Read this first: We need good elected officials to take important decisions on our behalf. I don't expect them to wear hair shirts. They should be properly and fairly rewarded for the critically important job they do. But the present system is opaque and makes meaningful comparisons of remuneration way too difficult. Now read on...
Newmarket councillors yesterday voted to stick with the current practice of getting one third of their remuneration tax-free.
If they get rid of it without a compensating salary increase they will, according to Regional Councillor John Taylor, be facing a 10%-15% cut in their take home pay.
But if they increase their pay to compensate for its loss they will be crucified on the altar of public opinion as the additional cost would be picked up by Newmarket taxpayers.
Taylor, at his inventive best, sees tax-free status as some kind of Provincial grant to the Town.
Province to blame
Personally, I blame the Province for this lamentable state of affairs.
In 1996 the Province legislated to abolish the tax-free portion of MPPs' salaries yet, 21 years later, councillors are still saddled with this ridiculous and archaic system.
During the debates on the Municipal Act back in 2001, Michael Prue, then MPP for the Beaches riding in Toronto, observed:
"The entire problem with this bill is that they (municipal politicians) have to register that they want to keep the one third tax-free, of course with the publicity that then ensues. The alternative is that they can raise their pay, the same way this provincial Legislature did, in order to cover for that, and then have the newspapers write that they've all given themselves a huge increase, which isn't true as well. Instead of just legislating it, you've made it almost impossible for municipal politicians across those 460 municipalities."
Despite the opprobrium, a number of municipalities have grasped the nettle. To take a few examples, elected officials' remuneration is 100% taxable in Toronto, Vaughan, Peel, York, Halton, Burlington, Mississauga, Hamilton and even in Markham - home to the highest paid Mayor in Ontario, Frank Scarpitti.
Or is he the highest paid?
Tax-free status distorts comparisons
The one third tax-free status distorts comparisons between municipalities. It is not easy or straightforward to compare the remuneration of the Frank Scarpittis of this world with the Tony Van Trappists.
Until a few years ago when I brought the matter to the attention of the Town's Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, Van Trappist did not declare his remuneration from Newmarket Hydro as he was obliged to do under the Municipal Act.
The Sunshine List simply adds to the general confusion. It mixes together those who have tax-free status and the overwhelming majority who don't. (And the salary disclosure level has never been uprated for inflation, ensnaring more people every year.)
The Town uses comparator municipalities to help set appropriate levels of remuneration. But I don't know how many of these have abandoned tax-free status, if any, and how this feeds through into the calculations..
In any event it seems to me the remuneration of elected officials is a hall of mirrors where, ideally, everything should be in sharp focus.
The Province should do the right thing and legislate to get rid of tax-free status for municipal politicians.
How the debate went at Mulock Drive on 20 March 2017
John Taylor: "I'll move option 1." (To retain tax-free status)
Dave Kerwin: "I'll second that Mr Mayor."
Mayor: "Any discussions? You wish to speak to it Regional Councillor?"
John Taylor: "Yes. I'll make some brief comments. As many may know but not necessarily all know, this is a requirement that Council reaffirms or rescinds the one third tax free portion of Council pay and they have to do this once per term of office and so we have not dealt with it yet this term so we are doing so now.
It is my feeling that there are fewer and fewer municipalities to be frank that have the one third tax free. I'll be honest, I don't fully understand it. I think it is because people don't like the optic that you are getting something for free.
When you move past that issue it becomes very clear that by embracing the one third tax free we are saving the taxpayers of Newmarket dollars that would otherwise be borne by the Provincial taxpayers which is a much larger pool of taxpayers. So obviously when you spread the money across so many people so, in essence, one third of the pay of each member of Council - the municipal, the Town of Newmarket portion only - is tax free so that is a cost to the Province.
So essentially I can't help but think that we are out looking for and trying to achieve grants from the Province to support us in some of our infrastructure projects or other projects it would be ironic if, on the other hand, we turned down this opportunity that is essentially a form of a grant from the Province to impact us and our budgetting process in a positive manner.
I would say this that if... I also think that... A couple of other things I would raise is that... It is hard to know exactly but if Council's decision as per I believe most municipalities that have dealt with this issue and have removed the one third tax free they typically increase the council members' pay to leave the members (pay) whole. That would probably be approaching about $100,000 impact on our budget in the upcoming year yet as we know in the past year we struggled over a $25,000 figure over whether we could sustain the planting programme at some of our facilities at some of the entrances to our communities.
