031.

Here’s a summary of what York Region taxes have paid to bridge the funding shortfall from Queen’s Park:

Year Base Allocation Assessment Growth % Increase Due to Growth Total Allocation After Growth
2009 $8,000,000 $8,000,000
2010 $12,000,000 2.7% $324,000 $12,324,000
2011 $12,324,000 3.1% $382,044 $12,706,044
2012 $12,706,044 2.87% $362,662 $13,070,706
2013 $13,070,706 2.23% $291,810 $13,362,516
2014 13,362,516 2.06% $275,394 $13,637,910
2015 $13,637,910 2.15% $293,215 $13,931,125
2016 (proposed) $13,931,125 1.7% $245,188 $14,176,313

Since the program began, York Region property taxpayers have contributed $101,288,618 towards a funding shortfall that the provincial government is responsible for.

York Region Taxpayers Coalition advises property taxes should be exclusively used towards municipal services, such as clean drinking water, roads, policing and social services. Property taxes should not be used to help fund the obligations of other levels of government.

There are municipal services that York Region is not providing; or deferring due to lack of funding. An example would be the decommissioning of the Holland River Sewage Lagoons delayed to at least 2024, despite the fact that the lagoons are already filled to capacity.

The property taxpayers of York Region have an expectation that municipal services will be provided. Yet in order for those funds to be available, we cannot continue to allow public funds to be diverted to cover funding shortfalls from the Wynne government.

Why York Region Taxpayers Coalition Is Necessary

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Once again, York Region Taxpayers Coalition and its volunteers are having a positive effect on accountability in York Region.

Controversial York Regional Councillor John Taylor from the town of Newmarket has once again been caught red-handed and has been forced to change his ways.

It was a complaint in November 2014 that revealed Taylor was using the municipal offices of the Town of Newmarket to run a private organization that was unaffiliated with the local government. Only after documents from Revenue Canada and the organization itself that proved the allegations beyond a shadow of a doubt did he decide to relocate his private enterprise out of the publicly owned buildings.

In June 2015, Mr. Taylor was compelled to refund $750 to BionX after one of our volunteers revealed that this donation may have breached the Municipal Elections Act.

In November 2015, after the controversial Taylor refused repeatedly to disclose his personal interests in an advertising contract between the local government and Mr. Taylor’s wife’s company, our volunteers continued pushing the issue. Eventually, he gave in and declared his conflict of interest.

In March 2016, after learning about an approximately $1,900 payment made to York Regional Councillor John Taylor by the Town of Newmarket to purchase his campaign website, our volunteers made a number of complaints to the town’s CAO, Treasurer and Director of Corporate Communications – and all refused to address our complaints.

The payment was made to reimburse Mr. Taylor for a website, www.johntaylornewmarket.ca, that he described as:

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Only after our members would not accept these refusals and persisted in their efforts to ensure public funds were not being spent on Mr. Taylor’s political ambitions, did Mr. Taylor change his tune:

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This is now the fourth time in just over a year that the York Region Taxpayers Coalition has caught Newmarket’s controversial Regional Councillor breaking the rules. It’s the fourth time that we managed to bring him back in line.

With people like Regional Councillor John Taylor repeatedly breaking the rules, now more than ever, we need accountability at York Region. Last year we won our battle to have a York Region Ombudsman appointed.

But there’s still more to do.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition is continuing to push for a Lobbyist Registry, Council Code of Conduct, Integrity Commissioner, and Auditor General.

York Region’s Sunshine List goes from 358 employees to 1,812 in just 3 years

In May 2012, York Region Media Group reported that 358 York Region Employees were included on the “Sunshine List” list of employees who earned more than $100,000 annually.

Yesterday, reports indicated that the number of high income earners has grown to 1,812 employees.

That’s an unbelievable growth rate of 406% in high salaried positions over a period of only 3 years time.

Of a resident’s property tax bill, the portion that goes to York Region is between 40% and 50%, depending on which of the nine lower tier municipalities you reside in.

Canada Census data shows York Region’s population was 1,032,524 in 2011. York Region estimates that the population has grown to 1,133,900 by the end of 2014 – or a 9.8% growth rate. Which begs the question: how does York Region defend hiring an additional 1,454 employees making over $100,000 from 358 employees in just 3 years time?

