Keep Taxes Low

Its a message we hear from many Milton residents throughout the year and especially around election time.  The next municipal election is to be held on October 27, 2014 in case you are wondering.

In a recent letter to the editor, one of my council colleagues brought up some concerns about spending at the local level of government.  You can find his letter here.

In a recent edition of the Milton Canadian Champion another resident expressed their views in agreement with council working towards keeping taxes as low as possible.  Milton does have the lowest tax rate in the GTA but over the last many years, the current and previous councils has been unable to keep the rate of increase in spending at or below the rate of inflation.

I’ve long been a supporter of the concept in keeping any increases at that level.  Long before I became a town councillor, I have talked about responsible tax increases if needed and made it part of my election campaign to vote against any increases in spending over the rate of inflation.  Sadly, I have not been able to support any budget since being elected.  It will continue to be my focus in the coming years & elections to keep the increases manageable.  To me its about affordability of living in Milton.  We continue to grow our residential tax base but still seem to dip into the pockets of taxpayers each year.

I don’t want to re-hash the budget debate of 2013, which saw our council approve an increase of 3.04% and as some saw on my Twitter feed, I posted my tax bill that has increased close to $100 for 2013.  Yes, property values did increase through MPAC assessments and those increases will be phased in over a few years, but to me $100 is a big hit to the household budget.

There are perceptions that Milton is a “rich” town.  While the average household income of Milton families does increase, so do their expenses and the cost of living.  Gas prices, water rates, and the cost of food hit us all.

But getting back to this past budget, we had an opportunity to have our increase roughly around 2.0-2.25% but there were 3 additions to the budget that pushed it to the 3.0% level.  The first one was to introduce Saturday transit service.  While many of my regular readers know I do support having a transit system in town as we continue to grow in population and with the hopeful addition of a Laurier University campus at the Milton Education Village, the need for transit will grow.

I outlined in a previous post that the numbers do not support the addition of Saturday service…yet. We will be receiving the 2013 Milton Transit Master Plan later this month at a council meeting that will provide details and projected growth in our transit system for the next 5 years.  However, at the time we were discussing the budget, we didn’t have this information.  Despite objections of a few council members including Councillor Malboeuf and myself, council approved the Saturday service (cost of approximately $80,000 for September to December 2013) which means roughly $240,000 per year starting in 2014.  This didn’t need to be approved as of yet and could have saved Milton taxpayers money.

Another item that was included in the budget was a change in parking bylaw times from 3 hours to 5 hours.  Every poll that was completed online and speaking with residents themselves during this discussion, I found that it was almost a 50/50 split on whether we stick with 3 hr limits or go to 5hr.  Of those that approved of the change to 5 hr’s many of you said it yes as long as it didn’t increase costs.  Well it did increase costs to roughly $65,000 per year for these changes.  Scheduling had to be changed to incorporate the shifts of the workers and extra signage as well.  Another cost that didn’t have to be implemented in 2013 or even ever.  Staff reports clearly said this would cost money and didn’t keep with the rest of the GTA municipalities that currently have 3 hr parking limits and are making it work.

Finally as Clr Malbouef outlined in the letter there was the $100,000 infrastructure renewal fund that was approved on the day of the budget meeting.  Combining these three initiatives pushed the increase to 3.04% and to a point where I couldn’t support the budget.  I did find it interesting however, that Clr Lambert, who voted in favour of two of the three ventures during budget discussions and when it came time to approve the the full budget, voted against it saying the rate of increase was too high.  If he didn’t support those two items, the rate of increase would have been lower and possibly more acceptable to taxpayers.  To me, it is a bit hypocritical to say one thing and do another to appease taxpayers come election time.

I’ve already stated my intentions to seek the position of regional councillor for wards 1, 6, 7 & 8 in the next election.  I find that there is a lack of leadership at both the local level and at the Region of Halton in these wards and with the many changes Milton will be facing in the coming years, we need to ensure there is a strong, effective voice at both the Town of Milton and the Region of Halton to fill this void.  Milton only has 3 voices around the Region table and as we continue to grow in size we need to maximize the quality of those voices when it comes to the needs of Milton taxpayers.

That being said I would encourage the taxpayers of Milton to contact the members of council who supported the increase in taxes over the last 2 budgets and hopefully as we move closer to election time in 2014 the message will be loud and clear….keep taxes low.

Town of Milton Population Hits Six Digits

Town’s population hits six digits

From Julia Le, Milton Canadian Champion

Milton is ending the year with a bang.  With the population hitting the 100,000 mark by year’s end, according to Town planning estimates, the town is staying true to its ranking as Canada’s fastest growing community.

Milton Acting CAO Bill Mann said the Town is excited about seeing its vision for the community come to fruition.

He said Milton truly embodies a place where you can live, work and play.

Over the last 15 years, the Town has made a considerable effort to attract people through affordable housing and businesses that will in turn create employment opportunities, according to Mann.

He added the Town has also been creating more neighbourhood parks and building a complete community that has recreational facilities, an arts centre and other amenities, while ensuring residents have the required essential services.

