This Month at Council PART 2: Budget, New Committee Assignments, and Fighting Systemic Racism

This second half of a very busy month at council mostly focused on budget business, with the day-long presentation of the 2021 City of Guelph budget, and the evening-long presentation from various public delegates. Along with the budget there was some discussion about eliminating systemic racism, some new board appointments, and the conundrum about provincial changes to conservation authorities.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – November 16

Monday night, council met for what was promised to be the first of many future discussions about quashing systemic racism in our community. It was fairly high-level, but the meeting was meant to establish a baseline for coming conversations, and to get the mayor and councillors prepared for some discussion that was bound to create discomfort.

Community activist Marva Wisdom, and Giidaakunadaad (Nancy) Rowe, an acknowledged elder of the First Nations people in this territory, led the workshop with Rowe talking about the origins of the territorial acknowledgement and Wisdom talking about how to visualize systemic racism. From microaggressions like asking People of Colour where they’re from, to more blatant and explicit acts of racism, Wisdom explained that systematic racism is experience at multiple levels and that it makes people feel like they don’t belong no matter where they go in the system.

In terms of the next steps, Wisdom said that council may need to lead from behind when it comes to action on systemic racism, which she admitted was counterintuitive when it comes to the way council is supposed to lead on a myriad of issues. Councillors should focus on listening, and making sure that all people in their community are aware of any and all opportunities to come out and share their stories and experiences, and to create new opportunities to network and develop new relationships.

About half-a-dozen councillors took the opportunity to ask some questions, including when they will know that they’re doing the right thing to engage racialized communities in Guelph, how council can learn what knowledge gaps they have, and what self-determinization looks like for BIPOC communities. Again, there were no easy answers to any of these questions and concerns, but council was encouraged to be open minded, to not be afraid to ask questions, and to be willing to let the community take the lead through this process and let them share their concerns with council and the directions they want to go.

A formal update to the Community Plan that will incorporate a lot of these ideas will begin in the second quarter of 2021.

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

Budget Meeting of City Council – November 17

Guelph city council began a new era of budgeting on Tuesday with the presentation of the first multiyear budget. The day-long meeting covered all aspects of the budget, and it was (almost) mercifully free of technical glitches even as co-presenters came in from outside city all at the library, the police station, and even the Grand River Conservation Authority.

Much of the information from staff presented in the meeting was covered in this Politico preview, but there were some new insights coming from late breaking information and council questions.

The biggest section was the “Building Our Future” portion of the presentation, which took about an hour more to get through than originally intended by staff. That might have had a lot to do with the fact that this area covered the local boards and shared services budgets, meaning the police, the library, public health, social services, and the Elliott. For the most part, these groups brought forward “skinny budgets” with small increases for 2021 mostly due to contractual obligations.

There was an obvious exception to that though, and it was the Elliott, who is asking for a $502,000 bump for 2021 so that they can boost compensation and make working at the City’s long-term care home more attractive in a very demanding hiring environment.

From the County of Wellington, who’s budget numbers were not available when the budget document was first released, there was no significant increase to childcare, while overall program expenditures are trending down for 2021, which saves the City of Guelph about $500,000 next year. On the other hand, the County is looking at a $200,000 increase in Ontario Works funding because they’re anticipating an increase in demand. Why? Because there was actually a decrease this year due to the CERB and other Federal government programs that will not be available next year.

One interesting note to come out of the Guelph Public Library budget was when CEO Steve Kraft said that he and his staff had begun looking at the possibility of eliminating late fees, since they’re a barrier to use for many people. Kraft says it’s a move that a lot of other libraries are making, though a couple of people on council expressed concern about losing the $250,000 in late fees (?!) that the library collects every year and goes into operating.

After a lunch break, council moved on to the Working Together for Our Future portion of the budget, which is home to much of the old Corporate Services budget, and the internal mechanisms of city hall. During this phase, Councillor Dan Gibson made it clear that he was going to make the fine line between what counts as operating and what counts capital the focus of his questions. In this case, why do mobile devices count as capital? Fun fact: Any piece of equipment that the City can use longer than 12 months technically goes under capital for accounting purposes.

Under Navigating Our Future, Councillor Dominique O’Rourke asked about finding options to get the #19 Hanlon Creek Business Park bus going in some form, even just for rush hour service Monday through Friday, so that people aren’t having to go another winter without an increasingly important service.

The new water rates and the Grand River Conservation Authority budget were covered under Sustaining Our Future, and after a quick afternoon break, council got into the final section, which was Powering Our Future, and that also covered the Downtown Business Association budget. Staff were asked about the importance in hiring a new economic development officer so that Guelph can take advantage of the expected boom in entrepreneurship to come out of the pandemic, and the potential costs of the infrastructure needed to create a Dining District next year that would allow the intersection at Macdonell and Wyndham to remain open.

