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.

Saturday Transit Pilot Project On Hold…For Now

New bus routes on the way – But Saturday busing proposal rejected

 Two new bus routes are coming to Milton, but Saturday is still not on the schedule.

On Monday night, town councillors approved a series of recommendations establishing new parking regulations around the GO station and new bus routes in the Scott, Harrison and Willmott neighbourhoods.  However, they voted against a recommendation to test demand for Saturday bus service by running a 10-month pilot project.

The proposal — supported by Town staff and the Transit Advisory Committee — suggested using surplus transit funds of about $80,000 to offer Saturday bus service between 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The project was suggested to begin in September and run until early next summer, with buses operating on a schedule similar to weekday off-peak hours.

The idea was vigorously opposed by Councillor Rick Malboeuf, who noted that the $80,000 in surplus funds would only fund the project through the 2012 tax year, with an additional $120,000 required from the 2013 budget.  “There’s no major outcry among our residents for Saturday service,” he said, noting that the service would generate only about and estimated $400 a day, yet cost $5,200 a day.

Malboeuf added that councillors would be pressured to continue the service once it was established.  “Once you start something like this, it’s hard to back out. And it’s the first step to Sunday service.”

Other councillors appeared more sympathetic to the cause, but expressed concerns about timing and finances.  “My preference would be to hold off on this until we have the 2013 budget in front of us,” said Councillor Colin Best, who worried aloud about the Town’s financial fortunes in the coming year. “Let’s look at everything in its entirety.”

Councillor Mike Cluett added that it would seem sensible to complete the ongoing Transit Master Plan prior to making significant changes to the service.

The two new bus routes, which will begin running on September 4, will service the residential neighbourhoods south of Derry Road and west of Hwy. 25.

During last year’s budget deliberations, councillors agreed to purchase three new buses and add three additional routes through southwest Milton. However, slower than expected growth in the area meant that only two additional routes were needed, explained Paul Cripps, director of engineering services.  The $80,000 surplus in transit funding is a result of the third new route not being added at this time.

Councillors also approved a number of new parking restrictions around the GO station, which are required to accommodate the additional bus routes now running to the facility.

Letters to Champion Regarding Council Pay Increase Approved

As it was recently reported in the Milton Canadian Champion (sorry the online version of the article isn’t up) Milton Town Council approved a salary increase.  You can find out some of the details here so I don’t have to rehash the whole argument. 

It’s essentially like this.  Council approved a citizen’s based committee to review salaries of town councils in surrounding areas, compare them to what we are currently being paid, and make recommendations for adjustments.

That part of the process I am ok with.  It’s good that a citizens group make the decision and not a sole staff report debated by council members.  I am fine with the recommendation of the increase.

What Councillor Rick Malboeuf and I endeavoured to do is to completely take it out of the hands of THIS council, and approve the report and have the new starting salary set for the 2014-2018 council at $32,120 per year (1/3 being tax free to allow for expenses, incidentals etc. seeing how we don’t have an “expense” account) and that way WE, the current 11 members of Milton Town Council do not benefit from that decision.

I’ve said from day one, politicians at all levels should be paid fairly.  This job is a part time job.  There are some days it feels like more with answering emails, emergency situations and high profile items that are happening – the Velodrome for instance.  That goes with the job.

Before running for this position I took the time to speak with a number of current and former councillors in Milton to get an idea of what to expect.  I attended council meetings long before I was elected to get an idea of the reports, which committee does what, how to deal with staff, numbers of meetings etc.  I knew that some days would be busier than most.

I have been opposed to politicians at ALL levels, including federal and provincial, being able to increase their pay in the current term.  I felt and still do that any increases should be effective the date the next council / session / legislature etc. sits.  Seems to me to be common sense and many of you have agreed with me in the past.  SOME of those who agreed with me are now sitting around the council table with me, and yet didn’t support this motion.  Highly disappointing.

