FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: Councillors need to see more of the city
As most know, Belleville is divided into two wards for a number of reasons, one of which is political representation around the council table.
The former Thurlow area gets two councillors, Belleville ward six with the mayor potentially from either.But, there is no residential requirement. Meaning councillors don’t have to live in the ward they represent, much less represent any particular area of the ward they are elected in.
Right now, four of the city’s nine council members – three councillors and the mayor – live in Ward 2, meaning an area with about 20 per cent of the population hosts almost 50 per cent of council.
And yet, that isn’t actually the worst thing about the demographic breakdown of Belleville City Council.
Because the mayor represents the whole city, including working right in the downtown, where he lives might be interesting, but it isn’t necessarily as not as impactful as where councillors live.
In this case, the misplaced councillor is Jack Miller, who moved to Ward 2 after living and working for years in Ward 1. So while the imagery might not be good, the reality is less skewed than it would appear.
And let’s face it, Thurlow could use a little overrepresentation, considering years of neglect and the fact it’s the fastest growing part of the city right now.
(It could be worse: it 2010 Graham Longhurst ran for mayor on an entirely Thurlow-centric campaign. It proved not very effective.)
In fact the problem with this council and geography is not north-south, it’s east-west.
Of the nine people around the council table, only two live west of the Moira River. One of those is north of the 401, and the other is west of Palmer Road.
In other words, in the, to put it politely, financially challenged parts of the city, there is not only no representation, there isn’t anyone within walking distance of representation.
Which might not be seen as a big deal, until there are conversations such as the one that took place at Monday’s Special Council meeting to discuss fire and police tax rates.
The conversation centred primarily around tax rates for fire service in the Cannifton rural and some rural parts of the city, where residents pay lower rates for fire service even though they receive the same service as those who pay higher rates.
Where the conversation went sideways for some members of council, though, was when talk turned to police, where rural residents pay four per cent of the cost of policing.
Treasurer Brian Cousins, in presenting this topic, included a chart showing how a change to everyone paying their fair share would impact taxes for each area.
On a house assessed at $200,000, those paying the freight now would get $40 off their taxes; those picking up the share they aren’t paying now would see their taxes jump by $325.A great argument for, at the very least, phasing in any change. But that wasn’t enough for some.
Three members of council pointed out that the $325 figure was misleading because the $200,000 price tag was “unrealistic.”
“We are talking about $400,000, $500,000, even $700,000 homes. We should be using more realistic numbers,” pouted one councillor.
Except, the $200,000 number wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. According to MPAC, the provincial agency responsible for property assessments, the average property in Belleville is worth $204,000.
Meaning for probably half the people in Belleville – maybe more -- $200,000 is only not realistic because they can’t afford to live in a home that nice.
More pertinent, those people, the ones for whom a $200,000 home is a step up the ladder, are currently footing the bill for those living in $400,000, $500,000, even $700,000 homes who aren’t paying their share.
Yet it is the poor souls being asked to pay their fair share who seem to be the primary concern of at least some members of council who want to make sure the city listens to these residents about how they feel about paying for fire and police service.
Not the ones who have been paying, the ones who are going to be asked to.
The ones who have been paying? There doesn’t seem to be as much concern about them.
Miller, for the record, was one of those who insisted this entire debate boils done to a simple concept – you get the service, you pay for it.
The other consistent, even outspoken voice with a similar message was Coun. Egerton Boyce.
Boyce, for the record, lives downtown, within a stone’s throw of at least some of these less-than-$200,000 properties.
Maybe geography has something to do with politics after all.
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