Right now in Hamilton we have a situation where 8 members of city council get to say how to spend over a million dollars a year on what were intended to be urgent capital project like roads and sidewalks; while the rest have to go through the normal budgeting process. The agreement came as the tax rates between the old city and the suburbs were being equalized in the wake of amalgamation. As tax rates rose in the suburbs the old city would qualify for a small property tax decrease. Under the deal that was hammered out, instead of lowering the taxes in the old city a fund was created to address aging infrastructure in the old city. We are pleased to report that much of the money has been spent as intended, but in some cases the money is being allocated to public art, pop-up concerts, movie nights and other non-essentials. Critics of the program say the doling out of goodies places incumbent councillors at an unfair advantage—making them look like Santa Claus when in fact it is the taxpayers in the 8 wards who are supplying the money. Many believed the scheme would only last through the current term of council, but apparently that is not the case. If council does nothing, the fund will continue in perpetuity. The only way suburban councillors could get on the gravy train would be to vote to raise taxes in their wards to create such a fund. The policy was instituted for good reason in order to break an impasse over area rating. But it is dead wrong to have two classes of councillors and to allow this amount of discretionary spending. It is time to retire this funding scheme.
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