This Month at Council: Budget Begins, Real Estate, and the Shortest Meeting Ever!

This month saw an increase in the time spent in the council chambers as the 2020 budget process got underway with two presentations. In other areas there was some high drama about a high-rise, and some questions about an elaborate new city building project in a marathon Election Night meeting of council. For everything else, here’s the council recap for October.

Committee of the Whole – October 7

Servicing Policy for Properties Located Outside of Guelph Municipal Boundary – Mayor Cam Guthrie asked if there was any possibility of appeal for property owners if the City finds that a service agreement is not to the mutual advantage of everyone involved. Staff took that away as a note.

Natural Heritage Advisory Committee Terms of Reference – What should have been a simple consent item became a procedural donnybrook when delegate Susan Watson expressed concerns that the terms of the NHAC were undemocratic given that the two committees that it is replacing – the Environmental Advisory Committee and the River Systems Advisory Committee – both allow delegations, and the new NHAC does not.

Staff made the argument that the NHAC is not designed to be a committee in a similar fashion to the previous committees, as it will be more of a “focus group” that will offer feedback on big ideas, but not make any actual recommendations to council on any specific proposal. Councillor Leanne Piper tried to offer an amendment to make delegates part of the NHAC terms of reference, but it failed. Piper had three more amendments that made some changes to language in the terms for clarity, and staff will work with Piper on this before bringing forward the final terms at this month’s regular council meeting.

Before the final vote, Guthrie took the chance to unload some frustration about the way the debate was phrased. He said that he’s tired of council and staff being accused of diminishing democracy, and taking nefarious actions behind the backs of citizens.

Planning Our Future: Growth Plan Conformity Project Initiation – The City is undertaking a provincially mandate review to see if we’re going to meet our “Places to Grow” targets, and many of the questions had to do with the effects of Bill 108 on raising the money to cover the most of that growth. Staff will be brining forth an interim report in 2020 that will outline the impact of those changes, and the new regulations for the Community Benefit Charges should be coming any time now…

Comprehensive Zoning By-law Review Discussion Paper and Guelph Parking Standards Review Discussion Paper – The discussion papers were discussed in terms of the directions they offered, especially the desire on the part of people to see more leeway on accessory apartments and tiny houses. November will see a series of meetings that will discuss the directions and get feedback on where to go next.

Planning Meeting – October 16

Decision Report 1533-1557 Gordon Street and 34 Lowes Road West – The one big item from this week’s agenda became a unique sort of procedural controversy.

The original plan for this site came to council in March 2018, and at the time it was a proposed six-storey building with 102 units inside. After months of wrangling, the development was scaled back to 86 units, and while it will still be a six-storey building, the massing has been changed to drop two storeys off the north and south end of the building and the building’s length was reduced by 17 metres.

Those concessions though were not to the satisfaction of the five area residents who came to delegate. They felt that council ordered all parties at the last meeting to go away and come back with a different proposal for this development, and instead they got a slightly modified version of the old one. The delegates were firm that this development is not in the character of the area even though council has targeted Gordon Street as an intensification corridor.

When the vote finally came, council was split 6 to 6 with Councillor Leanne Piper absent due to illness. A tie vote typically means a failed vote, but after a brief conference with staff, Mayor Cam Guthrie explained that the tie vote in the planning context means a non-decision, and not that the proposal can’t go forward. There needs to be a decisive, majority council vote one way or the other. The motion was then deferred to the November planning meeting when it will be up to Piper to break the tie.

Also, if you’re interested in delegating on this subject, that option’s still open for next month’s meeting.

Special Council Meeting on Standard Assets/Facility Needs Assessment – October 21

Council reviewed the information provided by staff about under-performing real estate assets, and many questions were asked about the possible directions for the eight specific sites mentioned in the report.

Councillor Rodrigo Goller offered a motion to direct staff to look at one of the sites, 106 Beaumont Crescent, as a potential site for harm reduction housing and bring back that information for November’s Committee of the Whole meeting. CAO Scott Stewart said that was a lot of work to accomplish in just a few weeks, and Deputy CAO Colleen Clack suggested that the January Committee meeting would be a better fit.

With only nine members of council present for the presentation and debate of the City Operations Facilities Needs Assessment, Guthrie suggested that the item be deferred to the budget meeting on Wednesday, but the vote failed.

Staff then presented the justification for the need to invest in a campus for a number of City departments on Dunlop Road including Transit, Parks and Rec, and fleet maintenance. Many of the buildings that house these departments were constructed in the 1960s, and they are currently reaching the end of their useful life, plus they can’t be physically expanded because of the limited real estate.

