CHRIS DABROWSKI 2018 PLATFORM
If elected, I will do my utmost to learn, listen, question, co-operate, research and find solutions to every topic brought to Niagara Falls City Council. There will be times when how I vote may not satisfy every resident, but I will always vote in the best interests of the residents of Niagara Falls! At the end of the day, we can accomplish more as a united City Council that works together to find solutions that benefit our residents and our community. Niagara Falls is world-famous, but we are a community first.
Find below my Platform (listed in alphabetical order).
Arts & Culture
As a co-founder and operator of cultural events like Niagara Falls Comic Con and Niagara Falls Oktoberfest, I recognize and see first-hand the importance that culture (and the arts) have on the well-being of our community. As the Chair of the City of Niagara Falls Canada 150 Committee, which succeeded in co-organizing, marketing and managing more than 220 local Canada-themed events in Niagara Falls, I was also blessed to see the excitement of local volunteers and the enthusiasm of thousands more residents celebrate together.
If I may quote the Ontario Culture Strategy published in 2016, “culture is everyday good living, a way of life, shared histories, values, beliefs, vitality, beauty, pride, play, sport, recreation, leisure, fashion, cultural industries, entertainment, live music, photography, publishing, architecture, civic spaces, art, design, interactive digital media, watching television, movies, learning, trying new things, language, books and magazines, crafts, humour, amateur and professional theatre, dance, opera, pow wows, maple syrup festivals, agricultural festivals, farmers’ markets, cultural institutions, museums, archives, historical societies, built heritage and cultural heritage landscapes, fishing, hunting and trapping, social interaction, social cohesion, citizen engagement, sustainability, the products of artists and entrepreneurs….”
Arts and culture matter. They are important to us as a community. They enrich our lives.
More plainly, I am a supporter of arts and culture and I look forward to helping the local arts and culture community grow and thrive! For example, I am in favour of raising the funds allocated to grant programmes like the Niagara Falls Cultural Development Funding Programme to assist local artists.
I am in favour of the newly planned Cultural Hub and Farmers’ Market. I believe it will act as a positive jolt to the local arts and culture community – the creators and spectators alike.
I am also in favour of the new 5,000-seat theatre presently being built. It will attract bigger acts to the city and provide more opportunities for residents to enjoy fantastic entertainment! Of course, it will also provide economic stimulus and tourist dollars into the city. I am most optimistic that it could also serve as a catalyst to Niagara Falls being viewed within the region and beyond as an arts and culture destination, which would raise awareness, interest and participation for the entire arts and culture scene.
Beautification of Neglected Buildings & Properties
There are still properties and buildings in Niagara Falls that are neglected and public eyesores.
We need to better enforce existing city by-laws and move quicker to ensure that neglected properties and buildings are repaired or demolished.
At the same time, neglected properties that are fenced in or boarded up to keep the public safe while being repaired or demolished, are still an eyesore. Where visible to the public eye, these neglected properties should be beautified, at the owners’ expense, so they don’t remain an eyesore.
Building Community through Technology
The city’s current use of various forms of technology is good but there is room for improvement.
The city could further embrace communication options available through social media and the development of smartphone applications. For example, providing residents who opt-in the opportunity to receive an update or push notification about upcoming road construction taking place in their neighbourhood or on their route to work. Wouldn’t you like to know/be reminded about construction taking place on your street before it starts so you can prepare accordingly?
Residents are always wondering when street infrastructure (sewers, water mains, roads and sidewalks) in their neighbourhood will be under major repair or construction. As you may know, Municipal Works staff submit five-year capital budgets for infrastructure to City Council. What would it take to post this information on the city website for the current and two follow-on years? Of course, projects slated for the follow-on years are not guaranteed to occur until annual budgets are approved but the probability is high that the projects proposed would take place.
We could also, as a community, teach other members of our community, how to use technology better. For example, working with the Seniors Advocacy Committee, it may be decided that we need to find younger members of our community to teach Seniors about using social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and communication (FaceTime, WhatsApp) platforms.
Meanwhile, during a good part of my door-to-door canvassing, many residents indicated they are relatively new to Niagara – both the region and the city. In some cases, I was the first “city representative” they had met since becoming residents. Many new residents have limited if any knowledge about local services (i.e. location of neighbourhood parks and/or off-leash dog parks, garbage and recycling days, and so forth), as well as locations of the nearest public and catholic schools, YMCA, B&G Club, Niagara Transit schedule, Public Library branches, History Museum, and various other information commonly included in a ‘Welcome to Niagara Falls’ package. With today’s technology, we could easily create an online digital ‘welcome’ package that would be promoted to all local realtors.
