This section presents a brief outline of some key issues that will be, or have been, discussed at Council over the past month. More information can be found by clicking on links to other information sources like news articles, my website, and the Town’s website. Please also feel free to visit the Town website to view videos of past council meetings. These videos can be found by visiting https://calendar.richmondhill.ca/default/Month, then clicking on the relevant meeting date, and then scrolling to the bottom of the page to view the archived video for the meeting.
1. Richmond Hill Approves Operating Budget for 2019 Overview
A municipal operating budget represents the fiscal expression of the goals and values of a community. It commits sufficient funds to deliver the services that citizens need and expect, and it allows a community like ours to continue to be a vibrant community. Overall the Richmond Hill 2019 operating budget will maintain our current service levels and keeps the tax increases to approximately the inflation rate.
The $180 million Operating Budget will result in a 2.07 per cent increase to the municipal portion of the total property tax bill. This is equal to a $39.32 increase on the annual tax bill of an average Richmond Hill home valued at $1.1 million.
Some highlights of the 2019 Operating Budget include:
- Opening of NHL-sized ice rink, new fitness facility and indoor walking track at Ed Sackfield Arena
- Implementation of new programs and activities at the new Lake Wilcox Youth Park
- Completion of David Dunlap Observatory Woodlot Restoration Project Phase 1 and Phase 2
As well, new staff positions will be added to improve service delivery, including a Parks Technician, Risk and Insurance Clerk, and a Facility Operator for the David Dunlap Observatory. A GIS (Geographic Information System) Manager will be hired to head GIS work at the Town, as identified in the IT Strategy.
Through the 2019 Operating Budget, Richmond Hill is transitioning its Capital Asset Sustainability levy from a flat fee to a percentage, based on the Phased-In Assessment Value of a property as determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). The levy funds the repair and replacement of aging infrastructure such as roads, parks and buildings. An average Richmond Hill home will pay $71 for the Capital Asset Sustainability levy.
Council also approved the 2019 Water, Wastewater and Stormwater budgets. The 7.5 per cent increase on water and wastewater takes effect April 1, 2019 and is largely driven by the nine per cent wholesale rate increase York Region charges for these services. The Stormwater rate will increase 9 per cent, effective April 1, 2019.
- Council increased the Senior’s Tax Assistance Grant to $400 per eligible applicant. Seniors can learn more at RichmondHill.ca/TaxAssistancePrograms.
- Richmond Hill collects taxes on behalf of York Region and the Province of Ontario for education. Approximately 27 per cent of taxes remain in Richmond Hill; 49 per cent goes to York Region and 24 per cent to education.
- Some of the services provided by the Town include garbage pick-up, snow removal, water supply, water treatment, solid waste facilities, arterial roads, planning and growth management, parks and recreation, fire protection and public libraries.
- Some of the Regional services include regional roads, community health programs, social and children’s services, policing and emergency response services.
- Richmond Hill Council previously approved the 2019 Capital Budget of $43.9 million on February 11.
To learn more visit https://www.richmondhill.ca/en/find-or-learn-about/Budget.aspx
My Operating Budget Commentary
I am pleased that Richmond Hill Council’s Operating budget deliberations are complete and only a small increase in the Richmond Hill portion of the taxes is the result. I appreciate the work of the Financial Services Staff and my colleagues, for keeping any tax increases to a minimum. Within the budget deliberations there were a number of note worthy decisions made by Council.
The approved budget saw a reduction in the number of firefighters that will be hired in order to meet the targets of our Fire and Emergency Services Master Plan. I was concerned about this decision because as our Fire Chief said during the deliberations, this will mean that we will need to hire 12 firefighters next year to meet our obligations under the Master Plan.
There was also a reduction in the budget request from the Richmond Hill Public Library. This will likely mean a reduction in services that the Library will be able to deliver. In my view this is unacceptable and unnecessary. I supported a compromise alternative motion that would have meant the Library could maintain existing service levels. This motion failed. It remains to be seen what the reduction in services will mean but it was stated that Sunday closings may be a possibility (for a good summary of the implications related to the Library operations visit https://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/9213688-richmond-hill-library-board-addresses-impact-of-budget-constraints/ )
While I respect that Council chose to reduce the funding for the Library and for Fire Services, versus what was asked within these respective budget requests, I particularly objected to Council’s decision (in a 6-3 vote Councillors Cilivetz, Chan and myself being the 3 dissenting voices) to spend an additional $290K to hire 2 new assistants for the Regional Councillors and provide the possibility of an additional $25K for each ward councillor to hire extra assistants.
Given our overall efforts to cut spending, to increase Council’s budget by almost the same amount as we cut from the Library budget request was not acceptable to me. I fully respect that there is a significant workload to be done in the Council offices, but given Council’s efforts to save taxes, I do not believe this decision demonstrates positive leadership.
A good report on the budget can be found at www.yorkregion.com/news-story/9198980-average-richmond-hill-homeowner-faces-39-tax-hike-in-2019-councillors-add-staff-support/
2. Council to Consider Changing Richmond Hill to a City
Council passed a member motion to discuss changing Richmond Hill from a “town” to a “city”. The discussion will take place at the March 25, 2019 Council meeting. Information about the estimated cost to make this change will be shared at that meeting.
This topic has come up several times during my time on Council but the change in name has always failed to pass. I have spoken over the years about continuing to be called the Town of Richmond Hill but as we continue to grow I have become increasingly aware that the term “Town” likely does not accurately describe the urban environment which we call home. I have also discovered that the change in name has little or no legal or practical impact to our community. I have heard the argument that Richmond Hill as a City may be viewed more favourably on an international stage, but I am not aware of any solid evidence to reinforce this claim. I find myself with mixed feelings on the issue and would appreciate your thoughts on the matter so that I can accurately reflect these views when Council is scheduled to make a final decision in March.
3. Land Acknowledgement Motion
If you wish to make your views known regarding a Traditional Land Acknowledgement to begin Richmond Hill Council meetings feel free to attend the Council meeting on March 25th at 7:30 where this motion will be discussed. For more information about the motion see below in this e newsletter. If you wish to register as a delegate to speak at this meeting or write your thoughts please contact [email protected].
4. Celebrating the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts
Council received an annual report highlighting the successful 2017/2018 season at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts (RHCPA). Artists who graced the stage this season include Jann Arden, Louie Anderson, Ramin Karimloo (Our Town Our Talent), Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, USS and Saloon (produced by Cirque Eloize). The 2017/2018 Education Program saw over 11,000 students walk through the doors. Outside of the theatre, the RHCPA also presented shows at Jazz in the Plaza, Richmond Hill’s Canada Day celebrations, Concerts in the Park and more. The 2017/2017 season concluded with the highest number of tickets sold since the RHCPA opened in 2009. Happy 10 year anniversary, RHCPA! Details of the 2018/2019 season will be available to the public in May.
5. New Dates and Times for Committee of the Whole and Council Meetings
Richmond Hill Committee of the Whole and Council meetings will take place on alternate Tuesdays at 1 p.m. on a trial basis, from April to September. I feel that it is very important that residents have a convenient opportunity to speak to Council when necessary, and as a result, I was not in favour of this change. At the present time, we offer a chance to speak at Committee of the Whole at 4:30 and another Chance to speak at Council meetings at 7:30. As a result of this change, the evening opportunity will be taken away making it much more difficult for people working in the daytime to attend Council meetings. Council will reassess the meeting times after the trial period ends in the fall of 2019. As such, if you have thoughts on this change I would welcome your input.