So $100,000 on a large budget doesn't sound like much but when you are done with your base budget and growth and managing those impacts you are left with actually very little to play with when it comes to enhancements. So this is not a small number in terms of how it impacts the Town budget. Number one.
And number two, I think if you were to not increase councils' pay while eliminating the one third tax free, I think that should be considered by a new term of council. I think essentially... I know there is not a lot of sympathy out there for elected officials and pay but the bottom line is you are talking about something in the range of a 10% - 15% cut in pay. And I am sure there are not a lot of people in our society working anywhere would want to incur that in their own world when they've got to manage family costs and children and sports and mortgages and we all have our own considerations.
I think it would be right for a new term of Council to consider that as we are so close to the end of this term of council so I would add a recommendation to the option 1 that, again this has to be dealt with every term, this issue of one third tax free be brought forward in the first twelve months of the next term of council for consideration by that new council so that it can be dealt with early and that it would impact the majority of the term of council one way or another. And I think it gives people time to think about it.
It gives everybody a heads up that that could be an impact in terms of their own budgetting if we were to go that way and it allows some discussions during the election cycle and see what kind of feedback we get. But I have to be honest I get very little feedback about this. I don't think this is a priority or even makes a priority list by any members of our community and it is largely just a routine, administrative function and, again, for now, it is essentially a Provincial grant to the municipality and I think we are wise to take that grant."
Mayor: "Councillor Kerwin is the seconder. Do you see that as a friendly amendment?
Dave Kerwin: "Yes"
Mayor: "Do you want to speak to that?"
Dave Kerwin: Our Regional Councillor and Deputy Mayor has covered it adequately, Mr Mayor. No further comment.
Mayor: "OK. Thank you. Councillor Twinney."
Jane Twinney: "Would it be possible... I mean I will support the fact that it is coming back at the beginning of the first term of the next council. Everyone should be aware that it needs to come up and (be) discussed. I'd like to get a little bit more information then perhaps we could get staff to get some information - just high level - of the number of municipalities that are now still at that one third tax-free and the ones that have converted over to having the non one third tax-free portion say in the last one or two terms.
"How many of them have gone and had to increase their salaries so that the end result net is the same for the individual councillors? Or if they have gone and just changed it over to the regular amount without having a net amount decrease in their net salary. Just a little bit of comparison about what is going on out there in the other municipalities and some information because it would be good information to have."
Mayor: "As we go forward? I don't know if that information is currently available Mr Shelton or..."
Bob Shelton: Mr Mayor, we could take that as a staff direction to do as part of the overall review that we do every three years so that could be information that's available that could come forward in the first year of the next term unless the councillor is looking for that sooner.
Jane Twinney: "Is it possible we could get that information before?"
Bob Shelton: "It is possible probably more towards the end of the year...
Jane Twinney: "OK"
Bob Shelton: "...when we have the review in place."
Mayor: "OK. Regional Councillor"
John Taylor: "Yeah. I just wanted to support what Councillor Twinney is saying. I think... I know there is a lot going on. I don't think there is a huge rush but before the end of the term so that we have all the information so that when you go through an election process and this can be discussed and debated that it is done with all the information available. I think if we waited til afterwards there would be some missing parts of the conversation that could occur.
Mayor to Jane Twinney: "And you are satisfied with that as a direction to staff?
Jane Twinney: "Yes."
Mayor: "Any further discussion? All those in favour then."
carried nem con.
Clock Tower wannabe developer, Bob Forrest, is aiming to buy a ‘surplus’ parking lot in Barrie’s downtown core which Chris Simon says "could net the city a cool million".
Chris Simon, who used to work for the ERA newspaper and is now a journalist with the Barrie Advance, should know better.
Every second house in Newmarket now sells for a "cool million" so if Forrest is picking up prime land for that kind of money he is on to a winner. (I exaggerate for effect but you know what I mean.)
Barrie's business development officer Peter Dyck says:
"Forrest has determined that project feasibility will require them to be able to increase the density of the lands above the current zoning."
That's my Bob!
Barrie councillors will decide tomorrow (Monday 20 March).
Town turns the page on Hollingsworth Arena
Plans to redevelop Hollingsworth Arena have been laid to rest - at least for the moment.
At tomorrow's Committee of the Whole (20 March 2017) Newmarket staff will be falling over themselves to say they have done due diligence and have concluded that Sandro Sementilli is not the man the Council should partner with.
