Craig's Current - September 2023
September has been a busy month and there is much to share with you. We start this newsletter with big news about the Greenbelt and a second article explaining how the Urban Boundary Lands are a completely separate issue from the Greenbelt, so there is still more work to do! In other articles, I give you an update on where we are with the 2024 budget, I share an excellent piece on Housing and Homelessness from my colleague Maureen Wilson, and I invite you to a Truth and Reconciliation event on October 3rd and the Environmentalist of the Year Awards on October 27th. Plus much more! Thanks for being a subscriber and I hope you enjoy reading this issue of Craig’s Current. Please share with Ward 12 neighbours and encourage them to subscribe.
Several hundred people packed Marritt Hall on September 14 to participate in local democracy in action during the Special Planning Committee - Greenbelt meeting. THANK YOU to those who came to the Ancaster Fairgrounds to rally, listen, and delegate before the Planning Committee. There were delegations from all ages, all perspectives, and all corners of the community including representatives from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Some landowners supported the Greenbelt removals but the majority were against it. It would appear, however, that people power won the day and Premier Ford has now reversed his decision and will be tabling legislation to have the former Greenbelt lands reinstated. Congratulations to all who kept up the pressure with calls and emails to local MPPs. This is the people’s victory.
GREENBELT vs. URBAN BOUNDARY Expansion Lands
I have observed some confusion about the returned Greenbelt land and the forced Urban Boundary Expansion lands. They are two separate land grabs that both happened on Friday, November 4, 2022. On that date, the Provincial Government announced the removal of 1,900 acres of Greenbelt removals (shown in red above) and also forced the expansion of Hamilton’s Urban Boundary onto 5,000 neighbouring acres of farmland (shown in white above) by altering Hamilton's Official Plan.
A city’s Official Plan outlines how growth planning for the city will be carried out. You will recall that in November of 2021, after the grassroots Stop Sprawl campaign, Hamilton City Council voted for ‘no urban expansion’ and submitted an Official Plan to the Province that reflected that choice. Instead of costly sprawl development, Hamilton decided to build homes with a mix of sizes, types, and price points within the already built-up area of the city, close to existing transit, jobs, and amenities.
Despite Council’s decision, the Province nevertheless went ahead and forced an urban expansion. Recent reports now suggest that local developers were consulted by the Housing Minister’s office about changes the Minister was considering making to our boundary but City Planning staff and Council were not.
On Thursday, Sept 21 we got our Greenbelt back when Premier Ford reversed his decision. Now we need to turn our attention to efforts to recover over 5,000 acres of forced Urban Boundary Expansion land.
PREPARING FOR THE 2024 BUDGET
Council deliberations on the 2024 budget are still a few months away, but there has already been much said about it in the news and on social media. I’d like to provide a brief overview to ensure you have a complete and accurate picture of the status and the process that Council will undertake to determine the ultimate increase to residential property taxes.
First of all, it is true that staff presented a report stating a possible 14.2% ($166M) average residential property tax increase. That will not be the increase you see on your 2024 tax bill.
You are likely very curious about how such a large number could even be the starting point. Prior to starting the budget process, finance staff summarize increases to all provincially legislated requirements, increased costs due to inflation (e.g. cost of capital projects and required increases in salaries and wages due to collective bargaining agreements, cost of living increases, etc.), and any items that have been referred to the budget to be considered by Council. The output is the content of the staff report presented to the General Issues Committee on September 20th . You might have also read that the large increase is driven by ‘Council Priorities’, meaning all the new projects we want to spend money on. That is very much untrue. I will break down the 14.2% so you can see what is driving that number.
PROVINCIAL REQUIREMENTS AND DOWNLOADING: $68.5M - which translates to a 6.5% increase (41% of the total increase) – is due to provincial requirements and is largely out of the City’s control. This bucket includes items such as development charge exemptions due to Bill 23 ($31M), Asset Management legislation requirements ($11.5M), and an initial municipal contribution to local hospital redevelopment ($11M).
HOUSING CRISIS: Another $33M – which translates to a 3.1% increase (20% of the total) is proposed for the Housing and Homelessness crisis. The Province’s funding is woefully inadequate and City staff have proposed how we could step in to fill the gap. As bad as this crisis is, we are at a point where it could get much worse – and much more expensive to solve - without additional funding. Council will need to decide if and how much we will compensate for the missing provincial funding.
SALARY AND WAGE OBLIGATIONS: $42M – which translates to a 4.0% increase (25% of the total) – is related to salary and wage obligations (i.e., cost of living and merit increases, and collective bargaining obligations)
The annualization of enhancements from 2023 and new ‘Council referred’ items for 2024 total just $3.3 or 0.2% of the increase.
A high-level summary of what is driving a preliminary 14.2% property tax increase
So, what can Council do to reduce the increase that gets passed along to residential property taxpayers?
On August 31, the Mayor provided direction to staff on how to prepare for the budget process. There are three key directions that acknowledge the exceptional situation we are in and the need to limit the impact to residential property taxpayers as much as possible. I have paraphrased them here:
1) Prioritize the utilization of debt and emergency reserves while responsibly maintaining the city’s credit rating. Translation: find ways other than property taxes to cover costs.