Lastly, Niagara Falls should have public spaces and eventually the entire city equipped with accessible Wi-Fi connection. Residents should be provided with access to the Internet at their fingertips with no additional user or service fees through private or public companies or municipal taxes.
Some of my fresh ideas to build community through technology.
Chippawa Representation on Council
The Village of Chippawa is home to over 5,000 residents of Niagara Falls. It is located just seven kilometres from City Hall, yet its residents feel a great distance stands between them and municipal affairs.
Chippawa is its own community – unique many would say – especially the residents. It also has its own problems and issues. Unfortunately, in many cases these concerns are not readily addressed.
I propose a member of City Council is appointed by City Council to specifically address the interests and concerns of Chippawa residents, similar to what is done now with Council representation on BIAs and City Committees. In this case, the member(s) of Council would hold regular meetings with residents of Chippawa to discuss and bring forward their issues to City Council. The representative does not need to reside in Chippawa – as that can never be certain – but needs to bring forth the voice of Chippawa to all of City Council.
I am also not a proponent of the ward system for several reasons. First, I believe all Councillors should be available and accountable to all residents. Your property taxes help pay for operational and capital improvements across all areas of the city. Second, with just two councillors representing a ward – well, what if you detest one of them and the other just doesn’t respond to your calls? You should always have more options than that. Third, in the ward system it is easier to win based on familial and friendship ties – or in the words, popularity. Popularity doesn’t necessarily make for the best people being elected. Lastly, I believe the ward system has a way of pitting one area of town versus another when it comes to capital allocation for infrastructure improvements, etc., and I believe we should all be working together for the betterment of the entire city. To summarize, I don’t believe the ward system offers fairer or better representation.
Creation of Seniors Advocacy Group
A large and growing segment of our population is now 65+ years young.
In an age of fast-moving technology, how can we better serve our senior residents?
I propose a Seniors Advocacy Committee be established as a committee of Council to address this. The Committee could meet quarterly to discuss issues with Seniors in our community and how the city could work to resolve them. For some in the community, it is simply about being able to afford their monthly bills. As such, I will propose/support a motion for increases to property tax rebates for qualifying seniors and explore what else the municipality could do.
From others, I have heard that they would like to be taught how to use the internet and Facebook on their home computers and smart phones. Others have asked about telephone and online fraud scams and how to be made aware of those. Led by community-minded volunteers, free seminars/classes could be taught on these topics and others. Another example of Building Community through Technology.
At the same time, we need to ensure available municipal, regional, provincial and federal resources as well as those of the Not-for-Profit/Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) sector, are used collaboratively. We do not need duplication of services.
Homelessness: Shelter, Educate & Train
First, our political leaders must address the fact that Niagara Falls, like many communities in Ontario, has an affordable housing problem. We’re not unique to this problem, many cities from Barrie to London and Peterborough to Brantford, are all experiencing worse housing needs.
What makes it worse for us? As more people can’t afford the GTA, they move further away until their mortgage lender says ‘ok, you can afford to live there’. This has been happening for several years now, and it has driven up housing prices in Niagara Falls making it even harder for our own residents to afford to stay.
This doesn’t mean anything of course to those who are desperately waiting for some type of affordable housing. Niagara is not doing well in this area by any means. Both the regional and municipal governments need to do a better job addressing this issue now, with the next council term!
The affordable housing problem in Niagara Falls won’t be resolved in just a year or two; it will take leadership, cooperation, effort, time and money to ensure success, but I do believe it can be resolved if we are willing to look at the problem with fresh ideas.
For example, within Niagara Falls, there are numerous unused buildings owned by the city, region and school boards. These buildings provide opportunities to be retrofitted into affordable housing units. This process could begin within the first year of Council.
I also propose that municipal, regional and school board properties in Niagara Falls that are considered for sale be first offered to a developer that guarantees the property will be developed into mixed affordable housing (single and family units). To make this happen, it will require the acknowledgement of municipal and regional councils that affordable housing is a priority issue, and therefore the full support of our soon-to-be elected local and regional representatives and school board trustees.
We also need to discuss how the city and region can entice developers to build affordable housing and/or repurpose properties for this purpose rather than tear them down for expensive condos only. This could possibly be done by reducing or eliminating building and development fees.
At the same time, we need to secure socially-conscious builders that would be willing to do the work at less than normal rates. These building projects could also work with local high schools and post-secondary institutions to provide apprenticeships in the trades. A further win for the community.
