AMO Coverage in Milton Champion

Milton politicians stress need for more schools at AMO – Key concerns discussed at provincial conference

Julia Le – Milton Canadian Champion:  A need for more schools was among the key concerns Mayor Gord Krantz and eight councillors raised last week during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference.

Krantz, councillors Sharon Barkley, Arnold Huffman, Mike Cluett, Rick Di Lorenzo, Cindy Lunau and Zeeshan Hamid, Tony Lambert and Local and Regional Councillor Colin Best were joined by Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr and Halton District School Board Trustee Donna Danielli as they met with Deputy Education Minister George Zegarac at the conference held in Ottawa to explain the challenging situation they are finding the Town in and the dire need from the Province to commit to building more schools to support the fast growing communities and the families and young children moving into them.

The meeting was originally schedule with Education Minister Laurel Broten, however likely due to the issues surrounding the current negotiations with teachers’ unions and school boards, Broten was unable to attend the conference, held each year to bring together municipal and provincial leaders and offer panels, discussions, and keynotes on a selection of municipal interest topics led by industry experts.

The group served as a united front in presenting Zegarac the reality Milton faces.

Danielli, the school trustee for the Milton 2, 3, 4 and 5 areas, said if it wasn’t for the repurposing of the old E.C. Drury High School, P.L. Robertson Public School was projected to have 40 portables by 2014. The old high school will now host a satellite location for P.L. Robertson as a temporary measure until a new school is built.

“It’s the best solution we have, but it certainly isn’t an ideal situation,” she said, adding that there’s no real place for full-day kindergarten and that families will have to be split up at different locations.

The group also lobbied for more funding to keep older schools up-to-date technologically and physically.

Danielli added the funding formula the province uses to dole out money to school boards needs to be revised.

“When you look at the 11 boards that are closest in area (to us), we’re at the bottom of the list in terms of per pupil funding,” she said.

The 56,000 students in Milton are receiving $1,000 to $1,500 when compared to surrounding school boards.

Krantz said he believes the group put its best case forward to the Ministry of Education and Zegarac, who seemed to be well versed in the town’s concerns.

“Was there anything ultimately resolved, well that’s hard to tell at this point, but I refer to it as keeping issues on the radar screen,” he said. “I think being in their face with your issues is just as important. (It shows) we’re not going away until we get some of this stuff sorted out.”

Danielli was more optimistic about the outcome of the meeting.

She said Zegarac seemed empathetic, even going as far as to say Milton was the “poster child of why we need capital funding.”

She doesn’t believe anything will be resolved until teacher negotiations have been settled, but hopes the Town will get the green light sooner rather than later to start construction before the end of the year.

Other issues Krantz and councillors discussed with the appropriate provincial ministers at the conference included making sure the hospital expansion was kept on the radar and the effect the Slots at the Racetracks program closure will have, not only on the horse racing industry but on the town.

The Province announced earlier this year that all payments made to the horse racing industry, including Mohawk Slots, through the Slots at the Racetracks program will end as of March 31, 2013.

Krantz and Lunau met with Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin to discuss the importance of keeping the horse industry alive. 

AMO Update – Post Ottawa

Over the next couple of days, I will get a more detailed accounting of what Milton councillors did on our 3 day conference in Ottawa.  I promise 🙂

For those that don’t know, myself along with a number of Milton Councillors attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference in Ottawa.  This gives local elected officials an opportunity to meet, discuss ideas that are important to their constituents, attend workshops and seminars as well as network with provincial government officials as well.

Last year a number of councillors went to the conference in London Ontario to meet with the infrastructure minister as well as the provincial health minister to stress the importance of the expansion of Milton District Hospital.  At that point we were armed with over 6,000 plus fresh signatures from the Grow Milton Hospital campaign as well as the previous Friends of Milton Hospital’s 35,000 plus signed cards from residents to let them know the number one issue in our town was the hospital.

You’ll remember that shortly after that (and a looming provincial election in the coming weeks MIGHT have had a LITTLE something to do with the announcement /end sarcasm) we received word that the expansion was going to move forward.

This year there were a number of issues that face Milton as we continue to grow in leaps and bounds.  Unofficially our population ticker is over the 100,000 mark and headed even higher.  There is a lack of schools being committed in Milton, which is one of the main reasons that our Halton District School Board Trustee Donna Danielli attended the conference for this meeting.

We were originallytrying to meet with the Education Minister Laurel Broten, but given the high pressure of the teachers negotiations, she was nowhere to be found in Ottawa (same as the finance minister oddly enough 🙂 ) but we ended up with Deputy Education Minister instead.

The deputy minister knew of Milton’s needs well before we got there as we are one of many municipalities that are facing these school shortages.  Donna was our “point person” during this meeting as she faces these issues on a daily basis, hearing from residents about when new schools will be ready, why there are 30 portables in each location and when will it stop.  Milton council members don’t have jurisdiction in this at all.  I got emails from folks telling me that we shouldn’t be bothering since we have no control.

Its true.  We dont have an official say in this and our presence there was mainly symbolic.  But it did make a point to every minister we met that Milton meant business.  If you follow the news at all, you know there is a lot going on right now with the education ministry and the “negotiations” with school boards and teachers, which was probably the reason she didnt make it to the AMO conference.  I am confident that we will be hearing some good news soon regarding some of our much needed schools in Milton, after everything else is being dealt with.  So stay tuned for that news.

That wasn’t the only meeting myself and the other councillors attended in the 3 days.  There were a number of meetings with government ministers to discuss items like slot revenues, the horse racing industry and MPAC issues we are having. 

