|Posted by Darryl Wolk on November 21, 2015 at 8:40 AM|
It has been just over a year since the last election. Given that the Era refuses to report on the news due to bias, I figured I would update residents on the state of our town. I wish I had something positive to say but I think pretty much anyone can see that this term has been a complete let down and disappointment. The lack of transparency has intentionally kept residents in the dark. When a Council performs poorly, apathy is their best friend.
There comes a time when enough is enough! Residents need to wake up. The budget process has started, and it looks like once again property taxes, user fees and water rates will increase above the level of inflation. This is nothing new, each and every year Newmarket residents are asked to pay more. Seniors, young families and residents are struggling to keep up with the cost of living in Newmarket. Are they getting value for their tax dollars? The answer is no. We are constantly being asked to pay more for less.
Let’s be honest. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, Newmarket pays the second highest taxes in York Region. According to MoneySense magazine, the same “Best Places to Live” survey that Newmarket elected officials often refer to, our property taxes are 9th highest in Canada among the communities surveyed. It doesn’t stop there. Staff told me our water rates and recreation user fees are among the highest in the province. As Powerstream merges with the rest of the GTA, our Newmarket Hydro ratepayers are stuck paying more as we are not able to benefit from the savings of economies of scale. The province has warned that hydro will go up another 46% as a result of the FIT Program, Green Energy Act and time of use billing. Ontario pays the highest electricity prices in North America. We have invested in York Region transit, yet fares at $4 are higher than the TTC, miWay, Brampton Zum and Durham Transit. In my research, I have not been able to find a transit fare in Canada that is higher than YRT and VIVA. These cost of living issues are having a negative impact on family budgets in every household in Newmarket. We are pretty much paying more for everything when compared with other municipalities in Ontario. The cost of living in Newmarket is not keeping up with stagnant wage and economic growth. People are falling behind.
I read in the newspaper that the “lack of growth” was this year’s excuse for another tax increase. You have got to be kidding me. In 2006, the population of Newmarket was 74,295. Today is about 90,000. We wasted close to a million dollars on consultants and an OMB fight over Glenway and ended up with more homes than the developer initially asked for. Slessor Square was approved. The Clock Tower and Hollingsworth are pretty well done deals. Although technically outside of our borders, massive development is planned for both St. Johns Sideroad and Green Lane. Our remaining lands such as around Bogart and next to the Upper Canada Mall are being filled in rapidly. The secondary plan passed by Council will see intensification and a plan to turn Yonge and Davis into Mississauga’s Square One area. Our population density is third in Ontario behind only Toronto and Mississauga. Growth rate is clearly not the issue.
What is an issue is lost jobs. A York Region report showed that Newmarket only created 100 jobs over a 5 year period. As usual the Mayor questioned the facts and offered a correction that still puts us dead last in job creation in York Region. That is embarrassing and unacceptable. Worse, when you factor Magna, Flextronics, Target and all the businesses that have bailed on Davis Drive and Harry Walker; I believe we are the only community in the GTA that has seen a net loss of jobs over a 6 year period. With higher taxes than our competitors in Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill; there is no incentive for businesses to locate here. The reason we pay more in taxes as residents than Aurora residents is because we do not have the business revenue to take pressure off residential taxpayers. Spending hundreds of millions on broadband internet is not going to change this. The Chamber has frequently called for more effort on economic development but Council remains tone deaf. Far too much focus has been placed on handing out grants to Main Street while the area along the 404 has been neglected. Most residents are stuck with long commute times searching for work elsewhere. Working at the mall is unlikely to pay enough to keep up with the high cost of living in our town.
Our services leave a lot to be desired. We have had a garbage pickup crisis in the past. Water quality has been poor and was subject to media attention. Our sidewalks are not being plowed. There are no bike lanes, outdoor hockey rinks or a turf field that other municipalities enjoy. Many of our facilities are in a state of disrepair. The sunshine list exploded with no results to show for it. While Council and staff live high off the hog, services for residents are in decline.
