AMO Conference

Zeeshan Hamid Blog Post, Information 3 Comments

On Sunday a number of your municipal elected officials, myself included, will leave Milton to attend the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference. One big motivation for attending the conference is using the opportunity to meet with different provincial ministries to fight for issues you care about.

Some Ministers I am meeting are:

Ministry of Housing: to bring up the issue of social infrastructure and assisted housing initiatives.

Ministry of Municipal Affairs: to fight the CN Logistics Hub and bring up the issue of full recovery of growth-related costs

Ministry of Transportation: to fight the CN Logistics Hub and bring up the issue of Metrolinx commitments and the development of a coordinated highway strategy

Ministry of Infrastructure: Investing in community hubs, sustainable infrastructure and a coordinated infrastructure planning

Ministry of Advance Education and Skills Development: Support for the Wilfrid Laurier University Campus in Milton

Ministry of Education: Long-term planning of schools, and E.C. Drury School

Ministry of Health & Long-term Care: Public Health funding and long-term care funding

Ministry of Energy: Future of Local Distribution Companies

What are your issues that you’d like me to bring up? Let me know!

Why 9 council members, instead of 13, is a better option for Milton

Zeeshan Hamid Information 1 Comment

Starting 2018 Milton will have two additional regional councillors. This required re-visiting number of local councillors to balance boundaries. There were two options: 1) add two additional councillors for a total Council of size 13 or 2) two fewer councillors for a total Council size of 9. Staff recommendation was Council size of 9, which is what our Mayor favoured as well. This post explains why I agree with our staff and Mayor. 

Fewer politicians is not always the right approach. One of the things PM Harper got right was increasing the number of MPs in the Parliament to improve representation by population. City of Toronto absolutely must increase number of councillors to make sure people continue to have representation they deserve (fortunately, it’s doing that). United States could substantially improve its political system by doubling or tripling members of Congress (unfortunately they won’t do that).

In a representative democracy, voters must be able to appoint, and access, representatives to fight for their behalf.

In light of this, this week’s Milton council’s decision to set the size of its council to 9 members, rather than 13, seems like a poor decision. However, as is often the case, devil’s in the details.

On Monday the Council also renewed the transit contract, merely 3 days before it expired.  A delay in the vote would cancel all transit services in Milton. Staff had also written two versions of a report, one recommending a library in the new Sherwood Community Centre in ward 8 (Savoline and Main) and one with no library. They did this because the library lease was not signed until the deadline for the report.

Increasing number of councillors would not have changed any of this.

9 councillors are perfectly capable of providing good representation, provided that they have proper training and support.  13 councillors will continue to provide poor representation without training and support.

Milton stands alone when compared to virtually any municipality around us (whether councillors are part-time or full-time) that provides councillors with $0 budget for training and communicating with constituents.  THAT, and not number of councillors, is the real problem.

Not giving councillors any budget for education gives corporate staff incredible power as councillors must take what they are told on face value in absence of the ability to get properly educated. When public and staff are at odds, something that happens from time to time, councillors in Milton only have same staff as source of information that they oversee. That is neither very democratic nor particularly smart.

In past 6 years in the Council not a single councillor has ever complained that they were not able to meet or talk to every constituent who wanted to meet or talk to them.  However, on many occasions councillors mentioned that they had to vote relying on staff recommendation and explanation in a domain that they otherwise did not understand well.

This shortchanges residents.  It is utterly stupid to elect people to represent you but provide them with no discretionary budget for continuing education or communicating with constituents.

I represent the largest ward in Milton by population. Doubling e-mails and phone calls I receive will not have much of an influence in my ability to provide service to my constituents, since the challenge I face isn’t number of phone calls and e-mails.

Proponents of 13 council members are aware of this and argue that we should be able to increase councillors by 4 (9 to 13) and still add more budget for staff and expenses. Unfortunately in real-life money doesn’t grow on trees. The reason why we have not been able to solve this problem in so many  years is because at budget time constituents prefer hard services (library, park, arena, bus, roads) over concepts (democratic representation).

The reason I supported 9 councillors over 13 is because it gives us the opportunity to finally fix this issue. We can add an education and communications budget, similar to every other municipality around us, and still save a ton of money for taxpayers. That will give a much better representation for constituents, rather than simply adding four more seat warmer with no training or support.