York Region’s public debt is at an all time high and expected to continue to grow in years to come.

Yet despite the tax burden and the free wheel spending, it is difficult to learn where the public’s money is being spent.

York Region Taxpayers Coalition continues to call for greater transparency at York Region. Specific to York Region’s finances, we are calling on York Region Council to appoint an Auditor General to review spending decisions and provide direction on reducing waste and fraud.

York Region Council consists of the Mayors of the nine lower tier municipalities that comprise of York Region and Regional Councillors elected from the municipalities of Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Newmarket and Georgina.

York Region Councillor reimbursed tax dollars for a campaign website? Town refuses to answer question despite evidence

York Region Taxpayers Coalition has reason to believe a controversial Newmarket politician who sits on York Region Council has been reimbursed almost $2,000 of taxpayer dollars for his personal web site.

A just-published quarterly report from the Town of Newmarket’s website on 2015 Elected Officials Expenses indicates Newmarket Regional Councillor John Taylor was reimbursed $1,890.70 for a website that was provided by RC Designs, a Newmarket based web company who donated to Taylor’s 2014 municipal campaign by creating his campaign website (see below):

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The Town of Newmarket expense is listed as “RC Design Website Update (for John Taylor) Elected Officials $1,890.70.”

York Region Taxpayers Coalition president, Maddie Di Muccio, made inquiries with the Treasurer of the Town of Newmarket for more information. After a second attempt cc’ing a Toronto Star reporter, we immediately heard back from Newmarket Treasurer Mike Mayes. We’ve learned:

1) That the web address for this site is unknown by the Town of Newmarket. Treasurer Mike Mayes wrote “(the web address) was not provided with the claim but is not required to be in compliance with the Town’s Elected Officials Expense Policy.” (Yes, you read that correctly. The Town’s Expense Policy for elected officials apparently allows tax dollars to be used for personal websites; nor does a councillor have to provide evidence of the actual website)

2) When we attempted to visit John Taylor’s personal website, one he often used to promote his political agenda on, www.johntaylornewmarket.ca, we received a “404 Not Found” error message – even though he promotes this site on his Facebook political profile page.

3) Yet the invoice that the Town of Newmarket paid was for work completed that was for “design and development” and included:

a. Updating the web site to match the Town of Newmarket’s colours;
b. Updating the title of Mr. Taylor;
c. Updating user interface and content;
d. Changes to the site architecture;
e. Adjustments to the content.

The Town of Newmarket’s website publishes an Elected Officials page that displays councillor’s personal website addresses in small print, but they include a disclaimer regarding the views expressed on them. (For example, Newmarket Mayor Tony Van Bynen’s website www.vanbynen.ca listed on the Town’s website includes campaign activity.)

Mr. Taylor has owned political web sites prior to 2015 (although nothing since), but these former web sites consisted of content he used in re-election bids. York Region Taxpayers Coalition is watching for new developments very closely to ensure that public funds were not being used to fuel Mr. Taylor’s political ambitions. A politicians’ website potentially allows them to capture visitor emails that are then used for future campaigning.

There has been speculation that Taylor will be running for Newmarket Mayor in 2018 after what will likely be the current aging mayor’s last term.

York Region politician John Taylor made controversial waves in 2015 after an integrity commissioner complaint was launched when it was discovered he was using town resources to run his personal charity. At that time, Newmarket’s integrity commissioner indicated the Town’s flawed policy was at fault.

Later in 2015, Mr. Taylor paid back a campaign contribution of $750 to a Stronach related company after a complaint was filed regarding a breach of campaign finance rules.

In a staggering lack of accountability by refusing to indicate which web address tax dollars paid for, and that could be used for campaigning, the Town of Newmarket illustrates lax policies on Elected Officials expenses, allowing politicians to use tax dollars for furthering their own political ambitions.

We remind our members of two important details concerning Mr. Taylor:

1) He has run previously for the York Region Council Chair position. He did so just weeks after he was re-elected to Regional Council. Had he been successful in winning this appointment back in 2014, his ambitions would have resulted in a wasteful $250,000 by-election to fill his Regional Council seat.

We believe this incident is pertinent because it reflects Mr. Taylor’s attitude towards using public money to further his political ambitions.

