BUDGET MEETING RECAP: How The First Multiyear Budget Was Made

Eight-and-a-half hours comes out to a 4.21 per cent increase in 2022 and then a 5.17 per cent levy increase for 2023. Those are top level results from this year’s budget deliberations, the first time that council tackled a multiyear budget. The City of Guelph seems satisfied with the results, but reading between the lines, there were some deep divides on council as some members feel that the City lost the fight for affordability.

“Tonight’s budget approval responds to Council’s commitments to Guelph’s growing and diverse community,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie, who was one of five people on council to vote against the budget, in a statement. “I’d like to thank my Council colleagues and our City staff that helped guide us towards this moment.”

The levy increase accounts for another $11.2 million and $14.5 million worth of investment over 2022 and 2023 respectively. In 2022, the City takes $7.1 million of the total increase, while local board and services – including the Elliott, the library, police, public health, the GRCA, and social services provided by Wellington County – take $4.1 million. The $750,000 annual hospital levy for the next two years will be covered with the use of the City’s reserve accounts.

In 2023, the increase breaks down to $9.4 million more for the City and $5.1 million for local boards and shared services.

“Council’s approval of the 2022 and 2023 Budget and receipt of the two-year operating and eight-year capital forecasts sets the pace for the projects, initiatives and services that will make our community and organization future ready,” said DCAO of corporate services Trevor Lee. “The budget is about investing in programs and services that improve community well-being, while being fiscally responsible today and into the future.”

Council ended up approving several new initiatives including the hiring of a second heritage planner, a new multi-tiered affordable bus pass pilot, the first two years of the transit route review, more funding for the Paramedic Services Master Plan, and an increase to the community benefit for the Guelph Neighbourhood Group Coalition and Guelph Humane Society. They also provided another year of funding for the court support worker, Welcoming Streets, and police checks for volunteers.

“The 2022 and 2023 Budget outlines the resources needed for the remaining years of the Strategic Plan: Guelph. Future Ready and tonight’s budget approval enables us to deliver on our priorities to improve our economy, environment, transportation, and support community development,” added Tara Baker, treasurer and general manager of finance.

The blow-by-blow of the meeting is available below.

Budget Meeting of City Council – December 2

DCAO Trevor Lee and Mayor Cam Guthrie began Guelph City Council’s first ever multi-year budget deliberation day with a lot of lofty aspirations about the end goals, but the nitty gritty of making the budget ground down council’s pencils to the nub as they tried to answer community need while maintaining affordability.

The first few motions were fairly predictable, approval to expand the community benefit agreements for the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, and the Guelph Humane Society. Council helped cover the cost for the GSNC with the first dip into reserves, but they covered the total cost for the Human Society out of the levy. Another motion approved an increase to the paramedic services master plan with a portion of the 2022 funding covered by reserves for the one-year gap until provincial funding catches up in 2023.

Next, a motion was passed taking the next two years of the levy for improvements to Guelph General Hospital, which is $1.5 million, out of the tax operating contingency reserve. Another motion funded the first two years of the transit route review strategy, an additional $3.5 million over the next two years. Guthrie wanted to get a portion of that covered by the dividend from Guelph Municipal Holding Inc, but staff thought that represented too big a risk. The vote ended up failing 5-8.

After that Councillor Cathy Downer brought forward a pair of heritage-related motions. The hiring of a second heritage planner was passed rather smoothly, but the hiring of a consultant to review the Cultural Heritage Plan and the Couling List caused a little bit more heartburn and was passed with a slim 7-6 majority.

Next, council debated the inclusion of a three-tiered affordable bus pass pilot proposed by Councillor Mark MacKinnon offering a $4, $20 and $37.50 pass depending on the need of the individual. Some on council were concerned about introducing this new pass only to potentially lose it at the end of the pilot, while others were concerned about introducing an affordable pass at the same time transit is doing a fare review. On that second point, staff noted that the affordable bus pass is run by the same City office that works on other subsidies and not Transit itself. Council endorsed the pilot.

MacKinnon next tried his hand at parking with a five-part motion that would increase the hourly rate from $2.18 to $2.66 (pre-HST), increase the flat fee on Saturday, add a new flat fee on Sunday, increase event parking, and increase the permit cost 10 per cent instead of 5 per cent. Eventually, only the new hourly rate was approved by council, the other four recommendations either failed or were pulled in advance of the vote. A subsequent motion spared any increase to the parking lots on Arthur and Norwich.

After that, there was a real bone of contention. MacKinnon proposed cutting the library budget increase request by $175,000. Of course everyone knew what it was for, $175,000 is the exact amount that the library asked for to cover the elimination of late fees, but council’s technically not allowed to tell the library how it can spend money, just how much money they can get. When this fact was mentioned, Councillor Downer moved to amend the motion to $100,000, which was approved 8-5.

Later in the meeting though, Downer said she had been given new information that made her want to take back the motion, and instead proposed a new motion to add $99,999 back to the library budget. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke amended that motion to spread that funding over two years, but that motion failed, and the Downer’s original motion was approved by council by a vote of 10-3.

After the dinner break, the original library motion prompted Councillor Mike Salisbury to propose a one per cent cut to the Guelph Police Service’s budget request for 2022, which would have come out to $438,000, an apparent quid pro quo for the library cut. It failed 5-8.

Councillor Dominique O’Rourke then proposed some motions that would stretch the time horizon of certain master plans like the Active Transportation, Cycling, Urban Forests, Trails, and Open Spaces, but she didn’t find enough votes that would support delay on these initiatives. There was interest though in shaving investments in digital and customer services, enough for another slim 7-6 vote, and in reducing the transfer to the Growth Reserve Fund because those projects are still years away.

From the desk of Mayor Guthrie, council passed motions to approve co-op positions in the planning department, to spread out $819,000 in revenue from the excess growth assessment over 2022 and 2023, another year’s funding for the court support worker and Welcoming Streets, another year covering the cost of volunteer checks, and the creation of a “Kids Ride Free” transit pilot for young people aged 5-12 starting on March 1.

Next, Councillor Bob Bell tried unsuccessfully to postpone construction of the downtown pedestrian bridge, and the construction of the multiuse trail on Woodlawn Road west of Imperial. Council did however approve Councillor Christine Billings’ motion to reduce the $500,000 transfer to the Efficiency, Innovation and Opportunity Reserve fund for service rationalization initiatives. Another $500,000 was found by reducing the transfer to the Contaminated Reserve Fund.

By this point, it was around 10 o’clock and council seemed to have run out of motions. The levy increase was down to 4.21 per cent for 2022 and 5.17 for 2021 thanks to about $4.8 million in assistance from the reserve funds. The impact on the average household is about $153 per year, or $13 pr month, but that’s not etched in stone until the final assessment numbers are announced in the next few weeks.

In terms of final comments before passing the budget, Councillor Dan Gibson opined that council needed to do some more hard work on managing the pace of spending in order to create more affordability, while other councillors felt that this was the inevitable price that had to be paid from all those years of kicking the can down the road. A motion from Bell to defer the final budget vote until February so that council could think about what they’ve done failed 5-8.

The vote on the amended budget recommendation passed 8-5 with Councillors Caron, Gordon, Salisbury, Hofland, Allt, Goller, Downer, and MacKinnon all voting in favour. The meeting adjourned just before 10:30.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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