Port Hope Ontario area rating survey results

Area Rating Report doesn’t reflect residents’ Area Rating Survey feedback

This message is brought to you by Port Hopers for Fair Taxes.

Municipality Staff issued Stage 1 report on Friday, February 14, 2014.

David Baxter’s report on the findings from the recent Area Rating feedback survey was released this past Friday. It is available on the Municipality website, www.porthope.ca, in the Area Rating section.

In his report to Council’s General Government and Finance Committee, David Baxter suggests that “All services are considered common, unless the Municipality decides to pursue area rating”. He goes on to suggest that they treat all expenses as Common. In fact, in his opening comments, he dismisses nearly all the feedback received from the 818 respondents, by regurgitating the same language and rationale that Staff was using prior to the flawed survey that was designed and implemented by them. If residents sense that this was an exercise in futility, or one of window‐dressing, we don’t blame them.

The survey design was flawed, the mail‐out process was flawed, the reporting is flawed and incomplete, and the next step could be equally dismissive and deceptive.

Note that Staff are recommending that the General Government and Finance Committee should select and approve the services/departments that would appear for further discussion in Stage 2, at the facilitated sessions on March 5th and 6th. In other words, the public consultation has been replaced with Staff recommendations.

Stage 1 process: the first stage was clearly designed to confuse and diffuse the community’s outrage at the heavy‐handed approach taken in the form of Options 1‐6 with the 46.9% increase to Ward 2 announced by Council on October 21st, and the later Option 10. Remember that the City of Hamilton advised the Mayor and delegation from Port Hope in October to create a made‐in‐Port Hope solution to take to the Ministry, like Hamilton did.

The Survey: Not only has Staff ignored the principles of area rating, they have selectively dismissed the four attributes agreed to by the Focus Group:

a.   Is the service being provided throughout the Municipality of Port Hope?
b.   Is the service undertaken generally through the Municipality of Port Hope?
c.   Is the service being provided or undertaken at the same level throughout the Municipality of Port Hope?
d.   Is the service being provided in the same manner through the Municipality of Port Hope?

The feedback survey asked for the ward of the respondent, but interestingly there is no indication in the report about how each of the wards responded. Council should be asking what Ward 1 residents thought about the fairness of the approach. Finally, we are fairly certain that many people discarded the survey as un‐addressed junk‐mail, or when they realized how confusing it was.

Reporting: Those who have been following this issue for the last six months will recall Councilor Burns demanding that the language “about 444 other municipalities” be removed from the feedback survey because it was misleading and of no significance in Port Hope’s case. Observers will also recall that “access to services” – a justification Staff has been raising since the formation of the Area Rating Citizens Working Group nearly two years ago – was discredited by the findings during the visit to Hamilton.

The report does not address the 29 questions that you responded to in the survey. Mr Baxter lumps separate categories from the survey into one for the report. For example, Economic Development & Tourism and Business Park are rolled together in the report, showing 61% of respondents suggest this should be considered for area rating. He also combines Parks Recreation and Culture Administration, Parks, Marina, Facilities and Programs – four categories on the survey are rolled into one, totalling $1.6 million, and also showing a strong majority in favour of area rating – and tries to explain away this approach by saying all of these services are “accessible and/or available to all”. This retreat to ‘access’ is in direct contradiction of the four criteria sighted above, and which ruled out access as the criteria. Additionally, these four criteria resulted from a principled approach to Area Rating taken by, and agreed upon by, the Focus Group in their December meetings, which included Mr Baxter.

In addition to policing, only two relatively minor categories are moved forward for area rating consideration in Mr Baxter’s recommendations: Transit and Christmas Tree & Yard Waste pickup.

Mr Baxter chose only two quotes from the 818 responses submitted, and it is interesting that both support a common approach to taxation, despite the fact that most responses had asked for area rated services.

March 5th & 6th: Staff has provided their opinion on which services/departments Council should consider to go forward to the facilitated conversations. We expect that some councillors voted in favour of the feedback survey in Stage 1 with the understanding that all services/departments would be discussed in public. That way, the community could engage with the concepts and then contribute into the development of a made‐in‐Port Hope tax distribution approach that would be fair, equitable, implementable and justifiable.

It was never Port Hopers for Fair Taxes understanding that Staff were going to make recommendations to Council about which services/departments would move forward to the Stage 2 consultation. We had recommended to Council that the consultation process begin with a facilitated conversation with the public wherein the public could decide which services were common, and then this would inform the development of a tax‐distribution formula. Clearly our recommended approach does not align with Staff’s desire to switch nearly $1 million of tax‐burden to 1,400 households in Ward 2; now we see virtually the same logic that has been trotted out since the Area Rating Citizens Working Group Committee was formed almost two years ago.

One of the most curious recommendations in Mr Baxter’s report is the following: “Consideration could be given to expanding the [bulky waste pickup] service throughout the Municipality or cancelling it altogether, however it is convenient for those property owners who would otherwise have difficulty transporting waste that is not able to be picked up through curbside collection”. Could there be any more telling comment that demonstrates Staff’s lack of understanding of the issues, the people, or the way forward? Ward 2 residents are NOT asking for expanded waste pickup services. Ratepayers just want to keep taxes at a reasonable level, for the services that each ward requires – this is not about adding services that have not been requested.

In closing: We encourage you to attend the Council Chambers this coming Tuesday (February 18th) at 7:00 to hear Council’s reaction to Mr Baxter’s report and how they will deal with Staff’s recommendations going into Stage 2 of their process. By the way, on the same evening, there will be a delegation from Rural Redesign, the group responsible for gathering over 2,600 signatures on a petition to raise a referendum question about reviewing amalgamation. Also the agenda will include a discussion about the closing of Welcome’s fire‐hall, a potentiality of concern for Ward 2 residents, and there will be a public resident-held meeting on the Fire Station Relocation Study at the Lions Centre on Thursday from 6-8pm.

Port Hopers for Fair Taxes