- Craig's Current
- Craig's Current - January 2024
Craig's Current - January 2024
Hello, Ward 12!
Welcome to the first Craig’s Current of 2024. We have lots to share with you this month, including an update on the 2024 budget process, upcoming events in the community, and much more. I hope you find it informative.
2024 Budget Progress
Much of Council's time in January has been consumed with Budget work. Our goal is to have the final vote for the 2024 Operating and Capital Budget on February 15th. Once the budget is finalized, I'll provide a detailed rundown of it just as I did for 2023. Over the past weeks and months, there has been much written in the media about Council's spending; reporting that has been incomplete to say the least. Here's a factual overview of the 2024 budget and our progress so far.
In August 2023, staff presented a draft budget increase of 14.2% - a number that no one on Council could support. At that time, the Mayor issued a directive for staff to find efficiencies and funding strategies to significantly reduce the burden on property taxpayers. The proposed increase at that time consisted of the following:
1) Provincial requirements and downloading of Provincial costs to Hamilton worth 5.4% (nearly 40% of the increase) This included things like 2.8% to pay for the downloading of development charge exemptions (i.e. making the Hamilton taxpayers pay for growth infrastructure instead of developers); 1% for Hamilton Police Services budget increase; 1% to support future local hospital renovations.
2) A consolidation of staff recommendations to address the housing crisis worth 3.1%. It's important to note that housing is a Provincial responsibility and not only has Provincial funding not kept up with historical levels, it is decreasing during this crisis.
If you're doing the math, that got us to an 8.5% increase (60% of the total) without yet considering rising municipal costs and what would be required to continue providing the City's 70+ services that residents rely on.
3) 1.1% of the recommended budget increase from August was part of a 10-year plan to catch up on the severe underfunding of capital infrastructure and to implement Provincial Asset Management legislation. I hear a lot about poor road conditions and other community assets that are at - or beyond - end of life and need to be replaced. Those conditions are the result of a) insufficient funding from previous budgets so that taxes could be kept low (but we're paying for it now), and b) the failed experiment of suburban sprawl that is a drain on municipal finances. The result is a $2 Billion deficit on maintaining our core assets and another $195 million added every year. This investment in 2024 is the first of that 10-year plan to close the gap and return these core assets to levels that Hamiltonians expect and deserve.
4) Moving on from capital spending, we then need to consider the operational budget:
a. In 2023, Council voted to increase staff compensation to the 50% percentile of comparable municipal roles. They had previously been in the 40% range, which meant it was very difficult to attract and retain talented people, resulting in many vacancies and reduced service levels. Along with obligations in collective bargaining agreements, cost of living increases, and benefits obligations, this bucket results in a 4.0% increase for 2024.
b. Other notable operational increases are related to discretionary development charge exemptions that had been underfunded for many years, worth 0.9% (just like with capital funding, previous Councils under-funded these to keep tax increases low); and investments in Emergency Services to keep up with growth worth 0.5%.
The total of all items added up to more than 14.2% but the increase in assessed property values in 2023 (i.e. new homes and business) creates a positive impact on property tax rates which was assumed to be 1%, getting us down to 14.2%. (Note: in January we have learned that the actual reduction in your property taxes from new construction is ~1.9%. This demonstrates that when we densify our City within the urban boundary where infrastructure already exists it has an overall positive benefit to all property taxpayers).
New Budget Increase starting point of 7.9% as of January 2024
In January, staff reported back on the work they'd done to fulfill the Mayor's directive to reduce the budget. They published a revised projected increase of 7.9% which is our new starting point for Council deliberations, and similar to - or below - increases being contemplated by many other neighbouring municipalities. Staff found efficiencies, and used reserves and debt financing to reduce the impact by 6.3%, or nearly $70 million. Their report showed that the portion to maintain municipal services was reduced to 2.7% (comparable to historical increases), but we still had a 4.9% provincial impact (2.6% from Bill 23 and development charge exemptions; 1.6% to fund the housing crisis, and a 1.0% contribution to local hospitals).
Technically, the municipal portion of the tax bill is 4.3% (2.7% + 1.6% for the housing crisis) since City Council is stepping up to fill the void left by the Province on housing. Not investing in housing and homelessness now will just lead to much higher costs in the future.