Much of the council discussion focused on how staff was asking council to move forward on such a huge project with some pertinent information missing like a business case, and a list of what kind of efficiencies the corporation will achieve by putting all its services in one sector. Stewart said that this was a kind of “chicken and the egg” scenario, they need to start work on the design plan before knowing what the savings will be.

Gibson presented an amendment to ask staff to present a detailed business case and staging plan before the final approval of the full campus. Staff was fine with that suggestion, and they were only really looking for around $11 million for 2020, which will cover the cost of planning, and for site prep with much of that money going to the demolition of the old SUBBOR building on the property.

The motion to refer the request to the November 13 vote on the Capital Budget, as amended by the approved Gibson motion, passed 6-3.

The first meeting for the 2020 Budget. Presentation and Public Delegations for the Capital Budget and Forecast – October 23

Staff reviewed the details of the 2020 Capital Budget and 10-Year Capital Forecast (which you can review here) and how the $151.6 million in the 2020 budget, and the $1.9 billion 10-year forecast, was geared to mostly “significant infrastructure renewal.”

Of primary concern to council was the $52.1 million short fall, and the proposed 2.19 per cent levy that was going to be phased in over three years to help cover it. Many councillors probed General Manager of Finance Tara Baker about the original dedicated infrastructure levy, which was renewed at one per cent every year for the last three years. Baker said that the originally recommended 0.5 per cent is part of the 0.83 recommendation for this budget year, and was part of the financial staff’s new approach to addressing the gap in infrastructure funding.

Mayor Cam Guthrie proposed near the end of the meeting that staff should be directed to look at the list of City Building Projects for 2020 to 2029 and see which ones might be delayed to bring down the total levy with the only exception being projects undertaken for health and safety concerns.

A number of councillors had issues with this because, if passed, council was asking staff to make political decisions. Councillor Christine Billings proposed a different motion that would ask staff for information on the impact of potential deferrals, which was more palpable to the whole of council.

In terms of the intentions that councillors might bring to the November 13 meeting to pass the Capital Budget, Councillor Bob Bell announced that he was going to ask to defer construction of the Ward-to-Downtown pedestrian bridge because of “massive expense for 75 yards,” despite staff’s assertion that it’s a matter of safety. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke says that she’ll be looking at options for the Locomotive, and Councillor Dan Gibson wondered if it was necessary for the City to proceed with three major projects (the main library, the operations campus, and the South End Community Centre) in roughly the same five-year period.

Regular Meeting of Council – October 28

Council barreled through the consent agent of items from Committee of the Whole. Mayor Cam Guthrie also acknowledged the passing of former three-term City Councillor Sean Farrelly, and council approved the settlement between the City of Guelph and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), Local 231, which represents Guelph’s paramedics.

Budget Meeting, Public Delegations for Non-tax Supported Operating Budget – October 30

At the top of the meeting, council passed an increase in compensation for non-union employees to the tune of $839,000 or 1.9 per cent.

As to the budget, Samantha Lawson and Sonja Radoja of the Grand River Conservation Authority presented their budget to the council and outlined how they intent on dealing with program funding cuts from the Province. There will be no cuts to programs, but the GRCA is making it up with funding from reserves, a decrease in discretionary administrative and operating costs, and finding new sources of revenue. They will be no job cuts, but there may be some adjusting of roles and responsibilities through attrition.

Guelph’s municipal levy for the GRCA is going up 2.9 per cent for 2020, but conservation authorities are still waiting for the definition of “core services” from the provincial government.

Stormwater, Water, and Wastewater Services each took turns presenting their budget, but there wasn’t much in the way of controversy till the presentation of Parking Services.

Councillor Dan Gibson said during comments that this was a “great opportunity” to look at the big picture, and he called the subsidization of free, two-hour downtown parking a “non-essential service” that the City “doesn’t have to provide.” Gibson then said he wants to have a talk about parking on decision night on November 13, but he’s not yet sure what that will look like.

Fun fact: The City has to pay property taxes to itself for its own parkades.

As to other intentions, Mayor Cam Guthrie asked staff to outline how an increase in the stormwater fee by 40 cents for 2020 might affect the budget in terms of taking on more projects to update the infrastructure.

For regular recaps of council meetings, subscribe to the Guelph Politico newsletter, The Tip Sheet, which comes out every Tuesday and Friday. Click here to get it. 

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