Mann cited that Milton is home to large distribution centres for Target and Lowe’s. The Target distribution centre set to open in May 2013 will be a 1.3 million-sq.-ft. facility and will employ hundreds of people, while the Lowe’s distribution centre, which broke ground last August, will be a 626,000-sq.-ft. facility also expected to employ hundreds of people.

Mann said the Town is guided by the principles of growth engrained in its strategic plan.

He said in 1997, the Town’s official plan anticipated Halton Region’s delivery in 2000 of ‘The Big Pipe’ carrying Lake Ontario water up from Oakville to Milton, and a population that would grow to about 165,000 people by 2021.

Mann said the Town is keeping pace and may exceed that estimate, considering the population grew from 31,471 residents in 2001 to 53,889 in 2006 and 84,362 in 2011, according to census data.

“If we’re able to generate intensification, our population may be 185,000 in 2021 and then by 2031 we’re looking at a minimum of 236,000 people,” he said, adding that Milton has the potential to grow out to 300,000 to 350,000 people. “(If so) Milton will ultimately be larger than Burlington and Oakville.”

But developing and shaping Milton hasn’t come without a price.

“As you can appreciate in any community that is growing as fast as we are, we are experiencing growing pains,” said Mann.

The Town is doing everything in its power to ensure schools, transportation and transit and the hospital keeps up with the population boom.

He said Craig Kielburger Secondary School opened this year and a new catholic high school will open the following year.

Mann added the Town is working with the Region to widen Regional Road 25 and Tremaine Road. Tremaine Road has already been widened between Main Street and Derry Road and next spring there are plans to widen it from Derry to Britannia roads and then from Main Street to Steeles Avenue.

There’s also a long-term plan to expand transit service, have two more GO stops within Milton and encourage the community to get out of cars and walk, cycle or use public transit.

The hospital will also be expanded, with the first patient likely to be seen in December 2017 or January 2018.

“If you look at the last census, the average age dropped down to 34. That’s the youngest age in any community,” he said. “And when you look at the birth rate, we have the highest birthrate at 1,500 births a year, which is phenomenal, hence our need to expand the hospital.”

He said the Town is taking on the challenges head-on and planning for the future.

Other major projects down the line include seeing the Milton Education Village come to fruition and encouraging the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to work with Mohawk Racetracks to have a full casino and entertainment complex built. He said it would include a hotel and golf course.

Mann said Milton may be expanding, but it hasn’t lost its roots.

“We’re still maintaining that small town atmosphere,” he said, adding that the town has a tremendous historical fabric. “One of the most beautiful things about Milton is people are on a first-name basis.”

He said with the Niagara Escarpment as its backdrop, Milton is really the place to be.

“There is tremendous opportunity within Milton,” he said. “Growing pains will always be there, but they’re manageable and will diminish as we move forward to ultimate state of Milton.”

Council Approves Another Tax Increase 3.04%

Here is an article from the Milton Canadian Champion with a very brief summation of the budget committee meeting this past Monday at Milton Town Hall.  The meeting went on for over 4 hours and our initial goal was to be at 2.95% increase or lower but it went in the other direction.

There were three main items that council approved that helped send this increase in the budget over the rate of inflation (which is the number I normally support).  The items include an increase increase for parking control because of the change in policy from 3 hour parking to 5 on Milton streets ($55,000), Saturday transit service starting in September 2013 (4 months $76,000) and finally an infrastructure reserve “levy” so to speak ($100,000 every year).

During the budget debate I opposed these three measures (Saturday transit service you can find in another blog entry) and the other two items listed I didn’t support and were subject to a recorded vote.  I did find it interesting that a councillor who voted in support of the transit & parking control measures (which amounted to $133,000 or just over 1.0% of the budget) ended up voting against the budget as a whole.  If they had NOT supported this measure I can understand voting against it.  Isnt that like having your cake and eating it too?

I’ll be posting more on this and other issues as we get closer to Monday night’s council meeting (my birthday by the way 🙂 ) and no doubt these and other items will be discussed over the next year.

Proposed Town budget to go to council next week

After spending hours debating what to include in the Town’s 2013 budget, members of the budget committee Monday night approved a 3 per cent tax hike for urban residents and a 3.05 per cent tax hike for rural residents.

If the budget passes next week, the average rural resident and urban resident will pay an extra $23.17 and $26.46 respectively on a home assessed at $350,000.

The budget committee voted 6-5 in favour of the proposed budget. Councillors and staff spent the night crunching the numbers in an attempt to meet or lower the staff’s recommended hike of 2.95 per cent.

Voting in favour of approving the budget were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Cindy Lunau, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid.

Voting against it were Mayor Gord Krantz, councillors Rick Malboeuf, Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson and Mike Cluett.

Hamid said it was a complicated budget to work with.

“I don’t think any one of us are happy with what we have, but it’s a compromise,” he said.

“I’m hoping that we recognize that we all came up with this document collectively.”

