Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seeing Red

You may recall from a previous article, that The Hamiltonian called the question as to whether taxpayers would be better off if HECFI were privatized (see article here).

It seems that the question continues to be timely, as HECFI has already accumulated a 1.156 million dollar operational deficit during the first quarter of 2011. That number is greater than the deficit recorded in last year's first quarter by $13,800. And last year was recognized as very troubled year, requiring a taxpayer bail out to balance the books.

Despite that, HECFI board members say they are satisfied with the results,  and that no immediate action is required. We were actually pleased to see we were right on budget,” said Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who sits on the HECFI board. See full Spec article here

As a taxpayer, are you seeing a different shade of red? Is this further evidence to suggest that HECFI ought to be privatized? Are you as satisfied?

How They Voted in March

Courtesy of the good people at C.A.T.C.H.

CATCH News – April 30, 2011
How they voted in March
This is a regular CATCH summary of votes at committee and council meetings. This report covers the month of March 2011. The first line of each entry identifies the issue, followed by a brief description. This is followed by the location of the vote in the third line. Multiple votes on the same issue are reported together. Absentees are only listed where reported in the minutes and where the missing councillors are members of that committee or decision-making body. Links are provided to source documents.  Note that the vast majority of council decisions are unanimous and the votes are not officially recorded.
Parkland fee exemption for schools
Staff recommended that parkland dedication fees be eased for schools, lowering them from 5 percent of the land value to 2 percent, and eliminating them entirely for school additions and replacements. Representatives of both public and Catholic boards ur ged reducing them to zero, noting the frequent use of the lands as public parkland and sport facilities. However, a motion to do that was defeated as noted below, and committee subsequently approved the exemption for school additions and replacements.
At Planning Committee, March 1 Minutes p11-13 (3-4)
For full exemption: Partridge, Pearson, Whitehead
Against: Clark, Collins, Farr, Johnson
Absent: Ferguson, Pasuta

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can Do or Cannot?

The old Niagara Hotel, has been the subject of a auction, after falling prey to foreclosure. The hotel,  is historic and is ideally situated in Niagara Falls New York, with a view of the falls. The auction was won by Jamil Kara, who turned The  Spectator's former downtown printing plant into 50 condo lofts . Developer Harry Stinson placed second in the bid for the Niagara.

The Connaught, in its prime
Beyond the demonstrated commitment of Kara, Stinson and others to breath new life into old buildings that have otherwise been forsaken, the question of the Royal Connaught Hotel continues to hover.  Still left "as is", the Connaught has always had historic and iconic value. From The Spec article (see it here), it seems that its potential restoration to something other than what it now is, comes down to finances and purchase price along with the appetite to plug one's nose and suffer a significant lose from the initial investment made. 

With respect to the Connaught, Kara said to the Spec "“If they’d sell it to me for $4 million I’d take it tomorrow. The owners say they want $4 million or $5 million more and that’s just too much.” “It would take $20 million to revive it,” he said. “There’s pigeons all over the place in there.”You may recall that Harry Stinson also had expressed an interest in the past as well. Kara concedes that he (Kara)  has never made a formal offer on the building, but had a general discussion with a representative of its owners. 

Do you see an end to all of this, short of a wrecking ball?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Making the Top Ten

Not long after Hamilton placed 74 in MoneySense Magazine's 2011 list of the top places to live in Canada (see story here) , British- based magazine FDI listed Hamilton as placing 9th on the list of best large cities for investment and 7th on a list of large cities ranked by infrastructure.

Top 10 Large Cities of the Future
Halifax, N.S.
Charlotte, N.C.
Las Vegas
St. Louis
Quebec City

Top 10 Large Cities by infrastructure
Long Beach, California
Oakland, California

Economic Development Director Neil Everson told CHML, creating a new plan for selling Hamilton will be his top priority this summer.He says the city's new economic development strategy will focus on a diversified economy with special attention paid to advanced manufacturing, food processing and clean technology.

