York Region Taxpayers Oppose Regressive Bill

Header-Logo

In early-2016, a delegation from the York Taxpayers Coalition traveled to Queen’s Park to speak to M.P.s from all parties in support of a democratically elected Chair of York Region Council.

Among the reasons why our organization supported this election was the insurmountable public debt accumulated by the York Regional government over the years through the system of the unaccountable Chair appointed by the Mayors and Regional Council members after a municipal election.

We noted that Regional government issues are rarely, if ever, debated during a lower tier municipal election. The 2018 election was going to be the first time in fifty years that York Region voters would get an opportunity to directly weigh in on issues that involved the level of government that impacts the lives and standard of living of approximately 1.3 million people.

In the run up to the June 8, 2018 provincial election, the Ontario PC Party, led by now premier Doug Ford, was silent on any disagreement with direct elections of the York Region Chair. In the new government’s Throne Speech of just two weeks ago, there was no mention of any impending changes.

Yet suddenly, just three months prior to the municipal election and without any prior consultation of York Region residents, Doug Ford has decided to deny York Region voters of their democratic rights.

York Region’s highest profile M.P.P.’s, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, are not York Region residents. They both reside in downtown Toronto, which is a fact that clearly clouds their judgment. They simply don’t understand the issues involving the record high debt load that impacts the lives and well being of residents to keep up with property tax increases.  If they did, they would afford the same scrutiny they do on provincial debt: in this year’s budget alone, the York Region Government is spending $5.2 billion while having amassed a debt of over $3.7 billion – the highest per capita debt load in the GTA. Toronto doesn’t have a second tier municipal government after all, so how could they understand the tax pressures we face here?

Taking voting rights from York Region residents won’t solve our public debt issues. We need direct democracy to fix the morass we find ourselves in.

Doug Ford’s rash actions on this regard calls into question his judgment over what’s best for the ratepayers of York Region.

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.

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

Header-Logo

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.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti crosses the thin blue line

cop

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

femalecops

 

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?

stouffville

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?

chair

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?

build on

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.