This Month at Council – THE BUDGET: The Presentation and the Delegations.

November was always the month we handle the next year’s budget, except this time it’s the budget for the next two years. Once again, council sat down for a day-long budget presentation, and a few nights later, they heard from members of community about their own ideas about what should, or should not, go into the budget. So how did all that work out? Let’s recap this month’s action around the budget.

Budget Meeting of City Council – November 16

For the second year in a row, council gathered around the [virtual] horseshoe for a morning meeting to discuss a Guelph budget. This year, it’s the first multi-year budget as staff covered two years of expenditures for capital and operating costs across all of the City’s five Strategic Plan pillars.

After a reminder that the budget is the way for council to accelerate or decelerate Strategic Plan goals, CAO Scott Stewart outlined the challenges facing the horseshoe including legislative changes, climate change, infrastructure needs, and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. At stake is a $481 million operating budget and a $141.4 million capital budget in 2022, and then $500.7 million and $162 million for operating and capital in 2023.

The basic facts of the stakes with these year’s budget almost immediately began a debate about the infrastructure renewal plan, specifically the use of funds from the dedicated infrastructure levy to hire more staff to oversee the City’s backlog of projects. There was also some curiosity about the move to extend the levy out to 12 year thanks to funding from upper levels of government, couldn’t more funding further dilute the fiscal pain of the 10-year compounding levy? GM of Finance Tara Baker said that the budget is all about minimizing risk, and just assuming that other governments will offer more money is too big a risk.

On the bright side, Baker confirmed that the transit spending approved last night has already been built into the base budget.

Mayor Cam Guthrie pointed to the elephant in the room, would there be some fiscal prudence in delaying, even for a year, big infrastructure projects like the new library and the South End Community Centre? Greg Clark, manager of financial strategy and long-term planning, noted that staff are re-evaluating projects as they’re going out to tender, and they’ve already put some projects on pause because of cost, like the improvements to the Speedvale Bridge. Clark also said that council has delayed those projects for other reasons over the years, but the costs have only gone up.

Finally getting into the first pillar, there were a lot of questions for the presenters from two of the local boards, the Guelph Public Library and the Guelph Police Service.

The big controversy with the Guelph Public Library was the request to get $175,000 more to cover the loss from cancelling late fees. Library CEO Steve Kraft said that this is a direction that the industry is going in, and over 700 libraries have so far have made the move to cancel late fees, but council was not convinced, and asked Kraft if the library board could find a way to phase that in. Also, there was a lot of curiosity about the fundraising efforts for the new main building.

To the police, there was curiosity about having more autonomy to beef up their reserves in case there are sudden changes during the period between budgets, but there was also a victory lap about the successful investments made in the service over the last couple of years. There were also some questions to staff about the heads and beds levy, which isn’t administered by the police, but was noted in specific reference to policing costs around the university like Homecoming.

Wellington County social services and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health didn’t make a formal presentation because there were no drastic year-over-year changes to their budgets.

After a brief lunch break, council examined the rest of the budget details. One of the more involved presentations was from the Grand River Conservation Authority as CAO Samantha Lawson covered the timelines for provincially approved changes to the management of conservation authorities.

Basically, the GRCA will have to return to council with the negotiated details about the services they’ll provide, all organized in three different categories: what they have to do, what the municipality wants them to do, and what the conservation authority wants to provide. This will be no mean feat considering that there are 22 participating municipalities in the GRCA.

On the rest of the Sustaining Our Future agenda, council was curious about the workload of heritage and whether there’s enough (or too much) work waiting for the person that will be hired as the City’s second of two heritage planners. We also learned that the City will be putting the old IMICo property at 200 Beverly Street on the open market in Q1 2022.

Before wrapping up, Councillor Dan Gibson asked staff to keep the budge board open for questions till next Friday. DCAO Trevor Lee felt that was too long because he wanted to make sure staff have enough time to get the right answers and not feel rushed, but in a compromise, it was agreed that the budget board would remain open till Tuesday November 23.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Budget Meeting of City Council – November 18

There were 17 delegates at the special night dedicated to hearing from the public about the 2022-2023 Guelph Budget. A lot of different opinions were shared, and a lot of requests were made of council, so let’s try and lay them out as succinctly as possible:

*Members of the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition spoke to their requested increase to the Community Benefit Agreement, and so did the executive director of the Guelph Humane Society.

*Representatives from the Guelph Community Health Centre and Stonehenge Therapeutic spoke to the need for another year of funding for Welcoming Streets and the Court Support Worker respectively. On the support worker, Stonehenge asked for just $50,000 more in funding in 2022 believing that they’re close to finding a more permanent source of funding from other places.

*Kim Cusimano, the executive director of the People and Information Network, asked the City to continue funding police background checks for volunteers.

*Anne Toner Fung from Innovation Guelph and Chamber of Commerce CEO Shakiba Shayani both asked the City to continue supporting the business community as it tries to bounce back from the pandemic.

*Two people delegated for a lower than currently posted taxy levy rate increase for 2022 and 2023.

*Two others delegated for council to *not* delay the future construction of the new main library.

*There was also a delegation from the president of the Guelph Hiking Trails Club and the chair of the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph.

After a five-minute break council asked their questions and made their intentions. A lot of the answers will end up posted to the budget board, but in terms of intentions, the councillors who announced their thinking talked mostly about moving money around to fulfill priorities like Councillor Dan Gibson’s suggestion to use the 100RE funding next year for transit, or Councillor Christine Billings’ proposal to cover some of the hospital levy using reserves.

It looks like the budget is going to come down to support for the expanded CBAs, potential delays in capital budget projects, and the cancellation of late fees at the library. After that, the math is going to get so much harder. Budget Day is December 2.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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