Are you surprised that Hamilton has been recognized in this way?  Do you find this encouraging? 


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trashy Decision

According to a CATCH release, see it here, members of council are being lobbied by the city's volunteer Waste Reduction Task Force to reverse their decision to not support bi-weekly trash pick up.The final decision is set for Wednesday, the day before an open house for citizen input into the city’s waste management planning.

Staff had argued that a bi-weekly schedule would further encourage the use of blue box and green bin diversion programs. They predicted a 1/2 per cent reduction in property taxes, as a result (assuming the savings get used in that way).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all who celebrate this special time in the Christian faith. Enjoy this original song, written by Cal DiFalco and John Schick. 

Finding Jesus - Click here to listen 


Thursday, April 21, 2011

So Close, So Close, and Yet So Far?

Setting a target to achieve a 0% tax increase while not cutting services, is , no doubt, ambitious. Council's fixation on this goal, along with city staff's focus on making it happen, is one of the better examples of how progress can be made with will and effort.

Council has approved the lowest tax hike since amalgamation, at 0.8 % (see full Spec story here) 

"The work that was done to eliminate millions of dollars from the preliminary budget is phenomenal,” said Mayor Bob Bratina. 

Councillors Whitehead and Clark however, were not as thrilled. Both have argued that there should have been a harder push to achieve the 0% target and that, with such a push, it could have been achieved.. 

Do you agree with Clrs. Whitehead and Clark that the 0% should have been achieved, or are you satisfied that best efforts were made?

Eaton's Update- Sign of the Times

It seems that the Sign of Times series, featuring Eaton's as the first topic, has hit a sentimental place with many Hamiltonians who experienced that era in Hamilton. We have received many emails about these memories and are encouraging the senders to post these here.

In the interim, enjoy these further pictures. I included my old Eaton's Credit Card. We've also learned that the name of the Elevator Lady in Eaton's was Charmaine. Does that ring a bell? If you have any mementos you'd like displayed, email a picture to me at adminhamiltonian@cogeco.ca

In The Hamiltonian's "Sign of the Times" series, we'll post some signs and pictures that are sure to get you reminiscing. 

For those of you who walked the streets of downtown when the Eaton store was alive and well, tell us about your memories.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Still Hammered or On The Level?

It appears that an  arrangement with the Carpenter's Union, which effectively sets stringent conditions as to how the city can hire for construction jobs, is expected to impact the 155 million dollar construction of the Pan Am stadium and 11 million dollar construction of the Velodrome. 

See previous articles here and here.

Contractors who are being excluded, by virtue of this arrangement, are warning that costs can balloon as a result of restricting the work opportunities.  Since 2005, only contractors who are signatory to the carpenters' union, can bid on city construction jobs.

See full Spec story here

Your thoughts? Do you believe that the city is at a disadvantage under the present terms?  Or do you think it's on the level? 

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Disturbing Trend

In a disturbing trend, hate crimes in Hamilton rose by 50% last year, according to a report prepared by Chief Glenn DeCaire. There were 34 hate crimes last year as compared to 23, in 2009. Further, hate-related incidents in total, including crimes, rose to 124 last year from 88 in 2009, an increase of almost 40 per cent.

DeCaire added that "uaddressed hate crimes lead to mistrust and may eventually destabilize a community.”

Police define a hate or bias crime as a criminal offence committed against a person or property which is motivated solely or in part by the suspect’s hate/bias against a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability group, age or gender.

De Caire suggests in his report that the spike in hate-motivated crimes and incidents is a reflection of increased reporting by citizens and not an increase in the actual number of events.

If there is any good news in this , it is that citizens are reporting more incidents. This may suggest that citizens are feeling more compelled and/or more at ease, in reporting these types of crimes.

Evelyn Myrie, who took over as executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, expressed concern with the these crimes not going down in numbers overall. She also said "“There’s a growing awareness that people can report these incidents and the police will take it seriously.” See full story here

Your thoughts?

