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Would you pay higher taxes in Richmond Hill for windrow removal service?

Should condo owners pay?
Feb. 12, 2015
By Kim Zarzour

How much would you be willing to pay in extra taxes to have your driveway windrow plowed? $50 a year? More than $50?

Would your answer be the same if you lived in a condominium, and did not have a driveway to be cleared?

The thorny issue of the snowplile at the end of residential driveways came up again at council this week and this time, the town is considering asking what you think.

When snowplows pass along a street, they often leave a ridge of snow at the end of driveways that homeowners must contend with.

This was a hot topic of discussion during the recent municipal campaign, with some residents and candidates calling for townwide removal program similar to what’s provided in the City of Vaughan.

Vaughan has a citywide program clearing 80,000 driveways at a cost of about $3.5 million, according to a staff report presented to council’s budget committee.

In December, councillors asked staff to investigate and report back on the cost and feasibility of providing a window clearing service here in a future year.

Currently, the Town of Richmond Hill clears about 1,400 driveway windrows for eligible residents (those who are over 65 or have a disability), at a cost of about $64,000 a year.

This program aims to remove the windrows within 30 hours, but that has become increasingly difficult, according to the staff report, because of an increase in road lanes, new legislation restricting plow driving time and a more than doubling of the number of residents wanting the service (600 in 2005 vs 1,400 today).

If the town were to enhance that service by outsourcing to include all eligible driveways townwide, it would cost an additional $2.65 million for winter maintenance, or approximately $50 per citizen.

Ward 6 Councillor Godwin Chan and Ward 3 Councillor Castro Liu said they heard loud and clear from residents that this was a service they were willing to pay for.

But that sentiment was less clear after Chief Administrative Officer Joan Anderton pointed out the service would be provided to the town’s 55,000 single-family homeowners only, but every taxpayer would have to pay.

“The town has 66,000 homes and a lot of people in apartments and condos who would be paying for this on their tax bill and getting no service,” she said.

That may not be acceptable to everyone, said Mayor Dave Barrow.

“I think condo owners are hurting already because we don’t do waste collection or anything else, quite frankly, so it’s just one more hammer on condo users who are working very hard as a group to try to lobby the province to create a new tax category for them.”

Ward 5 Councillor Karen Cilevitz said a substantial number of residents - 11,000 - won’t benefit from the windrow service.

“This is a voice that needs to be heard,” she said. “They’re asking ‘why are our taxes the same for real estate in the sky?’... This is a very difficult issue.”

“I understand condo owners will not want to pay, and if I lived in a condo I wouldn’t want to pay for it either,” added Ward 4 Councillor David West. “But if you go too far down that road, I don’t really like swimming so therefore I shouldn’t have to pay for swimming pools? ... It’s really, really important we make sure we do this properly. A really candid discussion is what we need here.”

“It’s not one resident against another resident, it’s about providing service to people,” said Ward 2 Councillor Tom Muench.

“Some have more garbage, some have less ... There are people who enjoy parks, people who don’t ... Life isn’t what’s fair. Life is what you negotiate. So although it’s not fair for some of those condominium people, this is where some leadership can be shown.”

Ward 1 Councillor Greg Beros called for a “scientifically proven survey” to find out if the majority of residents are willing to pay for windrow removal - and the survey should include all additional costs including equipment storage, fuel and snow storage.

“This is a big nut and if we’re going to crack it, we need to know,” he said.

Councillors voted in favour of Beros’ motion to send the matter back to staff for additional information on costs and potential public consultation.