The recommended 2021 budget and forecasts was received by council unanimously.

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

Regular Meeting of City Council – November 23

A relatively short and straightforward meeting was a little bit longer than expected because of the latest developments caused by the Provincial government’s desire to override the powers of local conservation authorities. More on that in a minute.

Coming out of closed session, council swiftly approved the new public appointments to advisory committees, boards, agencies, commissions, and associations. They also passed recommendations from Committee of the Whole, and then appointed the new chair and vice-chair of the various service committee areas. The new appointments are as follows:

  • Audit: Chair Phil Allt; Vice-Chair Rodrigo Goller.
  • Corporate Services: Chair Goller; Vice-Chair Mark MacKinnon.
  • Public Services: Chair MacKinnon; Vice-Chair Cathy Downer.
  • Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise: Chair Dominique O’Rourke; Vice-Chair Dan Gibson.
  • Committee of Management for the Elliott: Chair Downer; Vice-Chair June Hofland.

Mayor Cam Guthrie also forwarded a motion to have staff conduct a review of the advisory committee policies and establish a new review of the terms of refence at the mid-point of every term. All the appointments, and this additional recommendation, passed unanimously.

After that, there was a literal last-minute addition to the agenda, a follow-up to a special meeting of the Grand River Conservation Authority today to discuss a new caveat proposed for the Conservation Authorities Act. Changes in a provincial omnibus bill would limit the authority of groups like the GRCA to enforce their own permits, and it would allow the minister to override the decisions of conservation authorities to issue permits of their own.

To discuss this, council had to suspend the Procedural Bylaw, which they had previously done just a few months ago when it came to providing official feedback to Metrolinx proposal to build a traction power station in Margaret Green Park. Still, at least a couple of councillors had reservations about pausing the Procedural Bylaw again, but 10 other councillors voted in favour, and council was allowed to hear the motion.

The motion brought by Councillors Goller and Bob Bell, the two members of Guelph City Council that sit on the GRCA Board, asked the Government of Ontario to halt implementation of the Conservation Act changes until further public review is complete. The motion would also forward the report GRCA prepared for today’s meeting to the Premier and government officials, and since the GRCA is one of the largest and most influential conservation authorities, it’s hoped others will follow suit.

The motion was passed unanimously.

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

Budget Meeting of City Council – November 25

Wednesday night was delegation night at city council for the 2021 budget. Over 30 people got their five minutes in front of council, and here were some of the highlights:

Over a dozen different delegates advocated for an increase in funding for the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. The GNSC is asking for a $220,000 increase in their Community Benefit Agreement, and according to executive director Brendan Johnson, part of that is to cover the rapid growth of the City’s 15 neighbourhood groups, and the other part is to make up for demand caused by COVID-19.

Branden Phelan of Tragedy Ann and Guelph Arts Council executive director Patti Broughton advocated for support for local arts. Kristin Kerr of Stonehenge Therapeutic and Raechelle Deveraux of Guelph Community Health advocated for continued spending on initiatives like Welcoming Streets and the Court Support Worker.

One delegate advocated for lights to be installed at the skate park and to add another skate park to alleviate the very crowded ramps at Silvercreek Park. Later, Alan Arneill of the Guelph Youth Sports Alliance asked council for an increase in the discount offered to the groups he represents, and others, on rent for the use of City recreation facilities.

Kim Cusimano of the People and Information Network asked council to cover the cost of background checks for volunteers; the Guelph Police Board canceled a program that covered the cost of volunteer background checks through PIN earlier this fall.

There were also some very nice compliments for the work of staff this year and the outreach they’ve done to make sure people are acquainted with the new budgeting method, and there were some general comments about balancing fiscal prudence with keeping current levels of funding on City services without indulging in austerity.

After a couple of questions of clarification from council, Mayor Cam Guthrie asked the councillors for their intentions on budget day; Guthrie said that he doesn’t want any surprises next week.

Christine Billings said that she wants to look for potential reductions in several areas including the special levies, 100 per cent renewable energy, and the urban forest master plan.

Dan Gibson said that he would like to look at microtransit options, reduce rental rates for rec facilities for youth sports groups, and to bring the infrastructure levy down to 0.5 per cent for next year. (Mark MacKinnon later said he’ll fight for one per cent till his “dying breath.”)

Rodrigo Goller, Cathy Downer, and Mike Salisbury each expressed interest in helping the GNSC.

Guthrie finished things up by saying that he would like to see the bike skills facility moved forward in the capital works agenda, reduce the travel expense and conference budget (because who’s going anywhere in 2021), and that he wants to look at covering the cost of volunteer background checks as a kind of COVID response measure to get people out volunteering again.

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

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