2) Department budgets need to be thoroughly reviewed for redundancies and efficiencies before being presented to Council. Translation: go over the budget in detail to make sure the requested increase is as small as possible.
3) Staff are to review existing service levels to ensure there is ongoing value provided to the public. Translation: look for opportunities where service levels could be reduced or pay-per-use fees could be implemented to reduce the tax levy increase.
Beyond those levers, advocacy work continues with upper levels of government to provide funding, particularly around housing and homelessness which should not be paid for by property taxes.
I will keep you updated as we work through the process. In the meantime, here is the draft budget schedule:
Draft schedule for the 2024 budget
TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION FILM EVENT
Please join me and Sinfonia Ancaster for this very special event in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation. The screening of this virtual tour of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School and panel discussion will take place at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre.
Tuesday, October 3 at 7:00 pm
TICKETS: $10 available HERE
After the 1 hour film, Executive Director Heather George will facilitate a welcoming Q & A discussion in Peller Hall, joined by Sinfonia organizers, special guests, and me. The emphasis of discussion will be on positive, actionable things citizens can do in their everyday lives to move towards Reconciliation. Community members can feel free to ask any questions during the event or email them ahead of time to [email protected]
September 18 was a dark day for our beloved community newspaper. Metroland Media, the Toronto Star's sister company announced it had sought bankruptcy protection and will lay off 600 people. Among 68 journalists laid off is Kevin Werner who has faithfully kept us informed for 24 years through his diligent reporting across Hamilton. We wish to express our deep gratitude to Kevin for his many years of excellent service to this community.
THE HOUSING CRISIS
Thanks to my Council Colleague Maureen Wilson from Ward 1 for this in-depth dive into the housing crisis in Hamilton. She reviews impacts from a substantial investor market, restrictive zoning, and the loss of low-income units. Below are three excerpts from the article, but click here to read it in its entirety.
“The downloading of public housing onto Ontario municipalities (in the 1990s) was particularly consequential for older municipalities like Hamilton, which had, and still has, a significant concentration of urban poverty and a greater proportion of Provincial public housing compared to, for example, Halton Region (Burlington, Milton, Halton Hills, Oakville). Unlike Halton, Durham, and York Regions, the downloading of public housing had a crippling financial impact on Hamilton. That impact endures.”
“This year, the City of Hamilton has far surpassed the housing target of 4,700 units set for it by the Province of Ontario. From January to September of this year, 12,300 units have received development approval - or 160% above target. Building permits for approximately 2,900 units have been issued to date. Herein lies the problem – the city can put in place planning permissions for new residential units, but it is dependent on the development industry to act on these permissions and actually build.”
“The City of Hamilton is trying to marshal local taxpayer resources to ensure people are not dying outdoors. In 2023, the City of Hamilton will spend 33% more on homelessness and housing services than the provincial and federal governments combined. The City is also working to put in place bylaws to halt renovictions and ensure basic health and safety rental standards are met.”
Environmentalist of the Year Awards
Since 1979, the Environmentalist of the Year awards program has recognized individuals and groups who have made a significant contribution to the protection and/or enhancement of the environment in the City of Hamilton. This year’s event will include legacy awards, and will introduce three new youth awards!
The EOY committee is pleased to announce that the 2023 Environmentalists of the Year Awards ceremony will be held on October 27, 2023, at the LR Wilson Hall on the McMaster University campus.
Nominate a person or group, learn more, and get your tickets at this link
THE MILKMAN IS BACK!
A bit of history from their website: In 1947, Joe Loewith purchased 100 acres in Copetown, Ontario. The location known as ‘Summit’ was the highest point along the railway line between the cities of Brantford and Hamilton. Joe milked 15 Holstein cows and ran the farm with the help of his wife Minna and one farm hand. In the 1970s, Joe’s sons — Harry, Carl, and David — each returned to the farm to work, after completing their university degrees. Carl’s son, Ben, now oversees the farm operation, his wife Jen has joined the business as General Manager of Summit Station Dairy, and their son Will is the fourth generation of the family to be working at the farm.
STREETLIGHTS FOR MOHAWK MEADOWS?
Surveys will be delivered to the mailboxes of residents in Mohawk Meadows on Seneca Drive, Iroquois Avenue, Cayuga Avenue, and Hiawatha Boulevard asking about your preference for streetlight installation. We have heard differing preferences from residents, so have asked staff to survey neighbourhoods prior to any future installations. Residents will receive physical surveys and are invited to reply via email or postal mail. For your convenience you may also hand deliver your survey to the Ancaster Ward 12 office at 300 Wilson Street East (below the Library). Please take a moment and provide your feedback on adding street lighting infrastructure in your area. Replies are requested no later than Monday OCTOBER 16, 2023. The team would also appreciate any comments you would like to provide as they relate to lighting in the area. The tentative schedule for other neighbourhoods was featured in the August newsletter.
Do you know someone living with dementia? Please share information about this FREE program for persons living with dementia and their care partners to explore their creativity with others!
Where: Ancaster Senior Achievement Center, 622 Alberton Road South
When: Mondays till October 30 (excluding October 9)
Time: 10:00 am to noon
To register call: 1-800-565-4614 ext 215
Program delivery is in partnership with the Art Gallery of Hamilton.