Comments on Development Charges Study

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Last Wednesday there was a public participation meeting at 4pm in Middlesex Centre Council chambers. Unfortunately only two members of the public (including myself) and one member of the press were able to make the meeting, but a consultant named Andrew from Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. was on-hand to give a presentation of the background study, its conclusions, and a proposed development charge bylaw to replace the existing bylaw.

The most important takeaway from the proposed bylaw is that Middlesex Centre will move from varied development charges in Ilderton, Ilderton West, Komoka, Kilworth and Delaware to a single, uniform development charge. This will make things simpler for developers, easier for the municipality to apply, and also far easier for the municipality to project revenues. It’s win-win.

Answers to questions I asked at the meeting are as follows:

  • School boards are exempted from paying development charges under the Development Charges Act. This was a huge blow to further development in Delaware since the London District Catholic School Board didn’t have to pay development charges for the new Our Lady of Lourdes.
  • We are recouping 100% of what we can as allowed under the Development Charges Act.
  • Development charges will be indexed based on StatsCan data.

Upon further review of the data and proposed bylaw in the study, I came to some additional concerns that needed to be submitted. I wrote the email below and sent it to the Clerk for inclusion in Wednesday’s agenda as a comment on the background study.

Hello,

I am submitting these comments for inclusion in Council’s agenda for the upcoming Council meeting on July 23, 2014 regarding changes to the proposed development charges by-law.

I have read the report and proposed by-law assembled by Watson & Associates Economists Ltd, and I have some concerns that are not addressed in the report or analysis.

  1. There are no provisions here for recovering costs associated with expanding police services to new developments. The provincial development charges law provides provisions for recovering 100% of the costs associated with police detachments, police rolling stock, and small equipment & gear. At the public meeting on July 16, 2014 I was told by Andrew, from Watson & Associates, that the proposed by-law would institute development charges to recoup 100% of the eligible fees. At the moment, this does not appear to be true. At a time when police services costs are skyrocketing, I feel it’s extremely important to set aside funds, collected through development charges, to help Middlesex Centre cope with rising police services costs.
  2. The development charge for libraries that is proposed to be levied against apartments appears to be artificially low. Apartment dwellers are just as likely, if not more likely depending on their demographic, to utilize libraries.
  3. In 2013 I was told by my Councillor that Public Works had to defer purchasing a new vehicle due to financial constraints. And yet the proposed development charges for Public Works has been reduced compared with existing fees. Why is that? I cannot find justification in the document.
  4. The table on page 113 clearly illustrates that the Water Reserve Fund will begin experiencing substantially negative cash flow, and will be in deficit by the year 2022. This deficit continues until 2034. Given the lack of major projects that the Water Reserve Fund will finance, in direct contrast with the Waste Water Reserve Fund, I encourage Council to consider increasing the Water development charge slightly in order to reduce the municipality’s debt, if not avoid it entirely with respect to the Water Reserve Fund.
  5. Lastly, I’m disappointed that the graphs shown on Wednesday at the public meeting – graphs illustrating how high/low Middlesex Centre’s current and proposed development charges are and will be in relation to nearby municipalities – are not included in the background study. I thought these were good fodder, but now I can’t reference them.

In light of the issues and questions above, I am urging Council to defer this back to staff for further review. I believe we’re very close to having an effective development charges by-law for 2014, but we are not quite “there” yet.

Thank you,

Derek E. Silva

A member of the public and a member of Council both expressed an interest in knowing what would happen if we reduced the industrial development charge to $0, hoping it would entice more industry to Middlesex Centre. This is something that several municipalities near us have already done including London, Woodstock, and St. Thomas. Given the lack of “big wins” over the last few years, I don’t see this strategy working. For starters it means the slack would have to be picked up elsewhere, and that elsewhere would almost certainly be property taxes. In addition to that, every economist I follow, and every discussion about where to set up a new business I’ve been privy to, has rarely (if ever) mentioned development charges as part of the conversation.

What is discussed instead is the labour force available, the land available, access to infrastructure, and so on. Access to infrastructure, especially Internet infrastructure, is something we could focus and have a direct effect on. Waiving development charges on new industrial buildings just means citizens are subsidizing the development charges instead. I cannot vote in favour of that, but that is the road some will try to take us down.

If you would like to learn more about the Development Charges Act, or the proposed bylaw for Middlesex Centre, I am happy to answer any questions!

Healthy Hikes Challenge

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Reading through recent Middlesex Centre council meeting minutes — what? Isn’t that what you do in your spare time? :) — I came across a notice about the Healthy Hikes Challenge.

