On December 20th, the fifth and final Focus Group meeting was held, in a process leading toward public consultations that will be starting early in 2014. Staff started with the findings of the Focus Group, and then developed a recommendation for Council to consider.
This coming Tuesday, January 14th, Port Hope Council will vote on a motion to proceed with staff’s Area Rating recommendation tabled at the Committee of the Whole on January 7th. We listened to the two-phased approach and subsequently have written to the Mayor and Council recommending they reject the proposal and send it back to staff.
In its current form, staff’s proposal sees a first phase where a ‘survey’ will be mailed out to all residents in the Municipality, in order to gain a sense of how residents currently see budget items like the Library, Jack Burger, roads, Economic Development and Tourism – and if they should be area rated or not. There is a chart with some information about area rating, the 2013 costs for each department, and some information from staff about what each department involves. There is also a clause in almost every case saying that all residents have equal access. In other words, Ward 2 residents have equal access to Jack Burger, the streets in town, and the Library.
We are dumbfounded that this approach is being taken for three reasons:
1) We understood that the access rhetoric was dismissed in December after the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Budget Chair, Port Hopers for Fair Taxes’ Ian Angus and a staff person accompanied Councillor Burns to see how the City of Hamilton area rates their costs.
2) You’ll remember that Hamilton told Port Hope at the time that anything can be area ratable as long as it’s defendable (except healthcare) and Port Hope should come up with a made-in-Port Hope solution before sending it to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs for review and approval.
3) We expect that this ‘survey’ will result in the majority of Ward 1 people saying all costs should be the same for both Ward 1 and Ward 2 and the majority of Ward 2 people saying all costs should not be the same, but some should be “area rated” to reflect reduced access by Ward 2 residents, and this will cause severe damage to relations between the two Wards, already divided over the approach begun in October, especially the six options proposed by Council and Staff at the Town Park Rec Centre on October 21st.
The second phase of staff’s current proposal calls for a community consultation about the various findings in the survey above, and how they have informed the models brought forward for discussion.
In effect, the January 7th proposal puts the cart before the horse, with mail-out/mail-in data gathering (phase one) coming before the facilitated public information meetings and discussions that would review staff’s compilation (phase two).
We have sent a strongly worded memo to the Mayor and Council arguing that this public consultation must happen before the models are created, before people start making decisions about how area rating works, and which items should be area rated and which should not.
In an effort to begin healing the chasm between the two Wards, caused by last October’s proposal for a 46.9% increase in Ward 2’s municipal tax bills (an average increase of $600 per household), we also suggested, during the meetings of the four members of the second Focus Group (including our Ian Angus) that the facilitator should be seen as impartial and be selected by Council. To our surprise, staff has selected and proposed a facilitator.
We urge you to attend Tuesday’s Council meeting on January 14th to support our recommendation that the January 7th proposal be voted down and returned to Staff for an overhaul. Please tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours about this important meeting and the potential fallout in community relations should Council allow this proposal to be adopted.