LIVE BLOG: City Council Meeting for November 22, 2017

Members of the general public will be able to have their say on the 2018 Tax-Supported Budget at this week’s meeting. You can click here for the agenda from City Hall, and you can click here for the Politico preview. For the complete blow-by-blow of tonight’s council meeting, you can follow me on Twitter, or follow along below via Storify.


#GuelphBudget Meeting – November 22, 2017

Live blog from the meeting starting at 6 pm

  1. A bit late, but I'm here at the #GuelphBudget meeting. Erin Harvey of the @GuelphNSC is now presenting.

    A bit late, but I’m here at the #GuelphBudget meeting. Erin Harvey of the @GuelphNSC is now presenting.
  2. Right now, we’re going over a laundry list of the services offered by the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. “We are the most successful that we ever hope we can be, we want to sustain those successes.”
  3. Can’t find the council meeting on Rogers? (not surprised) You can watch it now on YouTube. 
  4. Cllr Hofland asks if the GNSC will have to cut programs if they don’t get $100K? Harvey said they had to scrape by this year, but they need two other positions, but until then, yes, services would have to be cut to get more overhead.
  5. Cllr Allt praises GNSC for programs success. Onward Willow has taken area teen pregnancy rate from highest in the city to the lowest.
  6. Harvey says there’s a concern for her group spending so much time “chasing grants” that are temporary or limited. They need to have more time for oversight and that the group have the support they need.
  7. Harvey says there are issues with finding sustainability with staff. Whether it’s a grant for $1,000, or a grant for $100K, it’s the same amount of work.
  8. Cllr Wettstein says we’re not too happy with the province downloading social services on the city, and that province is not contributing in a meaningful way. Says council has to find $4 mill in savings to get tax rate for 2018 to something “reasonable”.
  9. Harvey disagrees that this is a provincial responsibility. GSNC isn’t a social service, but an incubator for democracy and leadership in a “healthy and robust city”.
  10. The list of speakers for tonight's meeting. (We're still on #1).

    The list of speakers for tonight’s meeting. (We’re still on #1).
  11. Mayor Guthrie introduces “the only police officer in the room” Arif Hasham…

    And then @ChiefDeRuyter rose…

  12. Sgt Hasham is also talking about the work of the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. Their advocacy game is on point tonight with no less than 6 delegations.
  13. Currently, the city has 13 neighbourhood groups. These groups play a vital role in neighbourhood policing, says Hasham.
  14. Cllr MacKinnon asks if the community would be better with $100K for GNSC, with reduction of Guelph Police budget by $100K, or the opposite?
  15. Hasham says there’s an unseen benefit, but he admits yes, the $100K is better spent on Neighbourhood groups with the benefits down the road.
  16. Next up is Lynne Kloostra of the Brant Avenue Neighbourhood Group
  17. Kim, who has been helped by the Brant Neighbourhood Group, is talking about the inspiration and positive effect that being involved has had on her life, and on her sons’ lives.
  18. Several members of the GNSC team are waving their hands at the end of comments, since clapping violates decorum. It’s kinda funny.
  19. Cllr Allt asks how significant supports for mental health are in the GNSC. Kim has social anxiety, and has developed relationships with many of the neighbours. Local kids know they can get help from her.
  20. Cllr Gibson has some staff questions. Guthrie says that might depend on how long it takes to get through the rest of the delegations.
  21. Next up is Jennifer Macleod of the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, who’s also here to speak to GNSC.
  22. Bottomline: @WDGPublicHealth wants to see the work of the GNSC continue and thrive in order to deliver positive change in the city.
  23. Cllr Van Hellemond notes that the data gathered is from 2006. Most organizations didn’t use 2011 data from census because of the methodology, but their stats will be refreshed with the release of 2016 data.
  24. Next up is Alisha Arnold of the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group, and her daughter Kia. She couldn’t afford childcare, so couldn’t go back to work and leaned on the help of the Two Rivers group.
  25. Arnold says that relationship building that’s offered through the community groups is not offered by accessing provincial serves. It’s hands on, and direct.