From their website:

Conservation Ontario and Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities challenge you to spend time hiking in our province’s over 270 Conservation Areas and track your progress for a chance to win great prizes! Healthy Hikes will teach you about the ways our environment boosts your health and how you can energize your body and mind by Stepping into Nature.

At first I got excited about the prospects of taking more time to visit Komoka Provincial Park and maybe win a prize by doing something that’s good for me. Unfortunately, a second later I realized I was thinking of a Provincial Park, and not a Conservation Area. So for me that means I would need to drive to the Coldstream Conservation Area, or walk/bike to Komoka Provincial Park to accomplish (minus the prizes) the same thing.

I think I’ll stick with Komoka Provincial Park, but I would still encourage you to participate in the Healthy Hikes Challenge! If you already frequent a Conservation Area near you, it’s easy to register and log your activity. There are some pretty great prizes on the line too!

Image Credit: Ontario Conservation Areas

The London Plan – Initial Thoughts

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I just finished reading The London Plan last night. It’s a good read, albeit much longer than I anticipated. I know the rationale for the length (it’s explained in the document), but it does make parsing the what, why, and how a bit more difficult. The video provides the highlights on precisely why The London Plan promotes what it does, and is worth watching. These are the things I jotted down as I went through the plan.

Likes

  • Focus on intensification — continuing to grow outwards is going to cost every citizen far more money in property taxes and user fees; it’s unsustainable.
  • Focus on more cost effective development (from a servicing perspective) — hybrid or compact growth model must be the focus
    • This does not, however, mean that new suburbs and single-detached homes will not be built. It means that a smaller percentage will be built than normal, and the focus will be on infill, intensification, and redevelopment of existing sites and built-up areas.
  • “Emphasis on neighbourhoods” — direct quote from the plan
  • Encouraging street grids; fewer courts and crescents, both of which greatly hinder efficient traffic flows
  • “Complete” neighbourhoods — the ability to age in place, have necessary amenities in your neighbourhood, etc.
  • Primary Transit Areas
  • “Growth pays for growth”
    • That means ensuring development charges actually cover the City’s costs of those developments; something the current City Council can’t seem to come to grips with.
  • Applications are only approved if they’re consistent with the Official Plan (this is probably true now).
  • Mandated(?) secure bike parking for multi-unit residential, commercial, institutional, retail, and recreational buildings.
  • Emphasis underground and structured parking, instead of surface parking.
  • Structured parking would be enhanced to look nice through the use of architecture, screens, etc.
  • Downtown transit hub to help more easily connect riders – Kitchener has a very good model for this.
  • Park and ride system; a boon for visitors to the City, and also for commuters. This would be my preferred method for getting around London.
  • Community housing strategy – a big win to help ensure an ample stock of affordable housing.
  • Greenhouses in civic gardens
    • Why not install these in local parks? Another way to meet neighbours.

Dislikes

  • No mention of building out high speed network infrastructure – The London Plan still leaves this completely in hands of the private sector, and that has not worked for London thus far. There are large swaths of the City where you cannot obtain fast, reliable, high speed Internet access. Internet connectivity is now the backbone for many businesses. It is now a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
  • There is nothing in The London Plan about reducing visual noise pollution; signs, signs, everywhere signs! I feel London needs a São Paulo, Brazil-like approach to reduce visual noise pollution and help beautify the city.

Questions

  • Did Toronto’s City Structure, or Official, Plan spur all the new condos downtown? If not, what did? Toronto’s condo market has been booming for several years now, and London is going to need something like this boom to build up the areas around the proposed rapid transit routes.
  • Point #933; home occupation – does this mean telecommuting 100% of the time (a.k.a. work-from-home arrangement like mine) won’t be allowed?

If The London Plan is executed through to completion by 2035, I think London and the region stand to benefit in a huge way. Property taxes will stay lower thanks to reduced servicing costs (you will actually get more for less), an even more cost-effective transit system with more ridership, good investment in your communities/neighbourhoods, and a plan/vision that will attract businesses and new residents alike. Now you need to elect the people that will ensure it starts getting executed in October.

Bill C-23, the “Fair Elections Act”

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Anyone that is not a blind partisan Conservative can recognize quickly that bill C-23, dubbed the “Fair Elections Act” by Minister Pierre Poilievre, is anything but fair. I called my MP, Mr. Bev Shipley, several weeks ago to discuss my concerns. I explained that while I felt the bill had some redeeming qualities, overall it is deeply flawed and will only serve to further cement the Conservative Party’s ability to win additional elections.

I was able to bring up three points/questions during the call, to which Mr. Shipley repeated the same Conservative Party talking points being touted by everyone else that currently forms government. It was actually rather sad. My representative in Ottawa didn’t listen to my concerns. Instead he repeated the same tired talking points I’d already heard on TV and radio from other Conservative MPs.