Since being elected I haven’t accepted a pay increase.  Against the advice of many people, business associates, residents in town, fellow councillors and friends I have declined a pay increase.  Granted the amounts are small, but I feel it’s more important to stand on principle.  What this means is my council friends will be paid more than me.  Some work a lot, some work less but that’s fine by me.  I didn’t get into this for the money.  If money was the only driving force in my decision to represent the taxpayers of Milton, I would have tried to find a better way to do it.

As reported in the Champion, Councillor Tony Lambert “just hours” after the decision was made to approve the pay increase and the phasing in plan (of which Mr. Lambert voted in FAVOUR of the increase and AGAINST the deferral of the increase) he emailed the town clerk to decline the increase in pay.

Interesting timing of it all as before this process started there was a thread on the Hawthorne Villager and as you will read, a majority of the comments on the topic were against the increase and in favour of the “deferral amendment” by Councillor Rick Malboeuf and me.  Only after reading through a number of negative comments did he “decide” to refuse the pay increase.

My question is very simple.  Why oppose the amendment and support the increase if you were only to then refuse the increase?  He claimed that governments are “asking for austerity” and looking for savings.

Let’s do some math.  $ 5,000 times 10 equals $ 50,000 (I’m not including the Mayors increase of $ 12,000 to keep the numbers simple) If we had deferred that $ 50,000 increase to 2014-18 council, there’s savings.  For example, there is a playground at Storey Drive and McNeil in ward 6 that needs to be upgraded.  The residents in the area call it the “dirty” park because the playground has sand as opposed to wood chips (which are generally much safer for kids to play on)  After discussions with staff, they estimated the cost to improve that park to be roughly $ 25,000.  So we could either save $ 50,000 over the next 3 years or in some cases invest it in much needed projects around town to improve the quality of life.

Now, take into consideration that if council had deferred that increase, there would be roughly $ 50,000 savings.  If someone is looking at “austerity” like Mr. Lambert says he was, wouldn’t it have been more beneficial to taxpayers to vote against the increase, or at the very least vote FOR the deferral of the increase?  The answer is yes. 

As one of my friends said it recently, you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t take credit for not accepting the pay increase while you voted in favour of it and against an amendment that would have saved taxpayers money.

Here is a link to the letter in the Champion by a resident in Milton. 

http://www.insidehalton.com/community/milton/article/1388326

He also posted the FULL unedited letter on the Hawthorne Villager as well, because he felt some key points were missed for brevity at the paper.

http://www.hawthornevillager.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=48041

Here’s his unedited letter.

Dear Editor.

I was quite taken aback at the Champion article from June 28th regarding Council’s decision to grant themselves a 15% salary increase. No mention was given to the proposed and eventually failed amendment put forward by Councillor Malboeuf and seconded by Councillor Cluett. The amendment allowed the salary increase, but to become effective at the next sitting of Councillors in January 2015. As I said, they lost that 8-2. Councillor Barkley was not in attendance, another issue I have, but that’s a concern for later. And not only did the majority of Council approve the salary increase, they also voted to make the increase retroactive to January 2012. Weren’t some of these Councillors the same that ran on a campaign of ‘No voted salary increases’? Or were they not aware of the salary when they ran for the position? A 15% increase in salary after 18 months on the job is pretty absurd – and without a union backing even. And the much chastised and ridiculed American Government realized the idiocy of this issue and passed the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. Way back in 1992. We’ve still got a long way to go to catch up to 20 years ago it seems.

Councillor Lambert’s remarks that he will not accept the salary increase is nothing more than political pandering. The better political move is to not vote in favour of it in the first place. My favourite quote of the article was Councillor Hamid’s “Politicians have a job to represent the taxpayers, but I’ve never been a fan of the levels of government raising their hand to incrementally increase their salaries.” I completely agree with this statement. The only issue is, Councillor Hamid didn’t say it – Councillor Cluett did. He and Councillor Malboeuf are not receiving the credit they deserve on behalf of the taxpayers.

