Comment 60467

By taxpayerwithoutavote (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 16:07:17

From my perspective, the urban/suburban wars will remain as long as the perception of inequities in services and investment remain. I run a business in Waterdown, so of course hear and witness the suburban point of view much more than the inner city perspective. That being said, born and raised in the Hammer and having a number of relatives still resident, I often pass through downtown Hamilton and witness the changes taking place.

A couple of examples might illustrate how someone who never visits downtown Hamilton but lives in the suburbs would have a continual sense of resentment.

Parking meters were installed last year in downtown Waterdown, with the explanation being that such placement must be done across all commercial zones of the city for fairness. The meters were opposed pretty much universally by residents and business alike, but were installed anyway. I don't know for sure, but I don't actually think they have had much impact on business in Waterdown from a revenue perspective. I am positive that they have changed the image of the town, leaving most of the street parking empty and giving a somewhat ghostly impression. What happened was that people began using the abundant parking lots owned by the downtown businesses instead of parking on the more convenient street locations. I very much doubt that the Parking Authority will realize their expected $48,000 revenue stream from these unwanted and rarely used meters. I also doubt that we'll ever see a report that states the actual revenues.

Jump ahead eight months, and the news is full of the grand opening of the newly renovated Library and Farmer's Market at a cost of approx. $16 Million. One of the first things one hears after the initial hooplah subsides is that a Councillor feels it's only fair that the stall holders receive free rent for their first month due to the market only being open four of 16 available days in January." It's only about $45,000" was the quote I believe. There's the rub. An entire community with it's own downtown dating back to 1878 has an unwanted flock of meters installed to generate an unlikely $48,000.00, while downtown Hamilton promotes a similar amount to be overlooked as an insignificant subsidy to a limited number of businesses operating in an already subsidized and newly renovated multi-million dollar facility that had just benefited from vast promotion, advertising and publicity. By the way, I think the stall holders should be discounted 12 days of rent, but not 16. I do realize the meter revenue should be an annual thing and wouldn't be against them if they served a purpose (one has to have a need before one spends thousands on a system that requires manpower for installation, maintenance and paltry revenue removal), but that's not the perception people have when they hear similar numbers being tossed around. Resentment grows.

The majority of the $16 million spent on the renovations went to the Library. Waterdown is getting a new library too. The renovated Main branch is touted as a wonderful attraction to the downtown core, an enhancement to pedestrian accessabilty and a magnet to improve the downtown as a people friendly, public transit accessible destination. Waterdown's branch in the downtown core is being closed and replaced by a new branch a km or two from that 1878 downtown core, dependent on auto access (5 lane highway) and completely in opposition to the intensification, pedestrian accessible and community building policies touted by the planning department. The reason why is because they're going to build on the 1970's Flamborough Town hall (not Waterdown) site which is free and thereby minimizes the cost. Resentment grows when $16 million can be spent on a renovation in concert with planning policy, and a new build throws those much publicized criteria out the window because free land is available to minimize cost. That's opportunism, not planning! As an aside, I tried to find out from a City manager why the Library was allowed to ignore the promoted planning goals and although I asked specific questions, the answers received were a combination of patronizing babble and political spin. Not what I was looking for of course.

If you'll recall, Waterdown had to accept the meters because of City wide fairness. One can't blame the residents if they perceive a lack of fairness when the differing approaches to a Library are compared.

I must admit that the Library issue isn't a big deal in the Waterdown community as the current branch is so inadequate that the replacement will be welcomed, but what I describe is in fact a true example of the differences in how communities within Hamilton are treated. I personally happen to resent this particular diversion of policy because my business is located in Waterdown's downtown core, where evidence of any municipal investment is close to invisible and we too could benefit from the odd taxpayer funded attraction. Heck, the LCBO even left for the big box development west of the Village - but close to the new library location. For comic relief, I must mention that while attending a public information meeting about the new Waterdown Branch and after running through the long list of how their plan contrasted with stated planning policies, I asked how the seniors and low income families that live within walking distance of the current branch will ever be able to access the new branch. A staffer brightly replied that they will offer bookmobile service!