I took to email last week to send Mr. Shipley the links to a five-part series by The Globe & Mail on just how poor of a job bill C-23 would in fact do at making elections more fair. You can read them here for yourself: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Additionally Press Progress has collected some anecdotes from Mr. Mayrand, dozens of electoral law experts, and even some foreign election/democracy experts. It doesn’t help that Mr. Poilievre constantly misrepresents the Neufeld report that allegedly supports many of the changes the bill attempts to make. I encourage you to read their concerns.

And just this week my friend Abe Oudshoorn was called to testify in front of the committee currently discussing bill C-23. He provided the vantage point of someone working with homeless citizens on how bill C-23 would affect homeless citizens’ voting abilities. The short version: it makes a hard situation even worse. The full video is worth watching, and also includes some advocates from Burnaby, BC who provide their points of view and experiences poignantly.

Counterpoint to Paul Van Meerbergen’s “Inside London” Interview

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A little while ago London Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen was interviewed on Inside London regarding the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation into the social gathering/illegal meeting at Billy T’s.

If you watch the interview (it’s only 5 minutes), you’ll see he dances around the topic a bit in order to once again point out all of his issues with the Ombudsman’s office. Why? He clearly has a bone to pick with how Mr. Marin does business, and that’s fine. I feel like Mr. Marin steps over the line occasionally as well, but overall he clearly takes his job very seriously and approaches it with a passion many would envy.

Coun. Van Meerbergen pointed out in the interview that this is the third time the Ombudsman has come to London in recent years. He’s right, but he must remember that this is at the behest of citizens inputting complaints and asking the Ombudsman to get involved.

He said he felt like the Councillors at Billy T’s were being told by “left-wing” councillors that if it’s a social gathering you shouldn’t need lawyers, and then said that the Councillors were wrongfully accused.

First, it was primarily members of the public who made the complaints. And many, many members of the public have also stated the same opinion regarding the need for lawyers; the only thing Coun. Van Meerbergen and the other Councillors involved could have been fined or jailed for was lying. Sadly it became clear that that is exactly what several Councillors did during the first round of interviews, which made it necessary for the Ombudsman’s team to come back for a second round of interviews and insist that Councillors testify under oath. We see that in the statements that came out of this where many conflicting answers were provided to the Ombudsman’s team about what was discussed, who was there, how the “gathering” came about, and so on.

Coun. Van Meerbergen clarifies that it’s not Mr. Marin who came to London to conduct the interviews, but his staff. Well no kidding. Does the Councillor really expect the Ombudsman himself to conduct all the interviews? There are thousands of complaints every year, hundreds a day recently solely regarding the investigation into Hydro One’s billing problems. Surely Mr. Marin can’t conduct the interviews himself.

Coun. Van Meerbergen seems to be flabbergasted the investigation took 8 months! 8 months! Of course sir, for a few reasons:

  • This is partially due to the inconsistencies provided during the first round of interviews, which led to a second set of interviews.
  • There are other complaints being investigated at any given time. Hundreds, perhaps thousands. They all require attention.
  • London City Council has taken years to make decisions regarding seemingly simple issues. And he takes issue with a proper investigation taking 8 months? Hmm…

Coun. Van Meerbergern felt this was a witch hunt. I assure you sure, there was no witch hunt. Just citizens of your city and the surrounding area wanting to ensure Councillors and the Mayor were acting in accordance with the law. Many of us are now on high alert given this council’s behaviour since taking office in 2011.

Coun. Van Meerbergen explains that the two lawyers hired (TWO!) helped write the municipal act, that they are experts, and that they found no meeting took place.

Interesting, because we can all find cases of murderers that are convicted of their crimes who had lawyers urge them to plead not guilty and then go to trial. Your lawyer is there to provide you with the best defence possible. Did London City Council expect to pay $97,000 for two lawyers who were going to tell you that you were wrong? Also, Prof. Andrew Sancton wasn’t there and didn’t conduct the interviews, so why you care about his opinion is beyond me.

Coun. Van Meerbergen then goes on to discuss the opportunity cost, and ask the rhetorical question about what cases didn’t get investigated. Unfortunately it sounds like he doesn’t know what the Ombudsman does. All cases that the Ombudsman’s Office determines warrants an investigation is, in fact, investigated based on the number of complaints and initial findings. The Billy T’s situation doesn’t cause other complaints to get thrown aside simply because it occurred.

So there you have it. Rebuttals and answers to Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen’s questions and issues with the Billy T’s investigation. If he doesn’t like it, perhaps he should ensure that he is beyond reproach while in office? It’s what many citizens expect from the representatives at Council anyway.