Friday, April 15, 2011

That Was Easy

That was easy! Oh no it wasn't!  The Hamiltonian would like to congratulate and thank Mayor Bratina, City Council. City Staff, Citizens and all who have contributed to the resolution of the Area Rating issue. 

See the write up here. 

Isn't it Ironic?

There is a degree of irony in a couple of stories running parallel in today's Hamilton Spectator. Opinion writer Andrew Dreschel writes about the fact that the budget for Hamilton Police Services is not being served up for line by line public scrutiny. Andrew appears to question the validity of citing public security concerns, as a basis for the police services board withholding budget details. (see it here) 

The parallel story (see it here) is the one about a Hamiltion-led multi-police agency investigation which resulted in 4 million dollars of drugs seized and multiple arrests made, including arresting one of their own Hamilton officers for allegedly leaking secret police information to one of the targets. That's 4 million worth of drugs off our streets. Have a look at the details here. 

Of course, these two stories do not necessarily have to be linked, other than the obvious irony that stems from them. That being, the controversy over a 5% increase to the police budget while, at the same time, demonstrating  good outcomes for the public, backed by statistics and facts.

If you uncouple these, one can argue that regardless of the results of police work, their budget should still be transparent and open to public scrutiny. Dreschel's  article references the Toronto Police budget process, which is more open. Others might say that the public is definitely getting value for money, so why squabble over a 5% increase and demand for openness, in the face of a public security concern that is being referenced? Why not go after other spending that doesn't seem to yield any recognizable results? 

In the end, there are multiple perspectives to consider, not the least of which is the question of how much is too much for the safety that good policing brings, and how much is not enough?

Your thoughts?  


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Connect with Fred Eisenberger

Invitation to Connect with Fred Eisenberger

With three provincial elections scheduled this fall (Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan) a federal election in May, Canadians will undoubtedly be hearing a lot about many important urban issues in the coming months. The ability of communities to pay for replacement and construction of new “necessary infrastructure” to sustain the quality of life residents of Canada’s cities have come to expect is one such issue. Determining how best to integrate energy planning into the decisions that shape our communities is another. A third might be the challenges and opportunities related our aging population.

Here at the Canadian Urban Institute we are engaged with all of these critical issues and more - which is why I am both pleased and honoured to have been selected by CUI’s Board of Directors to lead the CUI team.

Rob, Brenda and the Budget

City Finance Chief Roberto Rossini and Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson, teamed up yesterday to provide information to Ward 11 residents about the budget and the process used, as well as area rating and the options being considered. 

Rossini's presentation was very well received, as residents were provided the opportunity to lob questions at Rob and Brenda. It was a great example of good citizen engagement.
Mr. Rossini has kindly agreed to share his presentation with The Hamiltonian readership. Please click here to see it. 

Note: many of the points made on the slides, were spoken to by Mr. Rossini. There are many nuances and context required to properly understand the information, so let's bear that in mind and remain fair to Mr. Rossini.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Suitable Question?

“I think it’s been a couple of years since we talked about it, have no idea what’s going on.” That's how Clr. Brian McHattie raised concerns about not having updated information with respect to a long-running lawsuit against the federal government , launched by the city.

Hamilton launched the $75-million lawsuit against Ottawa and 70 bureaucrats in September, 2004, alleging they conspired to delay building the $225-million expressway by using the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to block it.Ottawa has denied these allegations.

While the suit remains active, the previous council voted in March 2008 to lift the $450,000.00 spending cap that was previously in effect, to hold the line on legal costs. At that time, they also voted to keep the actual costs from the general public, citing client solicitor/privilege.

McHattie's request for an update as to the status and costs of the suit, is intended to help council decide whether it is worth continuing with the suit.

As of September 2007, prior to the details of the expenditures being witheld from the public, the city had spent $243,000.00

In the past, Clrs Bratina, Merulla, Whitehead and former mayor Eisenberger, were the only members of council who voted to make the costs public.

