How City Hall Works
Why City Hall Matters
City government is the most accessible level of government, and City Council makes decisions that most affect our daily lives – from garbage collection to bus service to policing to the provision of electricity, water, sewers, roads, parks, recreation centres and many social services. Virtually all land use decisions are made by City Council, including permission to build new houses, malls and big box stores. The City also employs over 6000 staff.
Hamilton collects half a billion dollars in taxes each year. These come from everyone who lives in Hamilton. Homeowners, business owners and others who own land in Hamilton pay property taxes directly to the City. People who rent also pay property taxes, but through their landlord. About 20% of the average rent goes to pay city taxes.
How City Hall Works
Hamilton has 15 city councillors plus the mayor. City Council meets twice per month, normally on the evening of the second and fourth Wednesdays. There are six standing committees of Council as well as numerous smaller special purpose committees, some of which have citizen members.
The standing committees each meet twice per month. Most standing committees are composed of six to nine councillors each. Two include all members - the General Issues Committee and the Board of Health. In these committees is where most of the real decision-making and almost all of the debate takes place. They make recommendations to Council, which makes the final decision. There is usually little debate at the full Council meetings. Smaller special-purpose committees usually report to one of the standing committees. Meeting times are posted on the City’s website. Click here to check the monthly listings. A list of all the city committees and their council members can be found here.
The agendas for each standing committee, as well as for Council, are required to be posted on the City’s website at least three days prior to the meetings. The agendas include detailed reports from City staff, and these reports are a good source of information about what is taking place in the City. You can read these agendas and reports on the City website here. Then just follow the links. You need Acrobat Reader (free download) to examine the reports. All but the latest meetings should also have minutes posted as well (see the link in the upper left corner) of the agenda page.
The two decision-making bodies that include all councillors – the General Issues Committee and the Board of Health - usually meet monthly. Their schedules and agendas are posted in the same city website locations as those of the other standing committees.
In the 2007-2010 period, the standing committees were slightly different in name and mandate. The standing committees were Audit and Administration (now Audit, Finance and Administration), Public Works (no name or function change), Economic Development and Planning (most functions transferred to the Planning Committee) and Emergency and Community Services (no change).
Prior to 2007, the Council had six standing committees, and for a brief period two of these were combined to form a seventh. The Board of Health meetings began in early 2006. Prior to 2004, the Council had only two standing committees, both composed of all the councillors. One was called the Committee of the Whole (COW) and the other was called the Hearings Sub-Committee. The agendas, reports and minutes of earlier committee can be accessed through the City’s website.
Prior to 2001, Hamilton municipal government was more complex. It was divided between a Regional government and six separate city or town governments. Each had a structure similar to the 2004 structure of the new City. Access to the documents of these governments is more challenging. The Regional ones as well as those from the old City of Hamilton should be available in hard copies in the Special Collections division of the Hamilton Central Library.
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