This Month at Council: Budget Complete and Other Unfinished Business

Guelph City Council finished the year by passing one of the toughest budgets of the last several years, and by looking ahead to new tech changes at City Hall in the new year. At the same time, there were still a few contentious planning matters left to tie off. Here’s the look back at December around the horseshoe.

Committee of the Whole – December 2

In a relatively brisk affair, the final Committee meeting of the year saw a demonstration of the new data management system for local economic development, an update on the City’s implementation of the Waste Free Ontario Act updates, and there were a few questions about the year-end operating variance, which still looks on track to be about $2.2 million. This was key because there were a lot of designs on that projected surplus as council headed into the budget meeting!

Deliberations om the Tax Supported Operating Budget, Local Boards and Shared Services Budget – December 3

It was a done deal in about six hours, and here’s how we got there:

*The Budget Impacts per Ontario Regulations 284/09 and Budget Public Sector Accounting Standards Reconciliation, and the 2020 Downtown Guelph Business Association budget and levy were both passed swiftly.

*On the funding for the Guelph General Hospital, Councillor June Hofland put a motion on the floor to approve $900,000 per year for five years, and then Councillor Christine Billings proposed an amendment to spread the payments over six years instead of five, which was passed unanimously. Councillor Mark MacKinnon tried to propose an amendment to separate the capital costs from the spending on equipment saying that the ask for equipment costs was basically council contributing to a charity, but the amendment failed. The Billings-amended Hofland motion passed 12-1, adding $750,000 to the tax bill.

*The main motion was put on the floor with council quickly adding the $60,500 for the hardscaping of medians and $100,000 from the reserve budget for security cameras at the Elliott.

*MacKinnon then put forward a motion to cancel the $5 up-front fee for the new transit smart cards, and only charge the $5 for replacement cards. There were some logistical issues to the ask because people will not be required to register the smart cards, and because staff didn’t know how much it would cost. Transit GM Robin Gerus did say that the card will be free for the first 90 days after its released, so people will be able to get the card for the first three months without paying the $5 charge. The motion failed.

*Another $170,000 was added to the Affordable Housing reserve, bringing this year’s contribution up to $500,000.

*Councillor Rodrigo Goller moved to spend $150,000 from the cannabis funding from the Province on another year for the Court Support Worker and Welcoming Streets Initiative, plus $150,000 from contingency reserves for another year of funding for the Support Recovery Room. Councillor Leanne Piper had ambivalence about using the contingency reserve for the SRR, and wanted to include it in the base budget, but other councillors were concerned that such a move would send a message that the City would cover the costs, and the responsibility, in perpetuity.

*Hofland moved an additional $376,900 for another shift for the ambulance service, but council was hesitant to invest more money at this moment while awaiting provincially mandated changes to amalgamate the various services. When and how this will happen is still unknown, and the motion failed.

*On the police budget, Billings moved a $500,000 transfer from the tax rate operating contingency reserve to offset the increase, but Councillor Mike Salisbury moved to defer that vote till other options were considered, and it passed. Salisbury then moved that the 9.8 per cent increase of the police budget be phased in over two years, but most on council were sold on the justification outlined by the Police Chief and the Police Board. Salisbury’s motion failed. When council came back to Billings’ motion, Salisbury then tried to increase the transfer to $1.2 million, but that motion also failed, as did a motion to increase the transfer to $700,000. Billings original motion passed in a close 7-6 vote.

*After a break, council passed an amendment to fund a project manger position from the 100 per cent Renewable Reserve, and to defer nearly $325,000 in costs to the 2021 budget.

*MacKinnon then tried to eliminate the expansion of the community bus to save $1.177 million. Hofland made the point that this came out of the recommendation of the service review, while Guthrie pointed out the expansion would allow the community bus to stop at KidsAbility, which is something that Mayor Cam Guthrie said that he’s been pushing for. The motion failed.

*Councillor Dan Gibson moved to reduce the transfer to the infrastructure renewal reserve fund by $1.1 million. Although it would create a $10 million hole in the 10-year capital forecast, Gibson said that the City would make that up easily with additional funding from upper levels of government, or even a change in interest rates. The rest of council was reticent about stopping the City’s momentum on closing the infrastructure funding gap. The motion failed.

*On the final vote, Salisbury asked to separate 1(g) of the budget motion, which was the approval of the local boards and shared services budget; Salisbury and Billings voted against it in a 11-2 vote. The final tally was 3.6 per cent plus an additional 0.31 per cent for the hospital funding, for a total levy increase of 3.91 per cent for 2020. The budget passed 10-3 with Bell, Billings, and Gibson voting against it.

Regular Meeting of Council – December 9

This meeting was straightforward. After passing the one consent agenda item for the Sign Bylaw Variance for 350 Speedvale Ave W, City Clerk Stephen O’Brien demonstrated for council the new and improved agenda management system, which will go into effect in January. The only real news came out of the closed meeting on the mandate for collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Mayor Cam Guthrie said that council gave staff the clear direction to enter into a fair and reasonable negotiation where staff are compensated appropriately, but with a deal that’s still affordable for citizens.

Planning Meeting – December 9

Decision Report 1657 and 1665 Gordon Street Proposed Zoning By-law Amendment – Councillor Dominique O’Rourke had a couple of follow-up questions before council voted on the recommendation. She expressed concern about how the number of parking spaces had gone down while the number of units had gone up, but staff made the point it was to make more room for trees, and the development was still within bylaw on parking. Councillor Rodrigo Goller asked if there was a report done about whether staff engaged the developer about making some of the units affordable, and staff said they don’t require a report on a development this small. The decision was approved 12-1.

Statutory Public Meeting Report 1871-1879 Gordon Street Proposed Zoning By-law Amendment – Councillor O’Rourke expressed concerns about the shadow impact study on nearby Brock Road Nursery, but the architect for the project said the nursery will be unaffected. O’Rourke also asked if staff could update the transit plan for south of Poppy Drive before the decision report comes back to council.

Commercial Built Form Standards – Some on council expressed concerns about passing these new guidelines before the completion of the comprehensive zoning bylaw review, but staff said that the approval of the guidelines is separate from implementation of the bylaw, and will provide discussion points for staff to carry on with the review, which is still a few year away from completion. Councillor Christine Billings suggested deferring the motion, but that vote was defeated 3-10.

Councillor Dan Gibson expressed concern about staff’s dealings with Loblaws, who sent notes in a nine-page letter with their thoughts on the standards. Staff said that they think Loblaws concerns were addressed in a one-on-one meeting, and they haven’t heard otherwise in a formal communique. Gibson urged caution with some of the standards outlined because suburban communities have been planned for 50 years with the car in mind, and they can’t be made walkable overnight. The standards were then approved 9-4.

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