The Town of Newmarket and Mr Sementilli always struck me as rather strange bedfellows.
Tomorrow (20 March 2017) at Newmarket's Committee of the Whole, Councillors will vote on whether they keep their special tax status.
At the moment, one third of their Council remuneration comes tax free. According to the relevant Council by-law (R7-2002) this is
"deemed to be for expenses incident to the discharge of their duties".
At the meeting they can vote to maintain this tax free status or repeal their earlier resolution as from 1 January 2018.
If they vote for the latter they cannot subsequently vote to return to tax free status. The last time councillors addressed the issue was in May 2012 when they supported the continuation of the tax free allowance.
Personally, I think this tax free status should be done away with. It seems an anomaly in today's world which puts a premium on openness and transparency. And it just feeds the (false) narrative that councillors are out to feather their own nests.
If the Council votes to get rid of this special tax free status councillors can claim for expenses in the usual way.
Tax free status is also unfair. One third of Van Trappist's substantial remuneration comes tax free. Other councillors, who don't snooze through meetings and who get more modest remuneration, by definition, get less.
If councillors feel they are not properly remunerated they should do something about it using the appropriate comparators. I don't have any problems with this whatsoever.
Councillors do an important job on our behalf and they should be fairly rewarded. But tax free status should not be part of the package.
You can read the report on the Committee of the Whole agenda for 20 March 2017. Open the packet and scroll to page 97.
Note: Mayoral and Councillors' expenses are posted on-line quarterly on the Town's website.
The Town and the Province's transit planning agency, Metrolinx, are now, at long last, working on the Mobility Hub study for the GO Rail Station at the Tannery.
Metrolinx say they are aiming for public consultation in the Spring with completion by the end of Summer. If they deliver on this they deserve a thunderous round of applause. We've been waiting for signs of action for light years.
But let's not be too critical. This is a major undertaking involving lots of moving parts.
The Yonge/Davis corridors are earmarked for very significant growth in coming years with the promised arrival of 33,00 new residents and 32,000 new jobs. How are we going to accommodate all these people and how are they going to get from A to B?
What will the Tannery look like and how will it connect with the GO Bus Terminal at Eagle? Should the train and bus stations be co-located?
Getting to the station by car
Just over a year ago (in December 2015) Metrolinx published updated profiles of the two Mobility Hubs in Newmarket, at Eagle Street and at the Tannery. We learn that 2,470 people start their morning commute from Eagle Street and 5,340 end it there.
10% of the mobility hub area is used for surface parking and there are 274 dedicated parking spaces.
By contrast, 2,940 people start their morning commute from the GO Rail Station at the Tannery and 4,370 people end it there. There are 361 dedicated parking spaces occupying 22% of the mobility hub area.
Many people depend on their car to get to and from the bus and train stations. The Town wants the Tannery to move away from park-and-ride to so-called kiss-and-ride and, of course, to public transit.
The Town's Secondary Plan - agreed only two and a half years ago - says at Section 9.3.3 that the GO Rail Station at the Tannery
"will be planned as an urban station that is primarily accessed by pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders, with limited park-and-ride capacity. Park-and-ride service should be focused at the East Gwillimbury GO Rail station and the future Mulock Drive GO Rail station".
The Town may face an uphill struggle persuading people to change their travel habits - at least in the short term.
The Town's Secondary Plan goes on to say the mobility hub study should address as a minimum
* the potential for grade separation of the rail line at Davis Drive;
* the potential re-location of the Newmarket GO Rail Station access to Main Street to improve access and reduce traffic impacts on Davis Drive and
* integration between the GO Rail Station, the Rapidway, the future GO bus services and the GO bus terminal
I don't know what the Mayor thinks about any of this. Except we shouldn't rush things.
He snoozed through a Metrolinx presentation to York Regional Council on 2 March 2017, completely oblivious to the fact that questions were being asked about grade separations and the future of level crossings.
At an earlier presentation to Newmarket Council on 9 November 2015, Van Trappist told Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer, Leslie Woo:
“In my own mind the difference between a 15 minute and 30 minute service doesn’t change the world immensely although I think eventually we’ll need to get there. But I’d rather see us easing into that, responding to the demand as we go forward.”
Just imagine if we all said that in the forthcoming public consultation!
It would make Metrolinx sit up and take notice.