  26. Next up is Helen Fishburn of Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. Notes that Guelph’s is the largest organization of its kind in Canada, and they offer “cradle to grave” services. Also they see a lot of people with mental health issues.
  27. Here 24/7 service gets about 5,000 calls per month from people looking for mental health services. Hundreds are on wait lists, and their needs are “very significant” says Fishburn.
  28. A lot of people call don’t trust the system, and need help in order to get people to allow them to get help.
  29. Next up is Barb McPhee of the North Riverside Neighbourhood Group
  30. McPhee talking about her own experiences with poverty and abuse. Received assistance and support from Onward Willow, and then became involved with the group and became a community leader.
  31. McPhee says that the return on investment on the help she’s gotten is worth way more than $100K, and then when you multiply that by the hundreds helped…
  32. Next is Raechelle Devereaux of the Guelph Community Health Centre.
  33. Devereaux compares the GNSC to an allen key, a vital tool that allows all the various neighbourhood groups to establish their goals, whatever they are.
  34. Now Maryann Sly-Kensley, also of the @GuelphCHC, is speaking to support for the GNSC. Impacts on community, and response to needs would not be possible without the partnership, she says.
  35. The final delegation of the GNSC caucus is Brendan Johnson himself. Calls himself the luckiest guy in the city being able to work along side all these people who’ve come out to speak tonight.
  36. Johnson says that they want everyone to feel that they can participate, and that they can celebrate. This is important.
  37. The GNSC summer camps feature 8 camps servicing 1,400 kids, with 60 leaders in training and creating 40 jobs.
  38. Cllr Gordon says he’s not seen a more inspiring presentation to the city as the one GNSC has organized tonight. Question: does the $100K get you caught up to match capacity?
  39. Johnson: Yes, there’s a lot of stuff to do, a lot of initial success, and they money will help a little with expansion, but more about meeting present need. Have had to say no to a lot of people.
  40. Gordon asks Johnson if he’s a victim of his own success, and that the City is relying on GNSC, What does an ask for expansion look like? Johnson says that’s a big question that he may have to bring back next year.
  41. Allt asks about the issues being face by people of colour and trans people. Equity committee formed and equity coordinator hired. Coming in January there’ll be an all-day conference on equality. Trying to further dialogue on power and privilege.
  42. Allt jokes that Johnson has “half of Guelph” out for $100K. Johnson says there there’s a myth of sustainability through grants, you’re constantly chasing it, and then they reform everything…
  43. Community relations doesn’t come to a nice sound bite too often, but Johnson says that it’s nice to show off what his organization does.
  44. Hofland withdraws her questions because she wants to wrap the delegation with humour. Guthrie says that’s not a great segue for him since he does have question.
  45. Guthrie asks Johnson if GNSC gets their $100K will they stop looking for other money?
    Johnson: No.
    Guthrie: The equity coordinator, was that a paid position?
    Johnson: Yes, it was through a Trillium grant, but no ongoing funding.
  46. No further Qs for Johnson. Guthrie notes about 9 more delegations, and thinks this is a good time for a break. Downer suggests councillors should ask questions of staff now so that people here for GNSC can hear the ask.
  47. Guthrie asks if community benefit agreements have increase embedded in them. DCAO Clack says there is an annual cost-of-living increase worked in, and that’s included in the base.
  48. 13 total community benefit grants in the city, fyi.
  49. Each go through a review process when they come up for renewal depending on the individual agreement. Danna Evans notes that GNSC has a 5-year agreement currently.
  50. The GSNC agreement comes up for renewal in 2020.
  51. Gibson asks staff to review talks with the city so far. Clack says they knew the ask was coming, had to do juggling to get the 1.5% increase for community grants to fit in the limited .5% increase department wide.
  52. Guthrie asks if its worthwhile to look at a wholesale policy review of CBAs. Clack says it’s better still to handle them one-on-one as they come up for renewal. Everyone’s strapped.
  53. We’re back at it with @chamberadvocacy as the next delegation. We’re pausing to make sure the live stream is streaming.
