This Month at Council PART 1: Assets, Transit Growth and Council Composition

There are so many council meetings this month, we have to split the usual monthly recap into two parts. In this first half, we cover what happened at a very technocratic Committee of the Whole meeting, the non-decision at a special meeting on council composition, a straightforward planning meeting, and a transit growth workshop. Soon the budget will begin, but for now, here’s the recap.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – November 2

Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting was a straightforward affair even though there were topics of interest from almost all the various service areas.

First up was the Audit Committee, and a report about the Fleet Parts Inventory internal audit, which was passed after a comment and a question from committee. Mayor Cam Guthrie pointed out that the auditor and the Fleet Parts management agreed about all 22 of the recommendations made to improve the department. After that, Matthew Betik of KPMG walked council through 2020’s external audit, which will be done remotely even as the auditors will try to preserve those spontaneous opportunities for interaction with staff.

After that, committee endorsed City Clerk Stephen O’Brien’s nomination to a staff seat on the Large Urban Caucus of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and they approved the update to the Corporate Records Retention Bylaw with relative swiftness.

The big item of the meeting was the 2020 update to the Corporate Asset Management Plan. Staff discussed how much of the difference in the numbers from the last time the plan was presented had to do with improved analytics and data that allowed them to more precisely judge the life cycle usefulness of the an asset. They also explained that the next phase of work on the asset plan will involve climate change mitigation factors, which can’t be judged until staff has finished establishing a base line.

When it was committee’s turn to ask questions, many were interested in the change in numbers due to the refinement of data, and how the asset plan will be aligned with the multiyear budget considering those continually changing nuances in the data. Councillor Dan Gibson did a deep probe on the dedicated infrastructure levy, it’s use in asset renewal, and whether the City is on track and on time to raise the money they set out to get from the levy.

You can read through the full recap of the meeting here.

Special Meeting of City Council – November 5

The recommendation from the consultants at Watson & Associates the mayor plus eight councillors, working full-time, representing eight wards. By the end of the night, the only thing that council confirmed was that they wanted a ward-based system.

After presenting the results of the engagement with residents and their own research, council heard from over a dozen people who signed up to delegate and almost all of them were not interested in the recommendation. Many thought that the current system with two councillors per ward worked fine, while others had issue with the way that the review process was being handled and the amount of public input being gathered.

Council asked a number of probing questions of the consultant Dr. Robert Williams, including queries about the benefits of full-time councillors versus the perceived benefits of two councillors per ward, the traditional role of 12 councillors at Guelph city council, and the impressive success rate of public engagement in this process.

Councillor Dominique O’Rourke put her own motion on the floor in lieu of the original recommendation. The motion asked Watson & Associates to look at more community engagement for council composition including information about the specific suggestions like 8,10, or 12 councillors, the number of councillors elected per ward, and the employment status of councillors. The intent of the motion was to still bring back a recommendation in advance of the 2022 election deadline.

Councillor Cathy Downer then complicated things with an amendment to appoint a citizens committee to oversee the process and present a recommendation. There were a number of hurdles with this suggestion including the fact that there were already terms of reference and a consultant on this project, additional costs for the review, and the added time it would take to put a committee together (four months minimum).

Eventually, Downer withdrew the motion noting that the suggestion seemed to open up way too many obstacles. Dr. Williams noted during the debate that public engagement tends to go up in the second phase of the study, the one with maps and a review of the ward boundaries, so if the intention is to increase public participation, then this would be a good time. Councillor Mark MacKinnon tried to move council right to a vote on O’Rourke’s motion, but council had more things to say and the vote failed 6-7.

O’Rourke said that in any event council needs to review and pass new ward boundaries, especially with Ward 6 being by far the largest ward in terms of population after decades of growth. Councillor Dan Gibson made the suggestion that council was getting too hands on with this process, and that they should try and keep as much distance as possible as recommendations are presented. While some on council again stated that it would be okay if council waiting till the next term to make a final decision on council composition, Downer noted that the last thing council should do after talking about this project since 2012 is kick the can further down the road.