As for funding. The money the City will likely no longer need to spend on tourism due to the collection of the new hotel tax could be directed to the development of an affordable housing. We also need the Region to allocate more money to this issue or keep the City’s portion that it gives to the Region for this purpose and utilize it how the City wishes. We should also be working together to seek more funding from the provincial and federal governments; and we need to investigate opportunities to secure funding from private foundations and corporations.
All that said, I further believe that providing shelter is not enough to stop the cycle of recurring homelessness and related social issues. For the young, homelessness can lead to declining mental health, low school participation, unemployment and a life of crime.
To truly affect change, we need to help with education, training and social services. As such, one of the first unused municipal, regional or school board properties retrofitted could be turned into a ‘community living’ complex that could house an on-site social worker and mental health worker, as well as provide various training programs. From learning about basic personal finances to how to prepare for a job interview, and most anything in between, the training programs would help individuals learn essential life skills, find employment and steady income.
Lastly, we should also explore the use of any vacant, city-owned land that could be readily transformed into other purposes such as for vegetable gardens.
My Stance on these Issues
Most of the driving public has experienced delays across one or more of the 14 at-grade rail crossings across Niagara Falls. From Stanley Ave. to Thorold Town Line, delays at these crossings occur multiple times per day both during regular operations of long trains and from unpredictable train breakdowns and malfunctions.
We all know, these delays create a challenge for emergency service vehicles and impacts the efficiency of traffic on our roads; and the results from a train derailment carrying hazardous materials within our city would be disastrous. There are also economic impacts to some businesses and their employees that could result in plant closures and / or reduced opportunities for local industrial economic growth that requires rail service.
City staff told Council in a July 10th update that they are developing recommendations related to CN Rail operations by 1) exploring all feasible opportunities to relocate rail freight traffic onto other rail corridors; and 2) evaluating strategic grade separation railway crossings.
With regards to the first option, the City has identified three active rail corridors as potential relocation options for the through train traffic, however each comes with its own challenges and unknown costs.
With regards to the second option, based on current construction cost estimates, City staff said a grade separated railway crossing would cost between $25 million to $60 million depending on location, design parameters and property requirements; and that it would take at least five years for the planning, design and construction for each grade separated railway crossing. This option also has its hurdles.
In either case, it won’t be a quick fix solution to this problem. That said, at this point I am still in favour of the re-routing option.
A meeting every two weeks would double City Council meetings from the 13 scheduled meetings last year. At the very least, a council meeting every three weeks would result in 17 scheduled meetings. Any more than that wouldn’t be a productive use of City staff time. I would also like to see each of the three regional councillors attend City Council meetings on a rotating basis to provide residents and Council with regular regional updates.
The proposed new ‘Transient Accommodation Tax’ aka ‘Hotel Room Tax’ is expected to start in 2019. Basically, its a $2/ per night charge on hotel/motel accommodations. It is estimated to generate about $5 million in revenue annually.
The intent is for hotel room tax revenue to support major events like televised New Year’s Eve celebrations (which I look to bring back as soon as possible), Winter Festival of Lights, Niagara Falls Tourism, and fireworks.
The Niagara Falls Canada Hotel Association, a not-for-profit organization was established to operate independently of council and distribute the funds for these tourism initiatives.
This should be fully accountable and transparent tax unlike the DMF. The new hotel room tax system should help with that. If not, I will propose changes at Council. As to a fee being applied to anything beyond accommodations, I am not in favour of that.
At the end of the day, this new hotel room tax, paid by tourists, would relieve the City’s budget of various tourism-related expenses, freeing up this money for other areas of need, like addressing housing affordability or arts and culture initiatives.
Queen Street BIA / Ryerson / Go Train
The downtown core is an important area in our city that we need to better utilize and enhance. With Go Train service scheduled for 2023 and the possibility of a University locating into the downtown core, we must ensure that Queen Street and surrounding area are prepared for these important pieces of infrastructure.
I would like to be appointed as the city’s representation on the board and bring my knowledge of the Queen Street area and experience to ensure we take the steps necessary to plan upcoming initiatives. Council needs to meet with the Queen Street BIA more regularly and be more involved.
Thundering Waters (Riverfront Project)
With regards to the proposed Thundering Waters (Riverfront Project), it is my understanding that Council has approved the initial stage but there are 27 conditions to be met before it can move forward beyond that. Presently, I’m not convinced that the development is a positive for Niagara Falls.
Undoubtedly, before this development ever gets a shovel in the ground there will be an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) appeal, either by the developer or by those opposed to it. At that time, OMB will look to the provincial, regional and municipal laws, and see whether this development conforms or not. There are various (and sometimes conflicting) provincial laws so not sure what the outcome will be, but I don’t see any development happening with the Riverfront Project for years.