This Month at Council PART 2: Workshops, Development Charges, and More Drama

For a time, the second half of the month at council was more dry and wonkish with special meetings and workshops about dry subject matter like Development Charges and the multi-year budget. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view), council made up for some of the lost drama at the month’s regular council meeting, where they revisited the internal misunderstandings that stared the month. Here’s the second part of the recap.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – October 18

The DCAO of corporate services called Monday’s workshop meeting the “official kick-off” of the 2022-2023 budget process, the first time that Guelph city council tackles a multi-year budget. (The actual budget documents though won’t be released to the public until November 4.)

The purpose of the workshop was to get the minds of councillors to focus on a couple of particular areas: How best to prioritize the needs of the City in the budget, and how to balance those needs with affordability. In order to tee up the discussion, councillors were given a chance to answer a few survey questions to guide the discussion, a process meant to give them a starting point to begin budgeting.

For instance, on the question of what two areas that council should focus on from a community perspective in the budget, service rationalization, affordable housing and non-auto mode share (active transportation and transit) were the Top 3, while from a corporate perspective, service rationalization, affordable housing and customer service were the Top 3. There was then some debate driven by Mayor Cam Guthrie about whether there should be a city-wide survey completed before the budget process begins so that council can hear from the community directly.

Councillors were then asked to appraise the five Strategic Plan priorities according to whether the City needs to do more, do less, or do the same on each one. The majority agreed that more needs to be done on the environment, securing community assets, and meeting community needs. Councillor Christine Billings suggested that there was kind of a grey area to the results because big portions of council voted to keep doing the same and neither cut nor increase.

In another series of questions council was almost evenly split between the ones who felt that the current 5.05 per cent of income for municipal taxes was affordable or unaffordable. There was another close decision between the number of councillors that wanted to see a maximum rate increase of 2 per cent this year, and those who would take 3 per cent or more. Some councillors noted that the options were a bit vague and that this wasn’t an either/or proposition. Councillor Mark MacKinnon suggested that council might best serve the budget by looking at it in a bubble and addressing the needs of the corporation independently of other concerns.

The general manager of finance Tara Baker then took council through the nuts and bolts of her staff’s considerations in building the budget before Mayor Guthrie, who spent his birthday night leading this meeting, proposed that council start doing their homework because there are some big decisions ahead.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – October 20

On Wednesday night, there was a special meeting of city council for the highly controversial and incendiary topic of changes to the Development Charges Bylaw. These reviews normally happen every five years, but four bills changing the rules were passed by the Provincial government over the last three years, which prompted an earlier than anticipated review.

There were essentially two major changes to the DCs: A new payment schedule for the various types of development, and the elimination of the 10 per cent mandatory reduction of DC calculations on so-called “soft” services like parks and libraries. The one delegate at the meeting, Susan Watson, tried to convince council to take a broader look at the cost of growth and the potential need for a special DC for Clair-Maltby, and she also registered her surprise that more people hadn’t decided to investigate.

GM of Finance Tara Baker did say that the changes to the DCs would help close the gap between the cost of growth and what the City can charge, even if it doesn’t close it completely. At the same time, the loss of the 10 per cent mandatory cut for soft services could mean that an additional $1.7 million of the cost of the new main library could be covered by DCs, and so could an additional $6 million for the south end community centre.

There was also a quick note on municipal parking, which DCs will not longer cover as of next September. Manager of Financial Strategy and Long-term Planning Greg Clark noted that it was important for the City to have its Community Benefit Charge policies in place by next September so that the City doesn’t miss getting any funding. The new CBCs and the Parkland Dedication review should be complete by the third quarter of 2022.

Council received the staff recommendations, which will come back for ratification at the December 13 council meeting.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – October 25

The last council meeting of the month began contentious, and it ended contentious.

The meeting began at 6 pm with a motion to go into closed session, but Councillor Leanne Caron wanted to start with a motion to make the closed meeting minutes from September 27 and September 30 public, specifically the portions about 797 Victoria Road North. Neither the clerk, the CAO, nor the city solicitor had a problem with that, but some on council did have reservations because of the potential precedent.

Eventually, council approved the release of the closed meeting minutes 11-2, but the back and forth took the better part of 20 minutes. Council was able to hold it’s closed session and emerge just five minutes late from the start of the open session, announcing that they had approved a memorandum of understanding between the City of Guelph and the IATSE workers at the River Run Centre.

But it was right back to the matter of minutes in the open session because there was a delegate that wanted to speak to those minutes from September 27 and 30. Alex Smith criticized the idea that the city clerk has the ability to interpret minutes and that their job is to simple record the events as they happen accurately. Caron said again that she didn’t think the minutes of September 30 were an accurate reflection of what happened and voted against their approval along with four others.

In terms of the minutes from the October 6 meeting, Caron objected to the commentary in the minutes detailing the mayor’s point of view and the clerks’, but not her own. She asked that the colour-commentary from the minutes be expunged, which created another lengthy debate, but council overwhelmingly voted to amend the minutes in the end and passed them unanimously as amended.

Much of the rest of the agenda proceeded smoothly. Revisiting the real estate assets report, many councillors expressed interest in the McQuillan Bridge, which is not on the list of assets, but is a cause for concern given its use as part of an active transportation route. Mayor Cam Guthrie suggested that council direct staff to post a series of protective actions for the bridge and their potential costs on the council budget board. Meanwhile, Arts Council executive director Patti Broughton delegated about the potential use of the Drill Hall as a downtown arts and culture hub.

Council also talked about the need to protect renters with a leak as part of the approval of the environmental policy update and they approved the petition policy with an amendment to refer new language for the Procedural Bylaw about it to the November 22 meeting.

The last item was about council appointments to the Downtown Guelph Business Association Board of Management. Councillor Dan Gibson resigned his seat from the Board of Directors, which was easily approved, what was more complicated was a motion to make it possible for the mayor to have one of the two council board seats.

Council had earlier asked the clerks office to amend the rules to make it so that a councillor from Wards 1,2, or 3 be appointed to one seat and a councillor from Wards 4,5 and 6 be appointed to the other. Guthrie’s motion suggested that the rules could be further changed to allow the mayor to be appointed to one of the two seats, although Guthrie himself said that he *did not* want to put his name forward. Council had a hearty debate about passing this before the DGBA had a chance to weigh in, and whether the mayor could be an ex-officio member instead.

In the end, council went with the mayor-less definition, and Councillor Rodrigo Goller was voted to assume the vacated seat.

Finally, Guthrie brought forward another motion to ask staff to report back in December with information on a governance review of the DGBA Board of Management, and information about the process to survey DGBA members about a possible dissolution. Some on council made the point that they were putting a lot of work on the month of December, and that they didn’t like the urgency this was being presented with. Other councillors pointed out that they were opening a kettle of fish because people would immediately react negatively to the word “dissolution” despite Guthrie’s assertion that he just wanted information.

Eventually the first part of the mayor’s motion, the part asking for information about a governance review, was approved by council.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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