Staff Report Warns Trouble Ahead With Provincial Changes

In late breaking council agenda news, staff will lay out the recent changes to Provincial legislation what effect they will have on the City of Guelph. Long story short, it’s not good, and it’s still not exactly clear what the total effect will be.

Among the concerns from City staff:

The merger of ambulance services. The 2020 funding freeze means $1.5 million in lost revenue, and the exact impacts of the merger of the 59 operators and 22 dispatch centres is still unknown.

Public Health. As previously announced, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit will be merged with Halton, Peel, and Waterloo Regions, but more than that, the funding formula’s been altered. Where as the Province once paid 75 per cent of the health unit costs, they’ll now pay only 70 per cent, and 65 per cent in the case of health units that serve over a million people. The new combined health unit for Wellington, Dufferin, Guelph, Peel, Halton, and Waterloo will serve three million. The loss of provincial revenue could be between $1.5 and $3 million.

Gas Tax. No increase in the municipal share of the gas tax as previously promised means $27 million in lost revenue for transit over the next 10 years.

Changes to Development Charges Act. Staff predict that the changes enacted by the Provincial government will cost the City $155 million over the next 10 years. And while the so-called “hard DCs” – streets, pipes, street lamps, et al – will be protected, the changes to other DCs will put projects like the South End Community Centre, the new main library, and Wellington Park in danger. This means that construction of these projects will have to rely more on debt, and will significantly affect cash flow.

New Community Benefits Authority. This will replace the density bonusing provisions, the parkland dedication authority, and the “soft DCs.”  The new process will require that City’s spend 60 per cent of the community benefit annually, require the creation of a new bylaw to govern their collection, and it will require the City to come up with a community benefits strategy. Also, property owners will be able to object to the value of the community benefits charged to them.

Planning Act. Timelines for municipalities to process planning applications has been made shorter now, which will have an effect on how City staff and residents are able to respond to a pending application. On the other hand, another change to the Planning Act will allow for secondary units in existing residential and ancillary buildings, which will be exempt from DCs.

Ontario Heritage Act. Property owners will be able to appeal heritage designations and alterations to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, or LPAT, whose decisions are binding. This could result in more time and money for staff to defend all decisions at the LPAT, and it will create less autonomy for the City since the LPAT, using the old Ontario Municipal Board rules now, tends to heavily favour developers. Speaking of which…

Local Planning Appeal Tribunal Act. The LPAT will now have the authority to limit direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and will limit non-parties’ ability to participate in appeals. This will have an effect on neighbourhood and community groups that will have to take on lawyers and thousands of dollars in legal fees in order to participate in an appeals process.

The report says that the City is looking to influence the new regulations and policy, which has still not yet been completed, and they’re trying to encourage more consultation between the Province and municipalities. The City is teaming up with the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO), the Municipal Finance Officer’s Association, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

The bottom line is that the full effects of the changes by the Province are still not yet known. Staff will report that they’ll have a better picture of future financials during the 2020 budget process later this year in terms of specific changes to growth-related costs and capital projects.

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