After a four-year hiatus, Christine Billings returned to council as one of two new representatives for Ward 4, and now she’s asking for four more.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for council?
The main reason I have always run is to apply my experience and knowledge to ensure fiscal due diligence is undertaken and to continue my efforts to spend wisely, emphasizing basic services and achieving value for tax dollars. It’s imperative to keep moving in the right direction and there is more work to be done. We need to continue completing service reviews to identify efficiencies and savings to pay down the City’s debt and build up reserves from the unsustainably low levels. One of the most rewarding aspects of being on Council is the ability to assist constituents.
2) What, in your opinion, was the most consequential decision on council last term?
The most consequential decision was to clean up the millions of dollars of wasteful spending on district energy and garbage contracts for which our residents received zero value with no environmental benefit. District energy never broke even financially and Council needs to be vigilant going forward to ensure that another financial debacle will never occur again.
3) What is *your* issue? What is the one thing you want to accomplish during your term at council?
Concluding the Dolime Quarry mediation to the City’s satisfaction to protect our drinking water supply. It is of utmost importance to protect the City from risk. I also want to see the trail underpass at the Hanlon and Wellington.
4) What is your understanding of affordable housing versus social housing? How can Guelph develop both?
Affordable housing is defined by the province as rental or ownership with rent or cost at or below a given threshold.
a) in the case of ownership housing, the least expensive of:
1. housing for which the purchase price results in annual accommodation costs which do not exceed 30 percent of gross annual household income for low and moderate income households; or
2. housing for which the purchase price is at least 10 percent below the average purchase price of a resale unit in the regional market area;
b) in the case of rental housing, the least expensive of:
1. a unit for which the rent does not exceed 30 percent of gross annual household income for low and moderate income households; or
2. a unit for which the rent is at or below the average market rent of a unit in the regional market area.
Social housing is accommodation subsidized by various levels of government so that residents are able occupy units more appropriate to their income.
Guelph can develop both by reducing development barriers, lobbying upper levels of government for funding and working with partners. Additional municipal tools we have are promotion of secondary units that are very cost effective, and zoning regulations.
5) Guelph is required by provincial mandate to accept thousands of new residents by the middle of this century. How is the City presently managing growth? What should we be doing differently?
The City manages growth through the Official Plan and the Development Priorities Plan that schedules what is built and when. Growth is impacted by the Provincial Places to Grow which shifted the focus from green field to the older built up area. Other issues that are involved with growth are the development charges and updating that bylaw; reserves for growth, and the capital budget. We have many policies and requirements prior to development approval, including environmental studies, traffic impact analysis, natural heritage requirements and rainwater infiltration to name a few.
We need a better mix of housing types, adding an emphasis on secondary units to offer affordability to many.
6) Transit. First, what is your experience using transit? Second, do you think council and staff presently understand issues with transit? And third, what is one specific thing you would suggest to improve Guelph Transit service?
My family and I have been transit riders and, perhaps more importantly; I have received valuable feedback from residents over many years.
We are conducting a service review to help inform Council and staff of transit issues and where we go next with improvements.
The city has learned a very important lesson recently that consultation with the public, communication and notification regarding route changes is extremely important to transit riders and must be respected and implemented.
7) What needs to be done to improve Regional Transit? (This includes intercity buses, two-way all-day GO trains, and high-speed rail?
We do need to remain vigilant in lobbying upper levels of government to ensure two-way all-day GO and high speed rail come to fruition. The City will need to accommodate parking in order to facilitate these improvements.
8) If there’s one power that’s currently the jurisdiction of the province or the federal governments, but should be transferred to municipalities, what would it be and why?
If there was one power, control over our own population growth and housing density should be the City’s jurisdiction because we are losing the character of our city.
9) How do you define a taxpayer? What is the responsibility of a councillor when it comes to budgeting?
A taxpayer is a person or entity obligated to pay taxes which are a compulsory contribution levied by the government.
Responsibilities include looking at services and the level of service the city provides, receiving public input, assess needs of the community, review expansion packages, perform due diligence and vote on the budget. It is one of the most important roles of Council and it should not be taken lightly. This means that it is critical that we seek to maximize value for taxes, maintain affordability and respect the ability of our citizens to pay.
We were able to pay down considerable debt and increase reserves this term of Council.
10) Hypothetical: The City’s in a budget crunch, and a substantial tax increase is cost prohibitive for the average Guelphite, so a cut *has* to be made. What City of Guelph service do you look at and why?
This is not a hypothetical question but one that council frequently tackles at budget time. All City departments can be thoroughly examined for cost reduction, the capital budget can be reviewed for projects that can be delayed and the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve Fund is intended to deal with an unforeseen substantial tax increase.
Council must ensure that core services are provided in a responsible way and that needs are being met so the public isn’t impacted.
11) Describe a time you had to make a tough decision, and the thought process you went through in order to reach that decision? (Doesn’t have to be political)
The thought process is an evidence informed decision making process that includes all the financial-economic, social, environmental and cultural factors. Utilizing a balanced approach, obtain and evaluate all the information, do research, ask questions, apply necessary policy or regulations, receive and listen to input from stakeholders for all points of view and make a decision for the best outcome with a balance between the constituent, the neighbourhood and community as a whole.
12) Is there a municipal issue that you don’t think gets enough attention? What is it and why should it get more attention?
Affordability: The cost of municipal services is increasing well above inflation and is an affordability issue for many Guelph households and businesses. According to a recent poll by Angus Reid Institute “Almost one-in-three Canadians feel ‘very stressed about money’ on a regular basis – either ‘often’ or ‘all the time’ ”. This is staggering and Council must be more diligent and more concerned with limiting tax increases.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?