  54. Mwanzia says that the commentary tonight is being driven by feedback from Guelph’s businesses and business leaders with the goal of continued economic sustainability in the city.
  55. Mwanzia talks about the important role of Transit in economic sustainability. Asking for route review with an eye on more consideration for Guelph’s manufacturing and industrial base. This all includes continued pressure for two-way, all-day GO service.
  56. Mwanzia also advocates for keeping the property tax rate increase inline with the rate of inflation.
  57. Cllr Salisbury asks for clarity in private sector involvement for route review. Mwanzia says he doesn’t think anything should be off the table. City should look to work with businesses with large work forces.
  58. Hofland aks for clarity on rate of inflation, does that include the infrastructure levy too? Mwanzia says that council knows the Chamber stance on levy. For the rest of you: 
  59. Gibson asks about competitiveness and the prolonged investment cycle, asks Mwanzia how Guelph can look welcoming.
  60. Mwanzia says the formula for competitive does include property taxes, transit, etc, but can’t lose site that taxes is still a consideration and there’s been successive years of 2x the rate of inflation increases.
  61. Wettstein says to bring the rate down council will have to come up with $7 million in cuts, that will also affect the attractiveness of Guelph, yes? Mwanzia says he can’t speak to that #, but he says that taxes is a concern for members.
  62. Also, decisions made around the board room table that are often made based on the cold hard numbers from the rates.
  63. Guthrie asks if the service review of Transit should be done before Mwanzia’s proposed route review, and Mwanzia agrees with that.
  64. Skipping over the next 2 delegates who do not seem to be here, we come to perennial delegate Pat Fung. Believes Guelph has a spending cost problem.
  65. This year, Fung is using Barrie, a single-tier municipality like Guelph as a comparator and we’re spending $3K per person vs almost $2,600 per person in Barrie.
  66. Fung says that operating costs should be cut to make infrastructure a priority. Plus the City has too many people on staff apparently.
  67. Fung makes the point: # of fires is going down but fire costs are going up, what’s the deal?
  68. Gibson agrees on some of points that Fung made that the City needs to investigate, but has Fung broadened it through other communities? Fung says he’s looked at it, but it’s time consuming.
  69. Allt offers a point of order, might ask staff questions later about his report.
  70. Next up is Christine Hassan. Hasn’t heard anything about Guelph Transit’s place in the budget this year because of lack of newspaper.
  71. Many routes running less frequently, gaps in service, though to get anywhere unless it’s the university. (No #10 stop in the West End Rec Centre, hard to access the therapy pool for people with mobility issues.)
  72. Hassan makes the point that while students are on the priority, the amount paid by citizens is the equivalent of 2 people. In other words, 10 people on the bus in the summer = 20.
  73. Hassan reminds transit is a need not a want, gets cars off the road, all that…
  74. Next up, my arch-enemy @steven_petric to talk on behalf of the Transit Advisory Council.
  75. Good news transit nerds: no cuts to summer service, according to Petric through TAC.
  76. Weekends suck, according to TAC, says Petric. There needs to be expanded service especially on Sunday.
  77. Petric is on fire, says that council and mayor have talked about the positives of realignment, and that needs to be followed up with more investment.
  78. Allt asks if TAC has any numbers about the people who would take expanded service on Sunday. Nothing specific, but its something heard about.
  79. A delegation in a delegation. A gentleman says his two kids worked on Sunday and had to be driven to get their jobs on time. A lot of students in same boat.
  80. Chris Keleher is here on behalf of those working 60 hours per week, seniors and all those concerned about rising taxes. Confident that there’s tax savings that might be found. Says council should get to picking the high-hanging fruit.
  81. Keleher doesn’t want to offer suggestions since he isn’t informed enough. Wants this council to set precedence for the next by digging deep and finding savings.
  82. Ted Pritchard of Fair Tax Campaign is back for his yearly appearance to advocate for equal service delivery to condo owners.
