By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator, Wednesday August 22, 2012
More rigour needed on ward spending
Back in 2011, Hamilton city council set out to slay the big scary dragon named area rating — the formal name for tax discrepancies in various parts of the city that date back to before amalgamation.
Council succeeded and struck an agreement, and part of that agreement resulted in Wards 1 through 8 in the so-called “old city” receiving equalization payments to offset paying artificially high taxes. Not everyone was happy, but it was a relatively constructive solution.
Fast forward, and we’re seeing how councillors plan to spend those “special capital levy” dollars. There are some surprises, some eyebrow-raisers and many common sense decisions. But there’s also a problem.
Traffic and pedestrian signals, sidewalk replacements, streetscape improvement, park improvements, road resurfacing and pedestrian walkways are all common uses for the money, which, for 2011 and 2012, amounts to approximately $1.26 million per ward.
Then there are the less common uses: Ward 4’s Sam Merulla wants to use the money to buy the notorious City Motor Hotel, with the innovative twist that once the site is redeveloped, some of the tax revenue generated will flow back into ward projects.
Ward 6’s Tom Jackson wants to buy the Barton Secondary School site to allow for more local control when the school becomes surplus. Creative to be sure, but should Ward 6 taxpayers be getting into the landlord business?
Ward 8’s Terry Whitehead has one of the more unusual plans — along with a number of infrastructure projects, he also wants to add $40,000 worth of golf simulation and instruction programming at the rebuilt Westmount Recreation Centre. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)