Halton Region and its municipalities are sending a message to Premier Dalton McGuinty-- don't send Halton any more people unless you send some money too. Halton Hills council unanimously passed a resolution at Monday's meeting telling the Province, the Town, Region, and the three other Halton municipalities: "cannot accommodate the growth targets-- 312,000 more people by 2031-- in the Province's Places to Grow Plan" unless changes are made in provincial funding programs to help build more schools, hospitals, fire halls, police stations, roads and transit systems-- among other things. Dubbed Fairness for Halton, it came about after Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette urged Halton Region Chair Gary Carr and his mayoral counterparts in Milton, Oakville and Burlington to send a strong message to the Province. "It's time we pushed back. It's fine and dandy to have the bureaucrats in downtown Toronto coming up with plans like Places to Grow but there's a cost to it. Maybe it should be called the `Places to Spend'," said Bonnette. He added that "we owe it to ourselves to question this, and not roll over and accept it" as the October provincial election approaches. The councils of Milton, Oakville and Burlington will vote on the same resolution at their meetings while Halton Regional Council will endorse it at its March 7 meeting. Bonnette is also hoping that other GTA regions will follow Halton's lead. There are no Oliver pretenders here: the Region and its four municipalities are backing up their "Please sir, we want more" with a well-laid out argument.
The Province's Growth Plan will require Halton Region to increase in size by 68 per cent over the next 25 years-- most of that growth coming to Halton Hills and Milton (See sidebar story below) and the need to spend more than $8.6 billion on infrastructure improvements. "Two years ago when we first heard about Places to Grow, I said this scares the willies out of me, and now, when we see what the cost is...," said Bonnette. "This is a $8.6 billion plan, and we're telling the Province unless you come to the table, we can't do it. ... And if we don't get the money, we're basically going to bankrupt ourselves with this growth." "I think the numbers certainly shocked a lot of us," Halton Region Chair Gary Carr said, who tabled this resolution at last week's regional council meeting. "It just shows you the magnitude of the situation we face. Taxpayers just can't afford to pay for these services." Already municipalities cannot keep up with the current infrastructure and services improvements-- more than $300 million-- necessitated by the current growth-- roads are congested, hospital emergency departments cannot keep up with the demand, children are being bused to schools outside their neighbourhoods and often
housed in portables and recreational and library facilities are lagging far behind the demand. The current provincial funding models do not reflect the cost of growth: · The Development Charges Act restricts what municipalities can charge and for what and as a result existing taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab-- $32 million a year · Ontario (the only province to do so) requires municipal property taxes to pay for social and health programs-- about 20 per cent of the tax bill, leaving little left (54 per cent) for road, service and facility improvements · When the Province does contribute to health spending to municipalities-- here in Halton that contribution is $200 less per capita than the provincial average. · Halton taxpayers must also hand over more than $40 million a year to the City of Toronto to help pay for its social service costs, known as GTA pooling. · Provincial funding for transit, roads, schools, hospitals and other municipal needs has not kept place with the current growth. "I think they're (the Province) going to realize we do have a problem, and we're giving them some very, very clear solutions," Carr said. These solutions are: · Change the Development Charges Act to allow municipalities to recover the full cost of growth · Change the GTA pooling, so Halton residents can pay for their own problems, instead of Toronto's · Set up funding programs targeted at increasing infrastructure to accommodate growth · Commit provincial funding to address current needs now and then match dollars to growth as it comes
What Region would need to accommodate plan
· 1,100 hospital beds · 50 new elementary schools and 14 new high schools · 25 community centres, eight libraries, and 1,650 acres of parkland development · 22 fire halls, four ambulance stations and six police stations · 2,000 (lane) kilometres of major roads, plus expansions to highways, bridges and interchanges. · 11 local transit facilities and 175 buses · expansion of inter-regional transit including GO Transit · expansion of electrical power facilities