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.