Traffic gridlock has become a quality of life issue in town. Poor planning has resulted in construction on all our major roads. Davis Drive has been a disaster and the poster child for project mismanagement. During the election, I was told that the cost of Davis Drive was “slightly over budget”. The budget was $100,000,000. Following the election, the Toronto Star reported the cost at $269,000,000. That would be $169,000,000 over budget and costs are still climbing. 2.6km of bus lanes has resulted in 6 years of construction, businesses closing and a massive inconvenience for residents who have to drive around town. Buses remain empty in Newmarket and there is no reason to believe anyone is getting on the bus in the future. Unbelievably, this Council seems to want to repeat the same mistakes on Yonge Street. During the election, I called on Metrolinx to scrap the Yonge bus lanes and invest in GO Trains instead. Now my biggest fear has come true. Our transit funds have been wasted on bus lanes and we have lost GO Trains. Two way service every 15 minutes is coming to the Barrie line but stopping in Aurora. There is no funding to improve rail crossings, add a station at Mulock and twin the tracks to Newmarket. We lost badly needed GO Trains because our priority was empty buses. By the time it is finished, Davis Drive will be a $300,000,000 mistake. During the election campaign, the Mayor promised to resign if Davis was not complete by the end of this year. The Era reports the project will not be complete until at least 2016? Will Tony Van Bynen keep his word and resign? I doubt it.
Most shocking of all and the biggest slap in the face to Newmarket residents is the Mayor’s salary. We are a town of less than 100,000 people, yet the Toronto Star reported that the Newmarket Mayor is the fourth highest paid in all of Canada. A correction was printed that did not include his compensation for sitting on the Newmarket Hydro Board. It is unclear if he also collects money for his role with Smart Commute and Southlake. The Mayor was asked directly at a recent Council meeting about his total compensation. He said he “did not have those figures in front of him”. I don’t believe for a second that this man who frequently cites his banking experience doesn’t know his own balance. An FOI request was filed to find out what the Mayor’s exact compensation is and when the vote occurred. If it was done behind closed doors, that would be illegal under the Municipal Act. Even if you take the Star’s “corrected” figure at $159.856.84, that would put him at a salary higher than the Mayor of Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities in the world. If you factor in his Newmarket Hydro compensation, his salary would be higher than the Mayor of Montreal and in the same ballpark as the Mayor of Toronto. This is a major scandal. It is ridiculous that our Mayor who oversees a town of less than 100,000 people receives similar compensation to the Mayors in all of Canada’s largest cities. His compensation should be cut by at least 30% and when you look at the results, there is no question taxpayers are being ripped off while Tony Van Bynen lines his own pockets. Rather than justify this to property taxpayers, the Mayor has shown arrogance. It is a disgrace that an FOI request is necessary to find out exactly how much we are compensating a Mayor who has failed on every major issue.
This week there was a vote before York Region Council to support Chris Ballard’s private members bill to elect the York Region Chair. Markham, Aurora and Stouffville Councils all discussed this issue and put it to a vote in their municipality. As usual Newmarket was missing in action. I made a deputation to York Region Council and rather than address the merits of electing the Chair, the Mayor resorted to personal attacks. Based on his comments he does not support electing the Regional Chair and argued it was a waste of time to even discuss it. Nobody from Newmarket should be surprised with his lack of respect for transparency and democracy. Fortunately, the election of Regional Chair (the highest paid head of Council in all of Canada) will be forced by Queen’s Park. I can’t believe anyone supports an appointment process of trading backroom secret deals and committee favours is a better system than direct election by the people of York Region. This issue is important to Newmarket because the current process almost caused an expensive town wide by-election days after the last election. Thankfully Mayors and Regional Councillors from other York Region municipalities had more respect for Newmarket taxpayers than our own representatives.
We are now one year into this term and so far I would grade it an F. Meetings are often less than an hour. Rarely are new motions floated. This summer, Council did not meet and took one of the longest vacations in the GTA. Some members frequently miss meetings and are putting in 5 hour work weeks. The Mayor has blocked half the town on Twitter. Issues are rarely discussed. Customer service has been terrible at best. When I say we have the worst Mayor and Council in the GTA, I mean it. I challenge anyone to point to a Mayor in Canada that has performed worse than Newmarket’s mayor has. I could live with a bad decision here and there, but the lack of effort I have seen from our Mayor and Councillors cannot be excused. Our town is in a state of failure with no prospects for improvement under the status quo. We are falling behind our GTA neighbours and competitors.
Let this be a lesson for the future. Those who do not engage in the political process are subject to be governed by those who do. Turnout was poor in the last election. I tried my best to bring positive change and some results for a change. I take no pleasure in saying I told you so. One year after the last election, I have been proven correct on every major issue I campaigned on. Our Mayor is a walking example of why recall legislation is needed. There is still time for Council to turn this ship around, but first they have to show that they care about the residents of this town and are not simply collecting their pay and perks.
Thank you for reading,
Former Newmarket Deputy Mayor Candidate