This Month at Council Part 2: Multi-Year Budgets, Transportation Master Plan, and CoW Issues

In the second part of the monthly recap of events at city council, things are much more streamlined. Two special meetings covered the ins and outs of multi-year budgeting, and the draft Transportation Master Plan, while the regular council meeting of the month was all about the ratification of the Committee of the Whole agenda, but with a couple of addendums.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – May 17

It was a pretty straightforward night at city council as staff and a panel of special guests briefed the horseshoe about the challenges and rewards of moving to a multi-year budgeting model.

The panel was unanimous in its appraisal; multi-year budgeting allows municipalities to be more pro-active with long-term planning, it frees up the time for finance staff to pursue efficiencies, it allows council to focus on policy and planning instead of line-by-line budget reviews, and it creates stability for City staff and rate payers.

The City of Guelph’s plan will take a phased in approach so the next two years will be presented during this fall’s budget process, along with budget forecasts for two additional years. When the MYB is approved four years at a time, council will still vote to confirm the next year’s budget every fall, and staff will present changes in one of three categories: net zero changes will be implanted without a report to council, small changes less than a half-a-per cent of the levy that don’t result in increase to the budget will be reported back to council, and all other changes will come to council for a vote as amendments.

Councillors, when able to ask questions of the panel, were focused on the ease by which changes to the budget can be made in the later years, and how the change to multi-year budgeting changed public engagement. London deputy mayor Josh Morgan made the point that people in London are putting their advocacy efforts into the Strategic Plan and not the budget, because if something is made a priority in the plan, it will be a priority in the budget. Waterloo’s CFO Filipa Reynolds added that engagement now is easier because it’s targeted; people can look at the changes to the budget on their own without reviewing the whole document.

The formal plan for the multi-year budgeting process starting with the 2022 budget will be coming forward at June’s Committee of the Whole meeting. The first progress report on the Strategic Plan is also expected to come back to council sometime in June.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – May 26

In a special meeting for a Wednesday night, council discussed the Transportation Master Plan draft alternative, debated about whether or not it will properly expand Guelph transportation options, and if it will do so in a responsible and pragmatic yet socially-conscious way. There was some disagreement on that point.

After the staff presentation of the plan, there six delegations heard on the matter. Many of them were established supporters of cycling, active transportation, and transit. They worried about the allowance in staff’s preferred option for the expansion of roads because they didn’t want to see the potential creation of even more traffic and congestion. At least two of the delegates advocated for the City to join the Government of Ontario’s cargo ebike pilot, which is something that City staff is mulling right now.

The only voice of concern among the delegates was Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams, who was worried about the plan’s efforts to move more people to modes of transportation other than cars, and whether downtown would bear the brunt of those changes. He recommended that the TMP take a sector-by-sector approach versus a city-wide one.

Among council, a lot of the discussions were pretty high-level and granular, but one of their main issues with the plan was about whether or not the City will be able to meet the targets for the modal split. The words “social engineering” were used more than once, as many on council were worried about the City’s ability to make alternatives like transit appealing, and whether there’s much appetite at all for car owners to willingly change their habits.

At the same time, some of the councillors echoed delegates concerns about leaving the door open to widening streets, even though staff explained that expanding the roads didn’t necessarily mean expanding them for cars. There was a suggestion about giving staff direction to bring all road widenings back to council and review the decision, even if the environmental assessment is already complete, but no action was taken.

When it came time vote, the recommendation passed 8-5. The councillors that hesitated were concerned about the possibility of staff unilaterally deciding to create dedicated transit lanes, that the modal shift targets were too ambitious, and because there’s not yet any financial cost attached to the plan. At least one councillor just hated everything about it.

Still, the Transportation Master Plan now proceeds to implementation planning, and final passage sometime later this year.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – May 31

This month’s regular council meeting was mostly straightforward, all that was on the agenda was the ratification of the items from Committee of the Whole. After an hour-long in-camera meeting as the shareholder for Gulph Municipal Holdings Inc, council met in open session and quickly dispatched the consent agenda.

Before that, Mayor Cam Guthrie marked the discovery of the remains belonging to 215 dead children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. He said that Guelph stands with communities across Canada outraged about the treatment of Indigenous people and promoted the need to work harder to achieve the goals of Truth and Reconciliation. He then asked for 215 seconds of silence in lieu of the typical moment of silent reflection.

In terms of the business of council, there were three delegates that wanted to have some further discission about the City Operations Campus business case and staging plan. All three expressed concern about protecting the natural heritage of the proposed site for the campus and asked council to either move the campus to another place or take steps to mitigate the impacts to the environment.

The concerns of the delegates forced council to further explore the implications of the project, as well as consider their options for more oversight. Councillor Leanne Caron offered an addition to the three original recommendations that asked staff to bring back the detailed site plans for the campus at various stages for review. The key for this project is that there will be numerous site plans as each new part of the campus is developed, which will then allow council multiple opportunities to review progress, collect public feedback, and make sure that work on the campus lines up with other priorities like the Trails Master Plan.

Having said all that, the first site plan for the whole campus will not be complete until sometime in the third quarter of 2023 because of the multiple environmental studies and other research that needs to be done, which requires one year (or four seasons) of work to complete. The Caron amendment was adapted unanimously, but Councillor Bob Bell still had his doubts about some of the project’s details, so he was the only no vote on the second and third recommendations.

The final item was the 2020 Year-end Operating Budget monitoring and surplus allocation. Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams asked council to help personal service businesses in the same way that council spent some of the surplus to help community benefit groups and tourism. No changes to the recommendations were made though, and it was passed by council unanimously.

Before the end of the meeting, Stephen O’Brien was thanked for the last several weeks of hard work he put in as the acting Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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