For now, residents are better represented by 9 councillors who have the ability to attend seminars and education session independently (AMO provides plenty of opportunities) without having to trust staff on every issue, rather than 13 councillors following the status quo of having staff as the only source of information.

As for more council members, we will have another review in 8 years and will likely add at least 2 (if not more) councillors. But we will do it properly, with proper education and communications budget like every other municipality around us.

To wrap up, the system we adopted is very similar to Oakville.  Each ward will have 1 local and 1 regional councillor. That’s partly why Town staff recommended going with 9 councillors, and the Mayor of Milton voted for 9 councillors.  Majority of Council, myself included, agreed with the Mayor.

Smaller municipalities typically have all part-time councillors. Larger municipalities have full-time councillors. Milton is in-between. As we crossed 100,000 people, it makes sense to switch from our previous model to the model Oakville uses. In this system each ward elects 1 part-time and 1 full-time councillor. It works very well for Oakville and is a good transition from part-time to full-time.  Milton, after this switch, will have 4 full-time councillors, 4 part-time councillors and 1 full-time mayor.  Size of ward in Milton is also similar to the size of ward in Oakville. This is how municipalities switch from part-time to full-time. It’s a decades long process.  Municipalities should not switch overnight from one extreme to another.  Oakville has been in that in-between state, Milton is now entering it as well.

I’ll leave this comparison between Oakville and Milton after this change in 2018, so people can see whether they are getting shortchanged in Milton or not.

Makeup of Oakville and Milton councils, after 2018 elections

Makeup of Oakville and Milton councils, after 2018 elections

Monday’s council meeting

Zeeshan Hamid Information Leave a Comment

Packed council  meeting this Monday! Some of the items in the agenda are:

Senior of the Year award
Library leasing space in the Sherwood Community Centre (Savoline / Main)
Hometown Hockey Tour
New Development Charges By-law
Council Composition
Downtown Milton Market Analysis
Few development applications

See the whole agenda here.

Please let me know if you have any feedback.

Budget Survey

Zeeshan Hamid Blog Post 1 Comment

If you are a resident or business owner in Milton, we invite you to share your thoughts on the 2017 Capital & Operating Budgets as we set priorities for civic infrastructure, programs and services. The survey closes June 30, 2016.

Share your suggestions by completing the survey online:www.milton.ca/budgetsurvey.

Bronte Road Expansion

Zeeshan Hamid Blog Post Leave a Comment

A number of questions came up from the Bronte Street Closure post. It’s easier to answer them in a post of its own.

Yes, the road will be expanded to four lanes and the design includes two roundabouts.  Here’s the rough schedule :-

  • The Region will be installing a watermain on the east side during June
  • Union gas has installed a gas main on the west side
  • Bell Canada will be installing servicing in June
  • Milton Hydro will be extending their primary lines in June
  • We will begin the expansion on Aug 2nd and finish it by Dec 5th.

As an incentive to get the job done within the timeframe expected, we will be including a bonus/penalty clause in the contract. This strategy was very successful when constructing Main Street west of Bronte Street.

Check out the video we did after the completion of that road: https://www.facebook.com/votezee/videos/10153771114614100/

One question that came up was: “why was this not done earlier”.  Answer: people did not live there earlier.

We no longer delay road construction by years, as was done in the past. In fact, roads are now expanded as population grows. The section south of Louis St Laurent until Britannia just started developing. This road will be done in 2016, whereas the area will take a few more years to finish growing.

If money was no issue then sure, we would expand roads before anybody moved in. Sadly, in real world money is an issue. These projects are financed by development charges from new homes that are constructed in the area.

In theory we could build the road by debt financing ahead of time, and then pay back the debt using development charges. This exposes us to risks. If subdivision development slows down (as it did a few years ago), then we’ll get stuck with debt that existing taxpayers will have to carry.

We follow the “new growth should pay for itself” philosophy. That means we cannot (and will not) force existing taxpayers to build infrastructure for future growth.  The important thing to note is that roads are expanded as people start moving into an area.  That is what happened with Louis St Laurent expansion, Tremaine expansion and this current Bronte expansion.

