Port Hope, ON (Feb. 11, 2013) – The Municipality’s deadline for receiving feedback via Staff’s flawed Area Rating feedback survey passed with little fanfare on Friday (February 7th). Members of the group, Port Hopers for Fair Taxes (PHFFT), are not surprised at this development given the levels of anger and confusion generated from the survey’s design, purpose and release.
Port Hopers for Fair Taxes has heard from hundreds of residents, in both wards, via Twitter, phone, email and Facebook, and face to face, and some common themes have emerged:
• Ward 2 residents want few services, while Ward 1 residents expect many
• Service levels are lower in Ward 2 – residents have spoken a lot about roads, potholes and snow-plowing – and should be deemed ‘special’ and therefore qualified for area rating
• Ward 2 residents should pay only for the services they receive
• Council’s and Staff’s treatment of Ward 2 residents, especially through Options 1-6 and the proposed 46.9% tax increase for Ward 2 as presented in October 2013, has created a significant movement to sever Ward 2 from the Municipality of Port Hope.
At Council’s town hall meeting held Wednesday, January 29th at the Rec Centre, several residents registered their concern that any person could provide feedback or their opinion on how tax burden should be shared across the two wards, and questioned how the information would be tabulated and shared with Council. Residents also questioned if their feedback would even get viewed by Councilors given over half the room still had not received their survey in the mail. Council members assured the questioners that all feedback from residents would reach them regardless of when it is received, even beyond the cut-off date. PPFFT wonder if this means that the receipt of data will continue well past the cut-off date, and what this means for the summary that will be created by Staff.
Most residents mention how confusing the feedback survey was and many threw it away like junk-mail. Without a clear sense of “common” and “special” and ultimately of what can be area rated, it is not clear what it would take to force Council to produce a full accounting of the monies spent over the last 10 years. PHFFT have repeatedly requested line-by-line and department-by-department financial statements so the real distribution of costs is transparently provided, and so that informed conclusions can be reached.
One silver lining in the cloud of poor communications may lie with the facilitator hired to lead the four promised sessions with residents. Port Hopers for Fair Taxes hopes the facilitator will acknowledge the flaws mentioned above, and will advise Council and Staff to start at square one again: articulate and discuss the principles of area rating with the public – then – have a discussion about which costs should be area rated, and then create a model that the whole community can engage with and support. PHFFT continues its belief that a transparent and straight-forward approach is the only avenue open to Council to regain the trust of the community, in Council, in staff, and in the process. And the group hopes the facilitator can see the sense in this and communicate it to Council.
PHFFT sincerely hopes Council heard the community speak out against the survey design, and how the feedback will be gathered, shared and used. They also hope Council will register with the staff the community’s lack of confidence in the feedback and process, for it is staff who are responsible for its flawed design and flawed distribution.
Ultimately, PHFFT hopes that a fair, equitable and transparent distribution of tax-burden can be reached. Many residents are wondering why Port Hopers for Fair Taxes doesn’t join forces with the Rural Redesign Group who are seeking the opportunity to leave the Municipality of Port Hope. Although Rural Redesign is a separate group. it’s a group with similar objectives. Port Hopers for Fair Taxes is working for a tax solution for 2014, and Rural Redesign is working on a solution for 2015 and beyond.