Krantz said he had hoped for the increase to be closer to the inflation rate of about 2 per cent.

An infrastructure renewal reserve fund was added to the budget Monday night to address future needs. An initial $100,000 to establish the fund increased the proposed tax hike from 2.75 per cent to about 3 per cent.

Barkley argued that the difference Milton residents would be paying next year is a few dollars extra.

Other amendments, additions and deletions to the budget include:

• Allowing the library to open a half hour earlier at a cost of $16,448.

• Permitting the main library to be open on Mondays at a cost of $69,702.

• Discontinuing the Talk of the Town publication, which will save the Town $12,000

• Reducing the budget for catch basin cleaning, which will save the Town $20,000

• Cutting the number of councillors who attend the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference to the mayor and three other councillors, which will save the Town $8,000.

The capital portion of the budget projects a $65.4 million investment in about 100 projects related to new infrastructure and the rehabilitation of existing assets like facilities, roads, bridges, parks and equipment. About 82 per cent of the investment would go to projects to address the current and future needs of the community while 18 per cent of the investment would go to the renewal and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure.

The operating part of the budget, which looks after the delivery of services required to meet the needs arising from growth in the community and to support the quality of life that residents expect, is projected at around $94.4 million. It’s divided among the Town’s departments, with engineering services, community services and planning and fire departments providing the most direct services to the community.

Enhancements include hiring five additional fulltime firefighters at the new James Snow Parkway station, improved economic development resources to develop an innovation centre, extended transit services to include Saturdays, and parking enforcement to accommodate a proposed five-hour parking regulation.

Town staff said Milton continues to have one of the lowest tax rate in Halton and Peel regions.

The Town’s portion of the overall property tax bill is now estimated at 31 per cent. The regional and education taxes are proposed to make up 43 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

That means Miltonians could see an overall tax increase of 1.61 per cent in the urban area and 1.57 per cent in the rural area on their 2013 property tax bills.

Regional Chair Gary Carr – Advocating for Halton

From time to time the Regional Chair Gary Carr outlines a report on what the Region of Halton is doing in our area to help assist all levels of government provide the services we need and enhancing the environment for creating much needed jobs and assisting in bringing businesses to our area.  Here are some highlights in is his most recent column as printed in the Milton Canadian Champion.

Advocating for Halton

Advocating for the residents of Halton is one of the priorities of the Citizens’ Priorities Action Plan.

Ensuring that growth pays for itself is of critical importance to Halton Regional council and we will continue to advocate for long-term predictable funding to ensure that taxpayers do not bear the burden of growth.

Regional council recognizes even though there are many of levels of government, there is only one taxpayer.

Halton Region has one of the best records in all of Canada for keeping taxes low — 2013 will make the seventh consecutive year in which we have had an average of a 0 per cent tax increase for regional programs and services.

The future that Halton Regional council envisions includes important partnerships with both the provincial and federal governments. The support of both levels of government in the form of long-term predicable funding is essential to ensuring Halton remains a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire.

On behalf of the residents of Halton, I will continue to meet with Halton’s MPs, MPPs and elected officials of all political stripes to bring Halton’s issues to the forefront.

***

Regional council has also urged the Ontario government to make appropriate decisions to prevent the collapse of the horse racing industry. At council’s Oct. 3 meeting, councillors unanimously supported a motion to endorse an interim report that identifies the benefits of a strong equine sector and horse racing industry and the need to make immediate decisions to ensure its long-term viability.

Recently, Regional council also supported a motion in support of the Town of Milton’s efforts to build more schools to house its growing population. Investing in Halton’s future is important to ensure our region will continue to prosper for generations to come and remain a location of choice for new businesses.

If you have any Regional concerns or comments you would like to share, please feel free to e-mail me at gary.carr@halton.ca. You can also find me on Twitter @garycarrhalton or on Facebook.

Riding Commission Public Meeting

Here is the story by Julia Le from the Milton Canadian Champion about the public meeting on Wednesday in Oakville.  Again there were some delegates who registered to speak in favour of the changes.  I would say that 70% of those in attendance and who spoke are against the new boundaries.  NOW what happens you ask?

According to the website now that the public hearings are complete, the commission for each province has to finish the report and its recommendations by December 21st of 2012 (Isn’t that the end of the earth as we know it? *snicker*)  After that it goes to the House of Commons for review and that is slated to be finished around March of 2013 hearing objections from MP’s.  Long story short, the final decision is slated to be around September 2013 for the new ridings.  Its not over yet.

Residents can still email the commission their thoughts on the new proposal if they are in support or opposition to it.  Many of you have sent me emails / tweets / comments about your thoughts and those are greatly appreciated.

If you would like to put forward your views on this, please email the commission directly at the following:

Mailing Address:  130 King Street West, 36th Floor, Suite 3670, P.O. Box 368 Toronto, Ontario M5X 2A2

Telephone (toll-free):  1-855-747-7224 Fax (toll-free) 1-855-747-7225 TTY (toll-free) 1-800-361-8935