Dear Ward 7 Neighbours,
I am an engineer and a small business owner, not a politician.
As such, I have noticed that politicians often have a hard time speaking openly and honestly about money – and in particular taxes.
I understand the emotional and ideological baggage that any discussion about taxes inevitably carries – after all I own a house in Ward 7 – and just like you, I pay some of the highest property tax rates in the country.
However, it is important to remember that property taxes pay for the core municipal services we all depend on – like roads, transit, water, sewers, garbage collection, snow plowing, police, fire, EMS etc.
So if we want to have a frank discussion about reducing Hamilton’s property tax burden while maintaining municipal services, there are three fairly simple business principals (listed below in order of importance) that can be applied to maximize both revenue to the City and services provided to residents:
- Utilize Efficiencies
- Generate New Income From Existing Assets
- Acquire New Clients
Please continue reading to find out how each business principal can be applied to the City of Hamilton to reduce your property tax bill.
The number one tactic used to increase the profitability of any business is to find ways to utilize efficiencies.
In other words, as a City we need to find ways to work smarter, not harder.
Contrary to what certain ex-mayors of Toronto and ideologically motivated politicians might want you to believe, there really is not a “gravy train” at City Hall.
In my experience working on large and small projects with municipal staff across Ontario, most are very diligent about their department budgets and how they allocate spending.
However, that doesn’t mean that there are not significant efficiencies to be identified and utilized.
In my mind the first place to look is to technological solutions for existing problems.
For example, both the City of Hamilton’s Growth Management and Planning Divisions have recently adopted AMANDA, a fully integrated business management system (along with several other City departments that are already using the system).
The use of this system across multiple City departments promises to greatly streamline the permit application process, timelines, distribution of files between departments and record keeping.
Another example is the Traffic Operations and Engineering Services Department’s implementation of a new automated traffic management system (ATMS) to remotely control and optimize traffic signal timing.
One area of significant efficiency that has yet to be utilized is tracking and analyzing HSR ridership to determine who is going where and when and optimizing transit routes, schedules and equipment to service real time demand.
Utilizing efficiencies like these are the easiest and most cost effective ways that the City can provide better services and reduce costs – savings that can then be invested in other areas, or used to lower property taxes.
Generate New Income From Existing Assets
Once you are committed to utilizing efficencies, the next step is to look for ways to generate more income from your existing assets.
When it comes to a municipality, this generally means increasing tax revenue from new businesses and infill development (tax revenue, not to be confused with tax rates).
Fortunately (or possibly unfortunately depending on how pessimistic you are), Hamilton has a vast wealth of underutilized assets.
We are sitting on one of the best and most strategically located ports in the country with the largest shipping volume on the Great Lakes.
Hamilton is also a City that is full of already serviced vacant lots (aka. surface parking), abandoned industrial properties and underutilized low density development – properties that in a well functioning City would be prime real estate – all poised for business and residential infill development. Couple that with the massive investment opportunities that LRT promises to bring and we have a once in a generation opportunity to leverage our existing assets to generate new income.
In Ward 7, we have the mountain’s only urbanized shopping district on Concession Street – already anchored by cornerstone institutions like the Juravinski Hospital and Juravinski Cancer Centre, and existing low density retail corridors like Upper James Street, Upper Wellington Street and even Limeridge Mall.
With careful planning and attention to effective zoning, we have many exciting opportunities to again leverage our existing assets and generate new income.
It is important to remember that for every new business or infill development tax dollar that is generated anywhere in the City the City as a whole benefits – including Ward 7.
Acquire New Clients
Finally, the last strategy that can be used to generate additional revenue and reduce property taxes is to acquire new clients.
Acquiring new clients is the most expensive and difficult business strategy of the three presented, so it should only be undertaken as significant progress is underway in the first two areas.
Again, we are talking about expanding business tax revenue, and to a certain extent, infill residential development (in accordance with the principal of generating new income from existing assets – not Hamilton’s traditional method of acquiring new clients: greenfield sprawl development).
When you talk to Toronto ex-pats or business owners looking to relocate their businesses from the GTA to Hamilton, most tend to talk about Hamilton in similar terms: character, history, a City with a soul, potential, underutilized, opportunity, affordable…
Sure, you can find “affordable” in Mississauga, Markham, Vaughn etc., but Hamilton offers something none of Toronto’s overgrown suburbs ever can – a real city.
However, in order to really acquire new business and residential tax payers, we have to be willing to embrace the lifestyle they are looking for.
As a City we need to re-discover the value of engaging public spaces, greenspace, public transportation, cycling, arts and culture – everything that makes a City an interesting place to live.
The best part is that embracing modern lifestyle opportunities in Hamilton brings in new tax revenues, directly benefits current Hamiltonians and reduces Hamilton’s property tax burden!
What Can You Do?
Despite recent areas of encouraging progress, I believe that much more can be done at the municipal level as Hamilton finally emerges from it’s steel city roots.
That is why I also believe that the the Ward 7 by-election on March 21st is so important to the future of both Ward 7 and Hamilton as a whole.
The outcome of this race in many ways will determine if we continue with the existing urban versus suburban politics of the past, or together we can finally choose to move forward.
If you agree and would like to help, please use the contact form below to volunteer with the campaign – everything from knocking on doors, dropping fliers or putting up a lawn sign would be much appreciated!
John-Paul Danko – Hamilton City Council Candidate
Ward 7 Hamilton Central Mountain