Darryl Wolk

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5 Reasons it is Time for a Change at York Region Council

Posted by Darryl Wolk on November 23, 2013 at 4:20 PM

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Newmarket currently sends 2 representatives to York Region Council. They include the Mayor of Newmarket and the Newmarket Regional Councillor (Deputy Mayor). Newmarket pays $334 in property taxes on average. Of this amount the Region collects $138, the School Board $67 and the Town of Newmarket $129. For every dollar collected at the Region; $0.31 goes to police, $0.15 goes to transit, $0.12 goes to community and social services, $0.09 goes to asset replacement, $0.08 goes to roads, $0.05 goes to waste management, $0.04 goes to EMS, $0.01 goes to public health and the rest goes to administration and corporate management. Very little attention is paid to Regional issues because meetings are not televised and because usually Mayors and Regional Councillors are elected based on local issues in their towns and cities. This is unfortunate as many of the decisions made at York Region Council have a major impact on Newmarket residents. Below are five reasons why I think it is time for a change on York Region Council:


1, In 40 years, the Region’s population has increased from 169,000 in 1971 to 1,159,100 projected for 2014. Unfortunately so has the Region’s debt currently at $1.95 billion and growing. York Region requires levies from current and future development because 78% of York's debt charges are based on money it hopes to recover from future growth. York Region has the highest debt-per-capita in the GTA. Dividing the debt by population shows that every resident in York Region owes $1,840 because of decisions made at York Region Council. Toronto, Peel, Halton and Durham all have far lower debt-per-capita ratios.  Interest costs are putting pressure on services and are causing constant tax and user fee increases despite the rapid growth that has happened already in the Region. We are currently the fastest growing region in Ontario and our debt is still increasing.  York Region needs a serious plan to get its financial house in order before it is too late. (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/07/06/york_region_putting_development_money_ahead_of_good_planning_critics_say.html)



2, The Transit file is a mess. In York Region 90% commute by automobile, 9% by public transit and 1% by walking or bike. Over one hundred million dollars have been invested into a bus rapid way on Davis Drive and now construction is about to start on Yonge Street for a bus system between Davis and Mulock. Businesses are going under and drivers are being inconvenienced because of the construction. Buses drive around empty in Newmarket while GO Trains are packed. Our priority must be GO Transit and extending the Yonge subway line North. YRT should not be our priority and requires a full review.  We need more GO Trains 7 days a week. We do not need BRT systems to nowhere. York Region has a $4.49 subsidy-per-ride for public transit and still has the highest fares in the GTA at $4 per ride compared to $3 for the TTC.  York Council mishandled the recent transit strike and recently increased fares again while cutting service at the same time. This is totally unacceptable. Despite the mess with YRT and VIVA, Newmarket’s representatives at York Region Council have signed a pledge calling on the province to impose road tolls, a gas tax hike, new parking charges, higher development fees, increase in the sales tax or some other kind of “revenue tool” to pay for public transportation. I do not think the people paying those taxes have any confidence in York Region Council to manage transit or the scandal plagued provincial government to manage the new tax money. Most Newmarket businesses and residents oppose these new taxes and fare hikes and I stand with them! We need some common sense for a change when it comes to transportation at York Region. (http://www.yorkregion.com/opinion-story/4082979-york-transit-fare-prices-becoming-unreasonable/)



3, We need to elect the York Region Chair. York Region has 1.1 million people and they deserve a democratic vote for the most powerful political position in the Region. Some have resisted this hoping for a closed door appointment themselves even if it causes an expensive by-election. A direct election of the Regional Chair would increase awareness of Regional issues and would put the spotlight on all communities insuring issues of large and small municipalities make it to the agenda. Extra costs would be minimal to add an additional race onto the ballots in each municipality within York Region during local elections. This is already being done in other regions and there is no reason why it isn’t being done in York. Waterloo and Halton can be the model. Durham and Peel are moving in this direction. York Region is resisting and the issue is currently in the hands of MPPs at Queen's Park. The election of York Region Chair should be a democratic process and not a closed door appointment that lacks transparency and a mandate from the people. Almost everyone I speak to support electing the Regional Chair and feel an election just plain common sense and basic democracy. (http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1414986-you-want-to-elect-york-s-leader/)


4, There is a lack of transparency at York Region Council. Meetings occur during the day when people are working. Media rarely covers York Council meetings. Currently meetings are not televised or livestreamed online as is the case in other regions. This makes it very difficult for residents (and even local Councillors) to follow what is going on at the Regional level of government. Voting records and expenses should all be posted online at York's new website. Rogers should cover the meetings as they do with Newmarket Council. Audio recordings are a good start, but there is more than can be done to engage the public on Regional issues and keep them informed. It is good to see Newmarket move towards great transparency with expenses posted online and COW meetings livestreamed. I would also like to see voting records posted online in an easy to find format. Unfortunately this was opposed by Newmarket Council. I would like to see the Green Slush Fund expense accounts posted online along with the other expenses. This was also opposed by Newmarket Council. There have been some steps in the right direction towards transparency at York and Newmarket, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. Some on Newmarket Council have consistently resisted efforts to improve transparency claiming that the public does not care about transparency issues. Scandals at other levels of government prove that they do care and have reason to be concerned when things are kept in the dark. (http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/4207147-newmarket-council-will-live-stream-meetings/)


5, Newmarket Regional representatives voted for a proposal that would have reduced Newmarket’s voice on York Region Council. By voting in favour of an additional representative for Aurora, King, EG and Stouffville; Newmarket would have had the same regional representation as our smaller neighbours. Any changes to the make-up of Council should be based on population. Our representatives should put Newmarket first and never vote to reduce our influence at the table. I believe reforms to the size of Council are needed, but any changes must be fair to Newmarket. My top priority for changes of governance at Council would including inviting Bradford to join York Region, elect the Region Chair and to have seats allocated based on population. (http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/3871548-york-votes-down-increasing-regional-councillor-numbers/)

*Note: It would have been nice if somebody on York Region Council took a stand when YRDSB trustees were taking trips to Europe while cuts were being made in the classroom and teachers were involved in job action. Everyone stood silent while trustees were wasting money that could have been been used for students. Thankfully Queen's Park stepped in and put an end to this wasteful spending and questionable set of priorities. (http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1468058-moratorium-placed-on-school-board-travel/ & http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/1415772-school-board-s-globe-trotting-riles-parent/)

The 2014 election year draft budget has been released to York Region Council. (http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/3871548-york-votes-down-increasing-regional-councillor-numbers/)  Read this document to learn more about where your money goes at York Region government.

If elected in 2014, I will focus on your Regional priorities. They include cleaning up the mess at York Region transit and lobbying the provincial government for a Yonge subway extension and more frequent GO Trains. I will promote affordable and accessible YRT transit where it is needed while attempting to reduce costs by eliminating empty buses where they are not needed. I will push to get spending and debt under control so that York Region can get its financial house in order.  I will advocate for transparent government with fair representation by population. Finally I will fight for a fair share of funding from the province for social services, schools and hospitals. It is time for a change in representation from Newmarket at York Regional Council!

Thank you for reading...

Darryl Wolk



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