Do you think the public should know what the costs to date are of this lawsuit? Or do you think there is a legitmate reason to invoke client/solicitor privilege? See full Spec story here


Monday, April 11, 2011

Cutting Taxes - Not Trees

Click on Tree for its reaction ;-)
According to a recent CATCH Release, there is controversy over how much money should be allotted to the trimming of city street  trees.  The goal has been to get to a five-year cycle of regular maintenance. We're  nowhere close. 

While council has historically recognized the need to deal with this matter, some monies have been deferred , causing the situation to remain in limbo. As reported by CATCH, "forestry staff were spending most of their time responding to a backlog of 6900 emergency cutting requests. In 2006, council agreed to a ten-year gradual increase in the street tree trimming budget, but hasn't stuck to the schedule".

"Half the budget for year three of the cycle was deferred in 2008, with the other half the only new spending in the 2009 budget. The pattern continued last year with just half the money allocated again, but last week an attempt to add the other half – $350,000 – was defeated in a tie vote.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Video of the Moment - Portrait of a City

Special thank-you to Clr. Judi Partridge for alerting The Hamiltonian to this video from the 1940's, that captures the essence of Hamilton back then. 

This is a real gem of a nostalgic video. 

To see the video, click here. Comments welcome.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hamilton Community Foundation Commits $5 Million for Local Investment

Hamilton Community Foundation Commits $5 Million for Local Investment

‘We want to fill the space that the private capital markets are not filling in our community,’ says CEO

Friday April 8, 2011 -- Camille Jensen

The Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF) is leveraging $5 million of its capital to invest in projects and businesses serving its local community.

Terry Cooke, HCF president and CEO, says the new Community Investment Fund is part of the foundation’s goal to invest in projects and programs aligning with its mission.

“It’s a matter of putting more of our assets into play in our own community,” says Cooke, adding he sees great potential for the foundation to expand its philanthropic footprint through mission-related investments, including attracting new investors and partners.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perspectives- On The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce

This issue of Perspectives, asked the following question of members of our virtual panel:

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has been the subject of media attention and continues to advocate for their members’ interests. It is clear that the Chamber is very engaged in matters pertaining to Hamilton.

Do you think The Chambers’ influence is a positive force in our city? What are they doing right and what advice might you have for them, if any?

Have a look at these responses, and feel free to add your own, via comments on this thread.

The Chamber offers many services to its members but in the context of this question, a key role is to be an advocate for the business interests in our community. While larger institutions like Arcelor Mittal Dofasco or McMaster University can advocate effectively on their own, the Chamber fills a vital role for the small (less than ten employee) and medium (10 to 100 employee) companies/organizations who feel their voice is not being heard.

So, keeping in mind that first and foremost the Chamber advocates for business, I think it is very effective at reminding all three levels of government about the business issues facing Hamilton. In addition, it recognizes business achievement and participates with economic development in trying to attract new business. If there are barriers to economic development, the Chamber notes these and advocates forchanges.

Harry Stinson is Positive on Vrancor's Plans

Note: Harry's statement has been modified slightly, based on additional clarity received from Harry.

The Hamiltonian asked developer Harry Stinson for his views on Vrancor's plans, as announced by The Spec yesterday. Here are Harry's views:

Vrancor's announcement is - in itself - a good sign for Hamilton. Hamilton desperately needs a sense of momentum..... a 'signal' that the time has finally come for other downtown property owners to (at last) give serious thought to the highest and best use of their own properties (instead of the current passive 'life support' approach) and for outside developers to believe that the time is right to move into the Hamilton marketplace. 

It was sad - but typical - to hear some of the usual chorus of local knee-jerk negativity ("it'll never be built, y'know"....) not to mention the Hamiltonian obsession about parking issues.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Union/ Corporate / Individual Donations to Elected members of City Council

(Click on chart, for larger view)
Thanks to the good people at CATCH for compiling this list of how much was collected in corporate/ union and individual donations from this elected city council.

