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.

Where is the accountability at York Region Government?

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When Toronto Mayor John Tory heard the news that the TTC spending on the new Spadina to Vaughan subway line was out of control, his response was unequivocal.

“We have lurched from one fiasco to another costing taxpayers … tens of millions of dollars,” Mayor Tory told the Toronto Star back in March.

“Accountability, includes people losing their jobs, it includes people being recognized in a positive way who bring projects in on time and budget, and I just don’t think there’s been a lot of attention paid to that over time.”

Meanwhile, back at York Region Council, there was no anger from any member. In fact the entire Council seemed rather nonplussed about York taxpayers being forced to hand over an extra $92 million (estimate) to complete the line.

Rather than talk of firing under achieving staff, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti went out of his way to praise the way York Region had managed this process. In Mayor Scarpitti’s view, the cost over runs were entirely the fault of the TTC.

After a short discussion, York Council voted unanimously to approve the additional spending based on very few answers on what the new money would pay for and even fewer answers about where the Region, (with a public debt approaching $2.7 Billion already) would get this money. Some members of council weren’t even aware our taxes were bailing out Toronto mismanagement.

In 2006, planners estimated it would cost $1.5 Billion to build the 8 km extension from Downsview Station to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. The extension was supposed to be complete in time for the Pan Am Games. We now have new estimates of $2.9 billion, and the line is delayed until 2017.

Add this project to the long list of billion dollar scandals that have plagued Ontario over the past decade. While Mayor John Tory seemed to understand taxpayers can no longer afford to foot the bill for government ineptitude, It was unfortunate that York Region Council hasn’t received the same message.

Back in March, members of the York Region Taxpayers Coalition spoke to York Council advocating for the establishment of an Auditor General to report on matters such as this one. We believe that the spending at York Region has been out of control as public debt has now outpaced reserves at the Region.

Without any oversight from an Auditor General, the public has been left in the dark about the money issues that this important level of government is facing. We need to maintain our roads, our policing, our safe water, and other import ant services. But unless a new attitude of accountability is adopted by Chair Wayne Emerson and the rest of Council, we’ll be seeing our region buckle under the immense weight of waste and debt.