I believe that both Councillors are donating their newly found wealth to local charities, and I urge the others to do the same. In opposition to Councillor Lambert’s tactics, leaving the money in the Town’s coffers only allows that money to be spent on such things as Steinway pianos and Velodromes 90% of us are opposed to. This should come as no surprise to the good residents of this Town. The same Town that is sending 9 Councillors to the AMO conference in Ottawa this August. Cost to taxpayers? $22,500. Burlington’s entourage at the conference? 1 Councillor. To quote Councillor Malboeuf “the majority of this Council has demonstrated that they have not seen a tax dollar they can’t wait to spend”. I couldn’t agree more.

Robb Derkatz

There was also a letter printed by Councillor Rick Malboeuf as well regarding the salary increases for council.

Dear Editor:

Despite what may have been concluded in last Thursday’s Champion article concerning town council’s decision to grant its members a 15 per cent salary increase, not all councillors supported the recommendation of the Council Compensation Committee.

Councillor Mike Cluett and I voted against increasing the salaries for councillors during this term. In fact I put forward an amendment seconded by Cluett that would have seen the increase become effective January 2015, the next term of council.

Again, only Cluett and I voted in favour of that amendment. The other eight members of council (Sharon Barkley was absent) voted to take the increase retroactive to January 2012, thereby voting themselves a 15 per cent salary increase.

My position is and always has been that councillors shouldn’t be deciding their own salaries. We all knew what the job paid when we agreed to put our names on the ballot. To now vote ourselves a 15 per cent increase 18 months into the job is in my opinion ethically and morally wrong.

As for Councillor Tony Lambert’s decision not to accept the increase after voting to do so, I considered doing the same, as I did in 1998 when the council back then voted itself an 11 per cent increase. In protest not only did I not accept the increase, I also took an additional voluntary one-third pay cut.

This time I have decided I will take the increase and then give it back to the community by donating to charities and groups that I support and feel need assistance.

I’m disappointed by council’s decision but not surprised. This is the same council that increased property taxes at twice the rate of inflation and agreed to commit millions of dollars to build a velodrome.

Councillor Rick Malboeuf, Ward 4

The letter is outlining the fact that both he and I did offer council an alternative that we felt would be better from a transparency point of view, that kept with our beleifs that elected people shouldnt be able to vote themselves an increase no matter who made the recommendation and that it was simply common sense.  Many disagreed with us as it turned out. 

What do you think?

Happy Canada Day Milton

Thank you to everyone who came out to the annual Veterans Breakfast at Victoria Park this year.  Every year the Knights of Columbus hosts a pancake breakfast in honour of our veterans.  Its not just on Remembrance Day that we honour those who have fought for our country, those who returned and those who didnt, and it couldnt have been a more perfect day to do so.

MPP Ted Chudleigh (pictured here) as well as Halton MP Lisa Raitt joined members of council Mayor Gord Krantz, Clr’s Greg Nelson (who did some of the cooking) Colin Best, veteran Rick Malboeuf and myself to honour those brave heroes, who without their efforts we wouldnt be able to stand proudly and celebrate our freedom that many take for granted.

After the breakfast there was a brief remembrance ceremony at the cenotaph followed by a parade of veterans leading us to the gates of the Milton fairgrounds.  It was heartwarming to see the support of the community as they marched along with the veterans, applauding them and thanking them for their service.

We then assembled by the bandstand where those in attendance (including myself) reaffirmed our oath to Canada.  Normally there would be a swearing in ceremony for new Canadians, but this year its been done regionally and not locally.

After the formalities concluded, people by the dozens lined up for a piece of Canada Day cake and cupcakes to start off what was to be an amazing Canada Day in Milton.

Another big THANK YOU goes to the crew who organized the days events.  I know many of them personally and many, MANY hours went into preparation for this day and they should be thanked over and over for a wonderful day.  Great job!!