Untitled

Bronte Street Closure

Zeeshan Hamid Information 5 Comments

Please note that Bronte Street South between Louis St Laurent Avenue and Britannia Road will be closed from June 6th –  Dec 1st. 

The Region of Halton will be installing a watermain on Bronte Street South between Louis St Laurent Avenue and Britannia Road commencing June 6, 2016. During the months of June and July, Milton Hydro will be replacing hydro poles along this road segment.  Immediately upon the completion of the watermain, the Town will begin the road reconstruction which is expected to be base course asphalt by December 1, 2016.

Access will be maintained for all local residents on this portion of Bronte Street South and all through traffic will be detoured via Tremaine Road, Louis St Laurent Avenue, Regional Road 25 and Britannia Road.

I know this will be inconvenient for a lot of us on the west-end, but unfortunately the short-term pain is necessary for the long-term gain that comes with the project completion.

Council Composition Review

Zeeshan Hamid Information Leave a Comment

Milton’s Council consists of 11 elected officials: Mayor, 4 Regional Councillors and 8 Local Councillors. We are adding two additional regional seats, which will give us :- Mayor + 4 Regional Councillors (up from 2).

The question is: how do we add the two additional Regional Councillors?

First: read the Phase 1 report to learn about all the options.

Then, come out to the public input session:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Presentation at 7:30 p.m.)
Milton Town Hall – Milton Room
150 Mary Street, Milton, ON

You may also give feedback by calling: 905-878-7252, ext. 2109. or e-mailing the Town Clerk directly.  Please note that commenting here is useful for discussion, but it does not count as the official feedback. That should go to the Town Clerk directly.  

2015 salaries

Another year as the most frugal councillor

Zeeshan Hamid Blog Post, Information 15 Comments

Here is what your municipal politicians earned in 2015. As a policy I do not expense things I can afford to pay for myself, which is mostly why I ended up being the most frugal councillor. I hope to continue being the lowest paid-councillor each year.

2015 salaries(click to open the original size)

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Update: Rural and Urban Taxes

Zeeshan Hamid Blog Post 1 Comment

 

Here’s some background first :- http://votezee.ca/uniform-rural-urban-tax-rate/. Two months ago Milton Council voted to switch to a uniform tax-rate (until now urban residents paid an ‘urban surcharge’). One major feedback we received was that many rural residents felt they did not have the opportunity to raise their concerns. To remedy the situation, we voted to re-open the issue last night. We heard from two dozen delegates, re-debated the issue in front of 150 or so residents and re-voted.

Unfortunately the final decision was still to switch to a single tax rate. I’d still like to thank everyone for reaching out and sharing their thoughts. I hope that rural residents maintain the level of involvement and enthusiasm shown over past two months because I genuinely developed a better appreciation for the rural area because of it.

Every delegate and almost every e-mail sent to me had valid arguments. That said, “this dollar of my taxes goes towards that service I cannot use” is very valid point but impossibly tricky to satisfy as every taxpayer at every level of government pays for services they do not have access to (in return they receive subsidy for some other service). The assertion that there is a single homogeneous “rural area” is entirely inaccurate. Omagh, Moffat and Campbellville have very different level of services for same tax rate. There is absolutely no possible way to avoid that as each area generates a unique demand for services based on its demographic, population density and other factors.

We are all paying for Toronto subways through our provincial taxes. But all Ontario taxpayers also paid part of our Arts Centre, Sports Centre and library. That’s how taxes work. You subsidize services others use and they subsidize services you use. We don’t get to opt out of paying for Toronto subways because we have none, but still take provincial money for our hospital and arts centre.

The question I asked myself repeatedly was whether taxpayers were receiving value for their tax dollar. To answer that question I comparison-shopped all surrounding municipalities with rural population. I found that for exact same level of services every other municipality taxes their rural residents 30-50% more. This includes places like Hamilton and Burlington that have different tiered taxes.

Even though we disagreed on this specific issue, I hope you maintain the involvement as it is clear that the council is not meeting expectations of a number of rural residents. We will need an ongoing dialog with you to ratify that. Reach out and I’ll buy you coffee so we can discuss further.