On January 26, Council voted 14-2 on a motion led by Councillor Ted McMeekin to limit the municipally generated portion of the increase to 4%. I supported the motion. To that end, Council has been hard at work looking at further opportunities to reduce the increase, and on January 30, voted to remove the 1.0% hospital funding which gets us to 6.9%. On that same day, there were several motions passed directing staff to report back on several topics that could responsibly remove millions more from the 2024 tax levy, getting the municipal portion of the increase below 4%. I introduced a motion that passed unanimously to change our Development Charge exemption funding strategy to save several million dollars. Nearly every Councillor was involved in moving or seconding a motion to reduce the increase in creative and responsible ways. Most of these will generate staff reports that will be presented during our final budget meeting on February 15th, which is also when we will land on the final increase. Look for a budget newsletter in the back half of February.
Joint Town Hall
Save the date! Ward 12 residents are welcome to this joint Town Hall with me and Hamilton West - Ancaster- Dundas MPP Sandy Shaw. If you have questions for MPP Shaw or me, please send them ahead of time and RSVP at [email protected] or 905-546-2704
Community meeting cancelled
Please note that this meeting previously scheduled for February 1, 2024 been canceled as the developer has decided not to proceed with the project at this time.
Much has recently been said in the media about Hamilton’s investment in bike lanes and the impact on the 2024 budget. In short, no, the City is not adding $60 million to this year’s tax levy for bike lanes. The levy impact for 2024 is $2.3 million, which is continued funding for Hamilton's Cycling Masterplan, approved by Council in 2009. The Cycling Masterplan is a 25-year strategy to provide a connected, sustainable, and balanced multi-modal (not just cars) approach to transportation systems planning in the city.
The Province estimates that Hamilton will have a population of 780,000 by 2041. The magnitude and pace of this growth necessitates a plan for building healthy and safe communities, a sustainable and balanced transportation system, and maintaining and improving overall quality of life. Hamilton cannot facilitate the movement of the resulting car volume if the practice of almost exclusively single-occupancy vehicle transportation continues. Further, the provision of a safe active transportation network in Hamilton is in line with the direction provided by the Province of Ontario.
During last year’s budget deliberations, it was revealed that the City had fallen significantly behind in fulfilling its 25-year cycling master plan, which was to have been completed by 2034. At the rate of previous investment, the completion date would not have been until 2047.
The $60 million figure in the news represents an aspirational goal including, past, current, and future investments from the City and upper levels of government encompassing the years 2024 to 2028.
The total investment for 2024 is $6.6 million. In addition to the $2.3 million levy contribution mentioned, funding comes from City reserves and Federal and Provincial grants like the Active Transportation Fund. It is also important to note that many of the projects will be undertaken in conjunction with already scheduled road construction.
For comparison to other cities’ cycling masterplans, Edmonton committed $100 million over four years, $25 million per year for one million people, which equals $25 per person.
Waterloo Region has committed to $12.8 million per year for 10 years. For 535,000 people, that equals $23.92 per person.
Hamilton, which is looking at $60 million over five years, which is $12 million per year for 600,000 people, or $20 per person.
Investments in cycling infrastructure are very cost-competitive when you consider the costs of two-lane road resurfacing. Cycling-specific projects cost a fraction of what general road projects cost — you could build 13 kilometers of multi-use trail for the same cost of widening one kilometer of roadway. The City’s investment in cycling infrastructure represents 2% of the total amount the municipality spends on roads and bridges.
Bike lanes and cycle tracks are not just used by people on bikes, they are also used by parents with strollers and people using mobility devices. They are generally smoother and easier to navigate and clear of obstructions like snow and ice.
Finally, Hamilton declared a climate emergency in 2019 and after private sector industrial emissions, we know that transportation is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases. The city cannot afford to add more car lanes – financially or environmentally - as our population increases over time. Without a shift to other modes of transportation in Hamilton, gridlock will be our future.
Order of Hamilton
Mayor Horwath, Minister Filomena Tassi, MP Dan Muys, and Councillors Cassar & Spadafora with 7 Order of Hamilton Winners
This month’s New Year's Levee in Ancaster - hosted by Mayor Horwath - celebrated the final seven of 2023's Order of Hamilton winners. It was a packed house at the Municipal Service Centre to honour some amazing Hamiltonians. You can read a summary of all 20 winners, including some much-appreciated Ward 12 residents, at this link.