As outlined by Kim Arnott in the Milton Canadian Champion recently, we could be possibly facing an issue of property tax increases here in Milton and other areas due to MPAC being delayed in their reassessment of homes.  Here’s the article.

Assessment issues could impact Milton property taxes

A “hair-raising” property tax increase could be in the works for Milton as a result of assessment issues that are beyond the Town’s control.  A combination of delayed assessment updates and resolved assessment appeals could result in a property tax impact of as much as $2 million, or a six to seven per cent increase on local property taxes.When combined with education and regional taxes, the result could be an increase of two to three per cent on the combined tax bill that’s mailed to local residents.  

“It’s making the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said Councillor Mike Cluett. “This is very important.”A report delivered to council last night by Milton treasurer Linda Leeds outlined the challenges for the coming year.  The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), the provincial body responsible for assessing properties and assigning values for taxation purposes, will be conducting a province-wide reassessment next year.

Prior to the completion of that reassessment, an attempt is currently underway to resolve outstanding assessment appeals from prior years, with a focus on commercial and industrial properties.  However, that means that assessors are involved in hearings and not available to undertake assessments of new properties so they can be added to municipal tax rolls.

This is particularly problematic for rapidly-developing municipalities like Milton. The assessment and addition of new properties throughout the year — known as supplementary assessments — allows the Town to begin collecting taxes from those properties.  A delay in adding new properties to the municipal tax rolls means the Town needs to finance the expansion of services to accommodate new residents and business while it waits for the cash to come in.

In the 2012 budget, taxes from supplementary assessments were anticipated to be $2 million. However, so far this year MPAC has assessed only 116 of more than 800 new residential properties, for a total of only $77,413 in property taxes.

Staff is particularly concerned with the possibility that new commercial and industrial properties – which typically carry large tax bills – may not be assessed in a timely fashion.  The attempt to rapidly resolve outstanding assessment appeals could also impact on the town’s finances.

When property owners appeal their assessments, they are required to pay the full assessment until a decision is made on the appeal. If an appeal is successful, the Town issues a refund for taxes paid.   

As the 2012 budget was established prior to the announcement of the plan to try and resolve outstanding appeals, only $230,000 was budgeted for refunds arising from successful appeals.  However, with 94 individual non-residential properties in Milton combining for 591 appeals (some dating back to 2001), the town could easily be on the hook for refunds that far surpass the budgeted amount.While the town has no direct control over MPAC, councillors did pass a resolution to ask MPAC to undertake the necessary supplementary assessments, and resolved to bring the issue to the attention of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

One of the seminar/workshops that AMO had this week was an update from MPAC by Chair of the Board Dan Mathieson and Antoni Wisniowski, the new CAO and the status of a number of things, and whats to come.  Needless to say it didn’t have a lot of answers to questions during the presentations, but they did do a Q&A with attendees afterwards.  As you would expect, Regional Councillor Colin Best was right up there for the questions and highlighted many of our concerns raised in that motion Milton council passed.

From what we were told at the conference, the slides and possibly video of some of these sessions might be available so if and when it does, I will post here on my site.

I will get into more detail soon regarding the different sessions myself and members of council did attend.  We were there en masse and we tried to spread ourselves out to maximize our numbers but there was still some overlap in some of the sessions.

If you have any questions or want some specific information on sessions I attended on behalf of the Town of Milton, either post a  comment or send me an email Mike@MikeCluett.ca

Getting Oriented

Last night was the first of many orientation meetings for the members of Milton Town Council.  With the sheer number of “new” councillors around the table the orientations have been split up so that our heads don’t spin off of our bodies.  Good luck with that.

I have to thank Milton Town staff for putting on these meetings and as someone who is somewhat familiar with the breakdown of the departments and what they do, it was still a good refresher filled with many “ah-ha’s” throughout the night.  I’m really looking forward to more of these sessions so that when the council is inaugurated on December 6th, we can hit the ground running.

There are some members of council who were re-elected and what we referred to as “recycled” at the meeting and they will be a great source of information to help us “newbies” get on track.  There is a lot to do in the coming weeks and many more pieces of paper to digest but its a challenge we are all looking forward to.

There are a lot of decisions to make before we get started and council members have to decide which sub committees they would like to sit on, from transit to trails to accessibility to economic development there are many to choose from.  These committees will be populated not only by councillors but members of the public as well.  Citizens are encouraged to apply for the open positions that are available on these committees and you can find a list of them on the Town of Milton’s website Please take a look at the list of boards and committes, see what you would like to apply for, and send your infomration in.  Again…we want your input!

Here are just a few of those boards/committees to consider:

There are also a few training courses put on by AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) that new councillors and “older” ones are encouraged to attend.  Then…the forms.  Lots of forms.  But that’s just par for the course.

I was also reminded last night that the first meeting of a new residents group took place (of which I will get an update on what happened) and that encourages me that we can have more involvement of the community in town affairs.  I, along with many of my counterparts during the election campaign, made commitments that we would do what we could to keep you engaged in the process and look for feedback and ideas as well.  This residents group will be a good start.  Thanks to Steve and Annie and many others who got the ball rolling on this and I know that it will be successful.  I will also do my part in helping out, so that way we can all do our best to make Milton a better place.

So my head goes back into the books, so to speak, but I hope that we can continue our dialogue started many years ago now and people will get involved in that conversation.  Only with your help can we do this.

As always, you can email me mike@mikecluett.ca or call me by going to my Contact page (yes that is my home phone number 🙂 ) and I will do my best to answer any questions or concerns you might have.

I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running and I hope you join me on this journey.