City Council Preview – What’s on the Agenda for the November 17 Meeting?

It’s finally here, Budget Season! It’s the most wonderful time of the year if you like levies, estimates, and forecasts, and this year is doubly special with an entirely new format for the budget. From transit, to capital, to outside boards and services like the police and the library, staff will layout all the budget details in one action-packed and lengthy all-day council meeting. Bring a lunch!

NOTE #1: This is a the presentation of the 2021 City of Guelph Budget and there will be no delegates for this meeting. A special night for delegations will be held on Wednesday November 25 at 6 pm.

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

NOTE #3: This meeting starts at the special time of 9 am.

2021 City of Guelph Budget – This was supposed to be the first year of Guelph’s first multi-year budget, but like a myriad of other issues, COVID-19 has forced a changed in plans. So instead, City staff is presenting a hybrid model. The budget has been rearranged to line up with the Strategic Plan, but the budget for 2022, 2023, and 2024  is now more of a financial forecast than a hard budget. The levy increase this year is 3.52 per cent, which has already been adjusted for the estimated change in assessment growth for 2021.

The budget details are broke down in to the following areas:

Building Our Future – This area of the budget covers operations, parks and rec, affordable housing, engineering and transportation, facilities and energy management, and emergency services. This section accounts for the single biggest jump in the levy for 2021 at 3.02 per cent, largely because of the phasing in of the South End Community Centre operating budget and the increase to the capital reserve fund to pay for the new main library. Staff are also asking for five new full-time equivalent positions at a cost of just over $700,000, four to develop a community and safety well-being plan, and a maintenance technician.

This is also the section of the budget that deals with the local boards and shared services budget. The Guelph Police Services budget has no new significant funding this year, and only a small increase due to previously settled contractual negotiations. The Guelph Public Library is operating under the same principle, they’ve asked for only a 1.78 per cent increase for 2021. The Elliott Community is seeking a $500,000 increase to compensate and stabilize their workforce due to the pandemic, while Public Health is seeking a base funding increase of 1.27 per cent or $56,000 for 2021. (The $673,000 in base funding from the Province of Ontario that was cut last year has also been restored.) So far, there’s no information on the social services budget for Wellington County.

Working Together For Our Future – This portion includes the Office of the Mayor, the clerks office, the executive team, and city council. Internal audit, corporate communications, I.T., finance, legal, and human resources also fall into this category. All told, this area is asking for a 0.22 per cent increase over 2020, or $551,830. While fuel costs have come down, there’s also an expected decrease in parking fine revenue, as well as an increase in insurance costs and corporate I.T. expenses.

Navigating Our Future – As implied by the title, this area covers engineering and transportation services, including parking and Guelph Transit. This is the one area of the budget where the levy impact has been reduced for 2021, with a 0.44 per cent decrease over 2020. The decrease in spending is mostly tied to continued operation of transit at current pandemic levels, but there’s also a planned increase in monthly parking permit fees, and a decrease in fleet maintenance to consider. Full restoration of transit service is expected to cost an additional $1.8 million.

Sustaining Our Future – Sustainability is the concern here, with energy management, water services, park management, and planning and building services covered under this category. Water, Stormwater, and Wastewater are all covered under user fees, which under the proposed increase would be two per cent or $18.87 next year. The Grand River Conservation Authority is also covered in this section, and Guelph’s share of funding is up 2.9 per cent this year to bring it to $1.67 million.

Powering Our Future – This last section covers economic development and tourism, plus culture, smart cities, and strategy, innovation and intergovernmental services. This is the lowest increase in the proposed budget with 0.09 per cent, which will, in part, cover the cost of hiring a new economic development officer. The budget for the Downtown Guelph Business Association is also in this section, and their only increase is in payroll expenses, though they are planning a decrease in  all other expenses including marketing.

Here is the complete recommendation for the 2021 Budget:

1. That the 2021 operating budget be approved at a gross expenditure budget of $463,387,040 with a property tax and payment-in-lieu of taxes levy requirement of $267,774,464 or 3.52 per cent over the 2020 levy inclusive of the following:

a. 2021 fees, rates and charges guide posted at including water and wastewater fees and services, stormwater fees, building permit fees, parking fees, business license fees, and general user fees, and inclusive of:

i. A stormwater base charge of $6.40 per month equivalent residential unit or 10.3 per cent increase over 2020
ii. A water and wastewater basic service charge equivalent to 2020 rates
iii. A water volume charge of $1.82 per cubic meter, or 2.80 per cent increase over 2020
iv. A wastewater volume charge of $1.94 per cubic meter or 1.0 per cent increase over 2020

b. City service budget requests totaling an increased net levy requirement of $1,359,400 or 0.53 per cent and six new positions
c. local boards and shared services budget requirement, net of proportionate share of assessment growth, totaling an increased net levy requirement of $3,077,043 or 1.20 per cent
d. total transfers to/from Reserve and Reserve Funds

2. That the Guelph General Hospital levy in the amount of $750,000 be maintained for the second of six years as approved on December 3, 2019, resulting in no net levy change.

3. That the 2022–2024 operating budget forecast be received for information.

4. That the 2021 Capital Budget in the gross expenditure amount of $263,170,406 and the required operating budget resulting from these projects totaling $9,455,897 be approved inclusive of the following:

a. funding transfers from capital reserve funds and other sources including partnerships and grants
b. planned use of $101.1 million of debt as a financing strategy

5. That the 2022-2030 Capital Forecast in the gross amount of $1,654,571,109, be received for information with the following implications:

a. Operating budget net increase totaling $27,221,403
b. An unfunded City Building Reserve Fund position of $42.4 million by 2030
c. A debt forecast that fully leverages the City’s available capacity in the nine-year period

6. That the Downtown Guelph Business Association budget with gross expenditures of $698,780 and a total levy of $660,000 be approved.

7. That all carbon credit revenues generated by the City be directed towards the 100RE Reserve Fund as a source of funding for the implementation of the 100RE strategy.

8. That further to the November 10, 2020 Transit Strategy and Operations Campus Workshop:

a. That staff be directed to develop an affordable long-term Transit Strategy of not more than one per cent annual net levy increase inclusive of operating and capital funding and addresses COVID ridership and revenue loss impacts
b. That staff be directed to renegotiate the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program c. Transit Stream project priorities with the primary focus of electrification of Transit fleet and related infrastructure.
c. That staff be directed to develop a comprehensive performance metric framework that considers the varying services and routes within Guelph Transit.

9. That staff be directed to develop options to address the City Building Reserve Fund projected deficit position and report back to Council in advance of the 2022-2031 Capital Budget and Forecast.

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