  83. Pritchard says that there’s a chance on Dec 5 for council to make things fair. Much of that new MPAC money discovered comes from condo owners by the way.
  84. Guthrie thanks Pritchard for his multiple presentations over the years. I hate to say it, but I think Pritchard is going to be written off the show in the season finale…
  85. Hofland asks Pritchard about the dwindling interest over 10 years. Are members of the Fair Tax Campaign doubtful that council will ever move forward with their concerns?
  86. Pritchard says he’s failed at that aspect. No members of the exec in the gallery, even though this is the year they have the chance to do something. But Pritchard doesn’t have an answer.
  87. Hofland says she didn’t ask the question to show how Pritchard has failed. She appreciates his tenacity.
  88. Hofland: We had a ward 3 budget meeting and 5 people came,
    Pritchard: We had 4.
    Guthrie I had 4 people at my townhall and 2 were my parents.
  89. Susan Ratcliffe is the last speaker. Says that Guthrie comments on making priority a low rate increase is the wrong approach, the priority should be creating a robust community.
  90. Ratcliffe supports the elimination of the Vacancy Tax Rebate, but… wants to but the savings into preserving heritage buildings and stop destruction through neglect.
  91. Ratcliffe says that council screwed up on 75 Dublin last year by not following regular process. The matter is now before the OMB cost the city in legal costs. Those were tax savings.
  92. Ratcliffe also says that council shouldn’t put emphasis on all the “anonymous” taxpayers that want to slash spending, but if they are looking for $7 million in savings, don’t build the new Niska Bridge.
  93. Back to council questions and discussion now.
  94. Allt begins by asking CAO Thomson about questions concerning how staff is managing of budgets. i.e. Fung’s report.
  95. Thomson says MBA is not “apples to apples” comparison across municipalities. Council makes decisions based on community priorities, which is not universal across all of Ontario’s 400+ municipalities.
  96. Thomson suggests that Fund review recent arbitration costs across Ontario vis-à-vis fire costs.
  97. Thomson adds that staff was given a mandate to meet .5% rise in spending this year outside of compensation. .5% is well below the rate of inflation.
  98. Allt asks about transit, and the stats about people using the bus on Sundays. Clack says that’s some of the work that will be done during the service review.
  99. Cost of electric buses too, Allt asks. Clack says any contemplation of changes needs to wait for the completion of the service review.
  100. Hofland asks about transit budget changes, aren’t we buying a new community bus? Transit GM Spicer says the bus will be bought in 2018, in service in 2019.
  101. Guthrie asks when council might get the service review on transit back. Thomson says its a 12 month process. It could be Dec 2018, or Jan 2019. There’s a $100K expansion to complete review in the budget.
  102. Guthrie ponders the possibility of raising the funding for the review to get it complete for July, but will take those ponderings offline.
  103. Gordon says there are perceptions of inefficiencies, that there’s gaps in service with focus on mainline, does that mean there’ll be no changes for a year till review complete.
  104. Thomson says Transit has done best it can with budget. Needs thorough review so that it can get the best possible service and get efficient system. Need time to do it right.
  105. Clack says adjustments will be made to address needs. Larger changes, they’re going to wait for the service review before doing those.
  106. MacKinnon wants to confirm that cash rates and affordable pass use is part of the review. It will be.
  107. Salisbury asks if there’s a way to get results more timely? DCAO Stewart says no, they’ve learned a lot since January and 1st review. Can do it in 11 months, but not 2 no matter the # of consultants.
  108. Allt asks what’s a “tweak” to transit. Spicer says boardings and ridership are being reviewed, and from that will be the targets.
  109. Spicer notes that despite the mainline, still about 5 or 6 bus loads being left on sidewalk. Also, people still missing their transfers.
  110. On West End Rec Centre, number of people getting on there was less than 3 boardings an hour, but mobile service to WERC has picked up as a consequence.
  111. We’re going to start with intentions. Guthrie says he’ll work his way around the horseshoe so that the public knows where council’s head is at.