Five successful candidates took no corporate or union donations – Mayor Bob Bratina, and councillors Brenda Johnson, Brian McHattie, Judi Partridge and Russ Powers. Ten others relied heavily on those sources and Robert Pasuta was acclaimed so reported no donations at all.

For additional context,
click here.

The Big Bang Theory

The big bang theory, goes something like this: In the begining there was nothing… and from that nothing came a big bang, … It created all the mass of the universe. The mass then contracted and automatically formed all the planets and set them into motion...

Well, Hamilton's downtown core is certainly not starting from nothing, but the scale and extent of the investment planned by developer Darko Vranich, may provide that big bang effect. A planned 100 million dollar investment will bring 628 condo units, two extended stay hotels and 20,000 square feet of retail space to the core.

As reported by The Spec (see full story here), Vranich has been quietely assembling land downtown and now owns a substantive piece of the area, bounded by Bay, Hess, King and Main streets. His plan calls for four buildings along George Street, starting with a 134-room extended stay hotel at the west end, adjacent to Hess Street.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bashful Bob?

There is an old adage that says "The media is not your friend". Certainly, there is wisdom in that adage. The media has a certain role, and it is best if one comes to understand and appreciate that role. The media however, is also not the enemy. With an appreciation of the media's role, one will also come to appreciate the wisdom in that statement.

Mayor Bratina is certainly not bashful. From his successful career in talk radio to his outspoken style as former Ward 2 councillor, one gets the impression that the Mayor is comfortable conveying his thoughts, when he feels the need to do so. Being an accomplished musician, Bratina also has entertained public audiences with his musical gifts. 

Upon review of certain articles in The Hamilton Spectator, we find several statements like "Bratina did not return The Spectator's request for an interview", or other words to a similar effect. Contrasted to former Mayor Eisenberger's style , Bratina  may present as more reclusive or perhaps on guard, with respect to engaging with the media. There is no judgment here as to whether  his approach is right or wrong, but so far,  it is different than the previous mayor's. 

Do you think Mayor Bratina is just being very smart and not unduly getting distracted from what he has set out to do, thus not responding to the media's every request? Do you think it may be a function of having a very small staff and a result of limited capacity? Do you think Bratina can prevail and be seen to be a Mayor for all Hamiltonians if he does not engage more frequently with the media (given that most people rely on the media (MSM and increasingly social media) to know what is going on)?  Or do you think this is simply Bratina's disciplined approach to his work? Or a combination of some or all of the above? 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are we Winging It?

Clr. Jason Farr, in commenting on what it would take to make WingFest sustainable, said "“that just that one little piece is missing to really put us over the top and make it extra good.” The little piece that the Clr. was referring to, involves getting the festival out of the red. Finance Manager Roberto Rossini said that the Waterfront Trust, an arms-length charitable agency created by the city to develop the waterfront’s recreational and tourism potential, is “in trouble, “Right now their revenues are not covering their expenses.”

The operating budget is just over $200,000 and our losses last year were $50,000,” Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr told The Spec (see full story here). This despite the fact that Wingfest attracted 26,000 people in 2008, 50,000 in 2009 and 46,000 last year.

Recently, the city’s grants subcommittee approved the trust’s request for a $20,000 grant for Wingfest 2011. This approval must be ratified the audit and finance committee and finally by council.

The Executive Director of the Waterfront Trust cited poor weather and economic hardships which made it challenging for them to find sponsors, accounting for the $50,000 loss last year.

According to Clr. Farr, serious consideration was given to canceling Wingfest this year. However, another option that would see the event being handed over to Festival of Friends, is seriously being considered. 

While Festival of Friends general manager Loren Lieberman, said that it would be risky to do so within a compressed timeframe (the Festival runs on June 10-12th) , he was also confident that it was possible.

In addition, there has been a recent budget request for $150,000 intended to cover the operating costs for the new skating rink on the waterfront.

How do you think we should handle these stressors on the city's coffiers? Should we cancel the event or take a risk and "wing it"?