City Council Preview – What’s on the Agenda for the November 5 Meeting?

It’s been a long time coming (perhaps too long in some quarters), but council will begin the debate about what it might look like in the future with a special Thursday council meeting specifically dedicated to the topic. Has the time come to say goodbye to our even dozen, part-time city councillor system? It may be depending on how city council themselves end up feeling about the recommendations.

NOTE #1: Delegates will be able to appear at this meeting via telephone, but you do have to register with the clerks office before 10 am on Friday October 30. You can also submit written delegations and correspondences for agenda items.

NOTE #2: The meeting will be closed to the public, though it will be live-streamed on the City of Guelph’s website here.

City Council Composition and Ward Boundary Review, Phase One: City Council Composition and Employment Status – The recommendations from Watson & Associates, the consultants brought in to assist with the review, is that city council in 2022 should be made up of eight full-time city councillors, one each from eight new wards, plus the mayor.

The justification? Guelph is the only municipality among its direct competitors with two councillors per ward. Although Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton are the only municipalities in Ontario with full-time councillors at the moment, comparators like Sudbury, Barrie, Kingston and Thunder Bay have one councillor each from a system with 10 to 12 wards. The consultants also note that have one councillor per ward might assist in creating less confusion and duplication, and might make council more efficient with fewer members.

Why eight wards? It seems like there was agreement that six was the minimum number of wards Guelph needed, but even if Guelph were to hold on to a six-ward system, it would still have to redistrict to address unequal representation among wards with Ward 3 on the low end with 17,500 constituents and Ward 6 on the high end with 27,700. Given Guelph’s current population, each of the eight wards would represent roughly 16,500 people each.

Moving to full-time councillors is a rather straightforward reaction to the workload required of a Guelph city councillor now, and how many on council balance their technically full-time duties on council that come with part-time pay and the need to work other jobs to make ends meet.

Financial costs? Yes, there will be some. Right now, salary and benefits for council costs $578,300 per year, and the shift to eight full-time councillors will mean an increase of $212,700, plus an additional $90,350 to hire support staff. There will also be between $198,000 and $237,000 in one-time expenses to provide office space and meeting rooms.

There may be some debate on all of this because the unusually high citizen engagement on these changes, including 670 citizen surveys completed, came to a very different conclusion. Out of all the surveys received, almost half – 49.1 per cent – said that they like the size of council as it is just now. It’s what the consultants called in their report the “Goldilocks” outlook (“not too large, not too small, just about right”).

The next phase of this work is to decide on the new ward boundaries. Online engagement for this portion will begin in January and February with a special council meeting to debate the new wards in May or June. That will then allow for six months for any potential appeal at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), but the new ward boundaries might not be a sure thing. If the new ward boundaries are not approved before December 31, 2021, then staff are recommending that the 2022 election proceed with the existing council composition and ward boundaries.

There may also be the possibility that council will want to move forward with a different council composition than the one recommended, it’s still being recommended that council proceed with a ward boundary review, which hasn’t been done since 1990.

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