O’Rourke’s motion was passed in a slim 7-6 vote with Guthrie, Goller, Billings, Salisbury, Downer, MacKinnon and O’Rourke voting in favour.

Check out the full recap of the meeting here.

Planning Meeting of City Council – November 9

Monday’s planning meeting had two items that sailed through council with relative ease.

First, staff presented the commencement of the five-year review of the Official Plan. The last time that the City of Guelph undertook this process it was 2012, and because it wasn’t finally approved until 2017, the process is only now starting for 2022. The goal of this update to the OP is to reconcile a lot of changes to provincial rules, including a lot of new rules that have come into effect under the Ford Government, and to also incorporate the work of the City’s own plans like the Growth Strategy and the Parks and Rec Master Plan.

There were two delegates on this topic, both of them regulars. Claudia Espindola wanted to make sure that there will be lots of opportunities for consultation with the public, especially on matters of parkland and greenspace, and Dr. Hugh Whiteley hoped the Official Plan review process would clear up zoning concerns on the old Hanlon Creek conservation land. On that second point, staff said that they consulted with the Province on that question and it’s outside the scope of this review. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke asked if staff could bring back a chronology and supporting documents about the history of the site.

Council approved staff’s request to begin work on the review.

The next item was a decision report on a plan for the property at 816 Woolwich Street, which is the site of the old Curling Club. Councillor O’Rourke and Councillor Phil Allt both declared a conflict of interest because of connections to the club so they couldn’t take part in hearing delegations or voting on this item

There were three delegates to speak about the decision report, which allows the developer to build 200 townhouses, a commercial building, an apartment building, and allows for the preservation of the Curling Club building. One delegate was the agent representing the developer who touted the benefits of the new plan, another had traffic concerns about the intersection of Woolwich and Woodlawn, and Dr. Whiteley spoke again about the need to preserve open space.

Council didn’t have much to add. The only additional comment came from Councillor Bob Bell who noted that there’s section of sidewalk between the Curling Club and Marymount Cemetery, and while this kind of thing would be handled at the expense of the developer, it’s just outside the city limits of Guelph and would have to be taken up with the County of Wellington. DCAO Kealy Dedman said that she would look into co-ordinating with the County.

Council approved the decision unanimously (sans Allt and O’Rourke).

You can read through the full recap of the meeting here.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – November 10

City council met to discuss the Transit Growth Strategy in a workshop setting on Tuesday. The focus wasn’t the day-to-day transit operations, but the issues that the service is facing in the near and far term from ridership loss due to COVID to the electrification of vehicles to the construction of a new transit facility on Dunlop Drive.

After the presentation, council questions probed numerous aspects of the plan including modal split. A big hole was driven through ridership because of the pandemic, and because transit was effectively closed for about two months. The modal split, which is the share of trips by people using transit versus a car or other means, is down to 11 per cent for 2020, when it was supposed to be up to 13 per cent. Some on council were curious about getting a history of the changes in modal split over the years and seeing the record of investment by council in order to achieve it.

Members of council were also curious about the electrification of the fleet, and whether it was happening too fast. Antti Vilkko, the general manager of facilities and energy management, explained that there are a lot of buses at the end of their life, and it makes sense to replace them now with electric buses as opposed to buying more diesel buses, which would then push back the purchase of new electric buses for another 12 years. Mayor Cam Guthrie expressed concern that the City might buy electric buses now and see the price come down rapidly in the next few years.

Councillor Bob Bell went on a tangent saying that he sees too many empty buses, which means the existing models aren’t working and council needs to look at fewer buses and fewer routes. Councillor Mark MacKinnon suggested that council might need to look at fare increases since there haven’t been any in the last four years. After that stream of criticism, Councillors Cathy Downer and Phil Allt both made plays to support transit by asking for data that supports the benefits of transit including consultations with the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Guelph Business Association.

Staff also highlighted three transit-related motions that council will have to consider during the budget process.

You can read through the full recap of the meeting here.

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