A bigger giggle in Waterdown is the HSR service. Operating only at rush hour, it unfortunately serves only two purposes. A few commuters use it to access the Aldershot GO station, which by the way, isn't in Hamilton. One can't get there from here without considerable willpower. I attended a meeting a couple of years ago and Mayor Fred happened to mention that he had received a call that day from one of the Big Box stores that was about to open west of Waterdown. The store had relocated from Burlington and seems to have overlooked the fact that the Village lacked public transit, effectively blocking their ability to retain their minimum wage employees. In a sudden stroke of public transit importance, HSR service was initiated. Felt good to be an independent business person and watch that nonsense take place. For over a year now, it appears that Hamilton taxpayers would be better off to have bought taxi vouchers for the few residents that use the bus service than to have run the HSR operation out here. Must be lonely being the driver.

The residents of this community watch as hundreds of millions are spent on the AGH renovation, City Hall renovation, streetscaping of York St., Library/Market renovation, Lister Block purchase, McNab Street bus terminal, two way street initiative and on and on, while it took over 11 months for our fair City to replace two street lights, two park benchs, a fire hydrant, a planter and repair 8 ft of curb resulting from a 2009 car accident on Waterdown's main thoroughfare. I happen to support most of those downtown Hamilton initiatives, but I would hope that a reasonable person would see how a perception of inequity could develop in the many people who are not native Hamiltonians and are only looking at their tax bill and the news of the day.

Combining constant claims that the suburbs don't pay their way (inner city advocates and politicians) and "it's now time to start investing in downtown Hamilton" (inner city advocates, inner city poiticians, Mayor, Spec, downtown BIA, Chamber of Commerce etc.), it doesn't take a phd to realize that 8 to 15 percent tax increases for those burbs coupled with tax reductions within old Hamilton will create a bit of animosity - again. Lack of investment in the Waterdown area by the City is a myth (new arena west of Hwy. 6, Joe Sam's Park 2 km north of the Village, skateboard park/graffiti canvas and sewer upgrades after 10 year development freeze in core) and those that claim the area "gets nothing from the City" should open their eyes. Lack of investment in Hamilton's downtown core by the City is also a myth.

What I've described has almost nothing to do with most of the services that fall under the area rating system being debated which is exactly the point I began with. It will be very difficult to ever convince the cross section of citizens within the amalgamated City that they are getting a fair deal as long as a combination of erratic governance is coupled with erratic delivery of services - effectively perpetuating the resentment. A community that is in great numbers disengaged from their city (traffic flows east from Waterdown each morning, not south to Hamilton) is unlikely to be easily convinced.

It's not really fair to ramble on about issues like this without offering some thoughts on a solution. I strongly favour limiting City councillors to two terms in the hope that some turnover will bring fresh ideas to the table. I'm also in favour of adding a number of city wide councillors to the mix (something like the old Board of Control) in an effort to beat down the ward centric views that seem to rule the thinking of so many elected officials. Finally, Council and the City Manager must find a way to reduce the size of the municipal government including both programs and staff. That's what private business has had to do for the past number of years. As a starting point, might I suggest that the City funded Library could possibly do away with their upper floor Art Gallery at the Main branch for some other pressing duty since the taxpayers are already funding the AGH only a block or two away? If they did so, maybe they could find the money to live up to the planning policies in which they operate.

If I was to guess the area rating outcome, I expect it will be done away with and the new tax structure will be along the lines of the Citizen's Forum recommendations. That's certainly what I felt when I moved my home to another municipality last year in anticipation of taxes that I could no longer afford (not saying they were unfair - just that I couldn't afford them). Hate to say it but it's been so refreshing that the thought of moving my business has now popped into mind from time to time.

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