BUDGET 2016: Other Points of Concern from Public Input

Many of the concerns on public feedback night in council’s 2016 budget deliberations involved big ticket items: garbage pick-up, transit, taxes, but many people came out to speak to a variety of different issues. Whether it’s fees, mobility, or funding for new and continuing projects there was a lot of insight into what city council should make a priority in the next year.

The condition of city sidewalks was of primary concern. Brad Howcroft, Chair of Accessibility Advisory Committee, with the assistance of Vice-Chair Julia Phillips, asked for a request to expand sidewalk ramp installation. According to the AAC, 193 sidewalk routes are not accessible to those in a wheelchair, scooter, walker or other physical disability. These people are in danger as they’re forced use driveways in order to access sidewalks when crossing the street.

Former mayoral candidate Joseph St. Denis also had sidewalks on his mind, and he came to council “to seed in your minds” with finding a way to promote better sidewalk maintenance. The walkways in front of churches, schools, and parks are a particularly bad in stretches St. Denis said, as sometimes days go by before sidewalks are ploughed. It’s a perilous mess with people walking through the unshoveled snow, which then melts and freezes again to create uneven surface. It’s rougher still if you walk around in bare feet all year long.

“I don’t care about me I put myself through a particular kind of hell,” said St. Denis. He would however like to see the city promote a way to “conscript young people” to get more community active on the issue, or make home owners responsible for the sidewalks outside their home.

Jakki Prince, owner and operator of Sweet Temptations Cupcakery, wanted council to reconsider the 15 per cent increase in vendor fees at the Guelph Farmers Market. The last increase in vendor fees was six per cent in 2014 following the expensive renovations done to the Farmers Market building, but this time, news of the increase cam before vendors had to renew their agreements.

According to Prince, there was no explanation for the 15 per cent fee increase, just a leaflet given to vendors. When Prince asked city staff about the formula or parameters that went into the increase, they said there was no such formula. Instead Prince suggested the increase be phased in over a number of years, or else find corporate sponsors or differentiated rates depending on the vendor. The risk is that some people that currently sell at the market may be price out by the cost.

Business development was also on the agenda. Chamber of Commerce President Kithio Mwanzia pointed out some of the dangers in the budget in terms of making the city attractive to new business. “The innovations to the budget process was a valuable component to understanding the process of budget,” Mwanzia said. “But we continue to be concerned about the inflation increases to water and waste water charges.”

Speaking on behalf of the Chamber, Mwanzia was also concerned with the infrastructure gap, reiterated the need to keep tax increases within the rate of inflation, and recommended that the city commit to investment in a service rationalization review, so that businesses interested in coming to Guelph have a greater level of predictability to work from.

James Doran of Innovation Guelph also wanted to promote business in the Royal City, and was asking council for $50,000 to support the group’s work to “actively build a local and vibrant eco-system.” The money would allow Innovation Guelph to expand it’s programs, which currently supports 100 small to medium enterprises in the city, and look for ways to become sustainable without depending on government funding.

Rob McLean and Brad Van Horne spoke about Open Guelph, and its contributions to make City Hall more transparent and accountable. It’s about modernizing service delivery, and not about making a great Facebook page, McLean said. The goal of Open Guelph is to empower city staff and make them more engaged. Van Horne meanwhile, said that Open Guelph has at least four new projects going in order to get greater consultation with citizens.

Const. Chris Probst of the Guelph Police and Dominique O’Rourke spoke about getting council to approve funding for next May’s Special Olympics. Over 1,000 athletes will be coming, and this will be the biggest Special Olympics to date with a price tag of $500,000. Probst was not asking for all $500,000 though, they were only asking for $35,000: $12,000 for transportation, $3,000 for advertising, $5,000 for marketing, and $15,000 to rent the Sleeman Centre for the opening and closing ceremonies. According to Probst and O’Rourke, benefits to the city will include raising Guelph’s profile in sports tourism, promoting, inclusiveness, building partnership, volunteer experience, creating awareness for people with special needs, and will be worth $1 million in economic investment back into the city.

Suzanne Swanton of the Wellington-Guelph Housing Committee wanted to the make sure that the designated fund for capital improvement to social housing continued to have enough money to keep the city’s units in good repair. Lise Rodgers, meanwhile, asked for lighting for the dog park on Lee Street. Will Mactaggart of the Downtown Advisory Committee made a case for the City to chase promised infrastructure investments from the new Federal government. And Bruce Ryan of the Old University Residents Association asked for a “proactive” bylaw officer since there are “still some landlords not playing ball.”

Will any of these priorities make the cut? The budget will be voted on by city council on December 9.

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