  112. Cllr Billings wants to look at efficiency target to keep the rate increase low.
  113. Cllr Hofland wants to support request from GNSC, and bring forward her own expansion pack to change income threshold for city to subsidy programs to the low income measure.
  114. Hofland cont’d: To build consensus with colleagues, consider new hires carefully, support increase fair and equitable, still considering $480K (??) can’t commit right now. Also, National Housing Strategy came out today.
  115. Cllr MacKinnon: Live streaming of council meetings, tying increase to GNSC to commensurate decrease in Police budget. Also willing to let some things slide till next council considering pressures. Wants 3% all in
  116. MacKinnon pledges no questions on budget night. Going to get all questions answered in advanced, hope rest of council will do the same.
  117. Cllr Salisbury would like also get feedback from police as per MacKinnon’s idea. Wants more clarity on actual out-of-pocket real cost vs lost income on transit fares.
  118. Cllr Downer wants clarification on the surplus. What’s the policy? Doesn’t it go into reserve?
    Thomson says this will come up Monday. It’s a forecast, not real yet. But yes, Downer’s right about the policy.
  119. Treasurer Baker says the surplus is at council’s will in terms of what it can be used for.
    Downer notes that it can be used to relieve the burden this year.
    Thomson reminds again that this is a *forecast*.
  120. Thomson says that direction is at council’s will, and there are tools in order to do that. Meanwhile, Baker’s staff preparing to post the mechanics on the budget board.
  121. Cllr Gibson wants to make sure that staff is never used as political cover. Staff brings recommendations, council makes decisions.
  122. That being said, he wants to voice his support for increase in infrastructure, but wants every half per cent increase in levy be matched by half per cent decrease in operating.
  123. Gibson also looking at purchasing limits as a way to create savings. Looks to bring forward motions on departmental spending to generate $500K in savings.
  124. Downer says if that’s Gibson’s intention then staff should create awareness about the potential impacts.
  125. Wettstein says he will ask staff along the lines as Downer just mentioned, about what the impact of not proceeding with spending will be. Staff already good at looking at efficiencies.
  126. Wettstein says he’s going to look at yard waste pick-up and affordable housing. Thinks its premature to go into full funding so soon after passing the policy this year.
  127. Salisbury says he struggles with the message board, maybe because he’s “old school”, asks about reduction in serves on one end to address increase in serves on the other.
  128. Wettstein says some of the expansions don’t look like expansions. Related to changing of service or growth of the city.
  129. That seems to be a wrap for intentions. Guthrie adds that he’s unlikely to approve any of the expansions except for some programs: Yard waste and paramedics are likely passes.
  130. Guthrie says he looks to be fair and equitable to build consensus. Doesn’t want to make it about services and values, looks to council to figure it all out. Sometimes he feels like he has to compromise up, not down.
  131. Mayor says he feels like he’s here to keep tax burden down. Wants to reach middle ground to make things palatable for him, council, and the community. Wants to hit a home run, here.
  132. Dec 5: Guthrie says he will ask at the beginning for anything new. Wants no questions unless it’s something new. Changes for this year we ask for comments then vote for each expansion.
  133. Let’s make it a really good night, Guthrie adds. No relationship meltdowns.
  134. Salisbury says last budget there was an incremental passing of the budget last year, will it be the same this year? Guthrie says it will be the same.
  135. DCAO Lee says best way is middle ground, to follow the expansion as they go and keep the running tally of the build so that the final budget reaches consensus.
  136. Thomson says there’s board budget, base, expansions and levy. Advises that the best place to start is base and follow as Lee suggests a running total.
  137. Further feedback on process will happen offline
  138. Wettstein says he can see council getting to the last item, it doesn’t matter how he votes by the time it gets to the end, that’s the budget. Baker says staff will work on the recommendation.
  139. Downer says she’s seen councillors vote for the things they support and then in the end vote against the budget. A bit of sliminess to that.
  140. Thomson says that council has to vote, you can’t show your intention and vote on nothing in the end.
  141. That’s it for tonight’s meeting. Guthrie thanks staff for their hard work. #GuelphBudget will commence again for the final votes on December 5.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s