Councillor, Ward 1 Aurora

Strong and Wrong-More Mayoral Decisions – V 4

 

I have been increasingly concerned over what I consider to be misuse of Strong Mayor Powers (SMPs) granted to the Mayor, after he pledged to build 8000 new units in Aurora from last year to 2031.

First, a pledge is a promise,  and my father used to tell me that ‘a promise made is a debt unpaid.’ So what about this pledge?

In 2023 Aurora achieved only 40% of the pledged target. The Town missed $1.7 M in bonus because we didn’t achieve 80% of our target. Thus far in 2024 we have 3%  Why?  The premise is that municipal bureaucracy is the culprit. It is not. Municipalities can move applications through that meet our Official Plan and the existing ‘pipeline’ in Aurora shows just that. The problem is that the economy isn’t strong enough for developers to risk their investments when interest rates are high, material costs are high and skilled trades are in short supply. Shovels just aren’t getting in the ground. While we have a ‘housing crisis’, market-driven housing isn’t where our needs are. There isn’t the market now for more condos and townhomes with market-rate prices. SMPs won’t fix the problem of getting kids, grandkids and newcomer employees to Aurora. And despite SMPs we fall short.

I have also met some very sharp people; experts in Water and Wastewater allocations (what each builder must have to ensure water and sewage requirements are met). They tell me that we are not likely to be able to achieve this unit count because there isn’t a big enough ‘pipe’ to haul all the sewage away. That is years away.

Despite all this, our Mayor asked for and received Strong Mayor Powers that were provided to him to meet ‘Provincial Priorities”. The Strong Mayor Act defines these priorities:

• building 1.5 million new homes by December 31, 2031

• constructing and maintaining infrastructure to support housing, including:

  • transit
  • roads
  • utilities
  • servicing

In a previous Blog, I identified the first of these Powers being exercised by the Mayor, unilaterally and without consultation with the Council when he extended the CAO’s employment contract. We still don’t know the details.

Today I focus on the next Mayoral Decision which was to:

Direct Town Staff to Present the 2024-2026 Town Budget.

This is a departure from the usual processes where Council is the de facto Budget Committee and items for consideration are brought forth by Councillors who have consulted with residents and made suggestions for both capital and operating expenditures. What gets budgeted, gets done, so if taxes are needed to meet ‘provincial priorities’ then the Mayor’s budget should include them.

Why this is WRONG is plain to me. One of the most important things Council members were elected to do is to represent the residents and fund the Town’s Strategic Plan through the budget and ensure that what needs to be built is funded, as well as what services residents need. Granted, the Town’s large budget has many moving parts and a LOT of help comes from our financial services department who I think are top-notch.

Council members this year were given a budget and were asked for amendments.

  1. One majority-approved amendment was to hold off on hiring Town Square staff until needed. Considering the numerous delays of the opening (that continue) it seemed prudent. Another request was to phase-in these ‘hires’ to ensure they were needed according to the volume of work. This was vetoed by our Mayor, resulting in Senior Staff having a green light to hire whoever and whenever they wanted according to the budget authority that is provided/required for every budget item.
  2. Another majority-approved amendment that was vetoed was the attempt by the Council to phase out funding for the Aurora Sports Hall of Fame. Why? The Sports Hall of Fame receives tax-funded cash each year of approximately $30,000.00 and an additional $20,000.00 for the display of the sports memorabilia through the Aurora Museum and Archives at the SARC. Their unaudited statements from over a year ago showed an accumulation of over $100,000.00 in reserves. The Council asked why funding should be continued when they appear self-sufficient. The Mayor, who incidentally sits on the Board of the Aurora Sports Hall of Fame, vetoed this majority rule and chastised the Council for not understanding the importance of this charitable organization. Not the point! Council recognized the value of the Organization but merely wanted the tax-funding to be phased out over time. What is WRONG is that the Mayor used veto powers that were provided to build more houses, but chose to use these powers to fund an organization where he is a Board Member. Just WRONG!

I am a staunch believer in supporting volunteer-driven Not-for-Profits. In fact, Sport Aurora founded the ASHoF when I was on that Board and we are proud of this valued addition to our sport community.  You can probably name many other service organizations and my guess is you may even be a volunteer for one or two. Volunteerism means that people willingly give their time to advance their charitable purposes. Taxes don’t need to pay for this support unless of course they show need for survival and their value is clear.

Finally, and there will be much more on budget items coming, but the 2025 Aurora budget is the ‘Mayor’s budget’ because of SMPs, so if you think it is the right to have one person in charge of the budget, then please don’t question expenditures or the tax levy to your Ward Councillor. It is the ‘Mayor’s Budget’. I think it is WRONG.

 

 

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