2) Mr. Taylor’s spouse is the Vice President of Metroland Media, which publishes most of York Region’s local newspapers. The Newmarket Era asked no questions of Taylor’s $1,890.70 website reimbursement. We are advising members to view news printed – or omitted – about Mr. Taylor within that perspective.

The Town of Newmarket has yet to address our questions regarding reimbursing Taylor for a website that taxpayers paid for, that doesn’t currently seem to exist, that they admit they don’t know exists, and one that is likely to be furthering his political ambitions, admitting “rules” in place make this possible.

At press time, the Town of Newmarket has not answered our latest inquiry:

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The regional councillor’s Official Profile Page on Facebook includes political campaigning and his website, johntaylornewmarket.ca.

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The Regional Councillor’s LinkedIn page indicates his “personal website”  – which takes the user to  www.johntaylornewmarket.ca – a non-existent url.

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York Region Taxpayers can’t afford another subway extension fiasco

York Region Council travelled together to Ottawa last week with an ill-conceived plan to convince the Federal Government to partner up on a TTC Line 1 subway extension into Richmond Hill.

The problem with “partnering” with York Region is that our municipality is out of money. As a result of poor fiscal management by York Region Council, area residents are facing record levels of municipal debt, sky high development charges, and rising taxes. The public can’t afford to spend $1 Billion on 6 new subway stops for one of our southern lower tier towns.

$1 Billion is the predicted 4-way cost sharing project estimate between the Federal, Provincial, City of Toronto and York Region. The City of Toronto is a less than enthusiastic partner as the Mayor and various Toronto Councillors have pointed out that they have other TTC priorities – such as Smart Track and a Relief Line.

York Region Council seems to have a very short memory on the cost of building subways. In February, Council voted to increase spending on the Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) to over $600 million, which is almost double to original estimate.

The TYSSE project was slated to cost $2.8 Billion. The Richmond Hill extension is a much larger project slated at $4 Billion. As York Region Taxpayers Coalition has reported previously, the current allotment of costs for the TYSSE exceeds $2,000 per household in York Region. Our organization does not support arguments that York Region homeowners can afford another $1 Billion mega project at this time.

With the Richmond Hill Subway extension, York Region Council is expecting that there will be a housing boom in the area of the 6 proposed stations.

With development charges in York Region excessively higher than the City of Toronto, expectations of developers lining up to build high rise condominium towers may not be realized.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition is seeking concrete plans from how York Region Council intends to pay off its existing debt before allocating $1 Billion of increased spending towards another mega project like the Richmond Hill Subway extension.

We are asking that our mayors and regional councillors acknowledge the reality of York Region’s financial morass and re-focus on sound fiscal management.

Newmarket-Aurora MPP inexplicably gets in the way of his own Bill

On Wednesday, February 24th, York Region Taxpayers Coalition’s president Maddie Di Muccio attended the Ontario Legislature Committee reviewing Bill 42 on the proposed election of the York Region Chair.

Each of the presenters was supportive of an elected Chair for York Region.

The York Region Taxpayers Coalition presented our views as well and fielded questions from all three parties clarifying our position.

After the Committee hearing wrapped up, Di Muccio stayed on at Queen’s Park and spoke to members of the Legislature on Bill 42.

This bill is a private member’s bill, and as is the nature of private bills, it seems that MPP Ballard may have an uphill battle to get it passed. The level of support from the public and from what was sensed by observing the committee isn’t doubted.

As it stands, it’s unclear whether the governing party, the Ontario Liberals, will agree to place it before the Legislature to vote on.

In fact, we learned yesterday that earlier the Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly attempted to move Bill 42 ahead, but astoundingly, it was MPP Ballard himself that requested the Bill be removed from the order.

It seems that even MPP Ballard isn’t sold on the idea of an elected Chair.

The advice we received is as follows:

In 2018, voters need to ask candidates where they stand on electing a Regional Chair and support only any Mayor and Regional Council candidates who will agree to a general election. If there is a “made in York Region solution” after the 2018 election, the Ontario Legislature will happily approve this.

However, as long as the current set of Mayors and Regional Councillors are opposed to the idea of electing a Chair person, it’s unlikely that the Ontario Legislature will want to force something upon them.

That’s because sitting MPPs are reluctant to ruffle feathers with their local mayors.