The City of Hamilton is launching a new initiative aimed at improving emergency response to vacant farmland that doesn’t have a municipal address. Farm owners are strongly encouraged to enroll. The Farm 911 project assigns a unique number to vacant parcels of farmland that don’t have a municipal address, helping emergency responders identify these properties more quickly, and improving response times during critical situations.
The project, also known as "The Emily Project", is inspired by a tragic accident on a family farm in Ontario. Emily's unfortunate passing was a result of her injuries on a farm property that didn’t have a municipal address, making it challenging for emergency responders to locate her quickly.
Enroll and learn more at this link
Help St. John's Anglican Church at 272 Wilson St. E tackle hunger and restock the shelves at St. Matthew’s House for their Seniors Program. Please donate cans of soup each Sunday from now until February 11th. St. Matthew's ministers to seniors over 55 years of age, some of whom are unable to get out to food banks and instead receive a food box delivery once per month. St. Matthew's makes a total of 20 or 30 of these deliveries every day. Each box delivered contains canned goods, produce, dairy, eggs, and milk, and includes 2 or 3 cans of soup.
Last year St. John's was able to support this program with over 800 cans of soup generously donated by you! Tables are provided in the foyer for your soup cans! If you would prefer others to shop for you, please contact Bob Patterson, email@example.com / 905-648-6976 or Ann Cunningham, firstname.lastname@example.org / 905-648-1433 and they can purchase by the case. Please help us support this worthwhile cause again this year and be sure to come to our “SOUPER SUNDAY LUNCH” on Feb 11 after the 10 am worship, hosted by our SJAG/Outreach Group (freewill offering appreciated)
Ancaster Food Drive
The 32nd Annual Ancaster Community Food Drive will take place on Saturday, March 2nd! If you haven’t been involved in the past, this is your chance to take part in this important community event! High schoolers can get volunteer hours, too! Food and monetary donations are collected on behalf of 8 agencies in Hamilton, including the food bank at the Ancaster Community Services Centre on Wilson Street. Volunteers are always needed for door-to-door donation pickup and sorting at the Fairgrounds! I’ve already signed up to help, and I hope you can, too. For more information and ways to get involved, please visit their website or www.ancasterfooddrive.ca.
You can also email [email protected] or send a message on any of their social media channels! Help raise funds and food for our local community!
Have you spotted some new art in Ward 12? Last year the City of Hamilton invited local artists to submit proposals for traffic signal cabinet wraps. Through this call for artists, 47 new artworks by 40 artists were selected by a volunteer citizen jury. The artworks have been created by artists of different experience levels and range in style and medium from digital art to original paintings and three-dimensional works. The art is printed on graffiti-resistant vinyl wraps and has an estimated lifespan of ten years.
Adding artwork to traffic signal cabinets is part of the City’s Cabinet Replacement Program managed by the Transportation Operations and Maintenance Division in the Public Works Department. The goal of the project is to improve the streetscape through vibrant and positive artwork that celebrates Hamilton and will help deter graffiti. All new and replacement traffic signal cabinets will be wrapped as part of the Cabinet Replacement Program.
Name the Plow
It’s that time again! Help us name ten more Hamilton snow plows! The City’s Transportation Division is looking to name the snow-clearing vehicles this winter season and needs your help to come up with the most creative names possible. Have a look at past winners and submit a name of your own at this link.
Birds of Ancaster
Thanks to Ancaster resident, photographer, and author Bob Bell for this lovely photo. You can find him online at Birdsong Hamilton. “American Goldfinch are year-round residents, though in the winter the males aren’t bright canary yellow like they are in summer breeding plumage. I thought this pair looked really cute with snow on the tips of their beaks.”
Do you or your community group have an event you would like to share in the next Ward 12 Newsletter? Email us at [email protected] with the details.
Leaks can be costly! You may not realize you have a leak until you receive your water bill. Many leaks may go unnoticed, so follow this link for tips on how to spot and stop them in your home.
Thank you for reading this month’s newsletter and please share it with Ward 12 neighbours and friends. If you have questions feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can learn more and subscribe to the Ward 12 newsletter at craigcassar.ca