This Month at Council: Tech Trouble, Bridge Debate, Water Plan Updates

If nothing else this month, Guelph is now officially a bird city, and we now sleep under the wings of our official bird, the Black-capped Chickadee, which was chosen by popular demand. At least that part went right because this month council had its first serious tech-glitch of these post-pandemic times. But most everything else was business as usual, so let’s review the business of June’s council meetings.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – June 7

It was a very technocratic June meeting for Committee of the Whole with the presentation of the external audit, the presentation of two updates to water-based master plans, and the designation of Guelph as bird city. There was also a marathon staff recognition, which got to happen in-person, in the council chambers, for the first time in 26 months.

Matthew Betink from KMPG presented the external audit, and “KPMG did not find any issues through our audit procedures on the above noted areas of focus,” is a statement frequently used in this report.

Shanna O’Dwyer from the City of Guelph reported that when it comes to the long-term finances of the City, the health of the administration’s reserves is coming at the expense of the difficulty getting capital projects started, but that’s a long-term issue. As for short-term, Betik said that inflation will likely be the most immediate financial pressure with fuel and infrastructure being especially impacted by recent global economic trends.

After a short break, council unanimously passed a motion to become a bird city, and formally inducting the Black-capped Chickadee as Guelph’s official bird. There was some concern about municipal autonomy when it comes to some of the conditions that Guelph needs to meet in order to be a bird city, but Planner II Environmental Planner Leah Lefler assured committee that Nature Canada’s points system gave council lots of flexibility.

Next, General Manager of Environmental Services Jennifer Rose presented the 2021 Water Supply Master Plan Update, and the 2022 Wastewater Treatment and Biosolids Management Master Plan Update. Both covered aspects of water management over the next 30 years, and both presented the need for a lot of capital investment over the next three decades.

The presentation was fairly straightforward, but committee wanted to know about the cost impact of capital water projects, specifically the projects meant to accommodate growth in Guelph. A utility rate study should be commencing later this year, and these master plans will also feed into the Development Charge Study. There was also some public concern about how the expansion of the water treatment plant might affect nearby trails, but there will a lot of public engagement on that when the time comes.

The last item was the request by Guelph’s two licensed cab companies to increase their fare rates by approximately 6.7 per cent, which translates to an increase of 20 cents to the base rate when the cabbie first turns on the metre. Mayor Cam Guthrie asked about the antiquated motion and staff said it was because this is the process laid out in current bylaw. GM of Operations Doug Godfrey added that they are in the early stages of looking at de-regulation for cab fees.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – June 13

In short, it was cancelled. After 45 minutes of technical tinkering, the meeting was called on account of the live-stream not going out over the internet tubes, which resulted in the people inside the council chambers being unable to connect with the councillors attending virtually.

The packed planning meeting agenda was at stake, and there were well over 20 people in the gallery to watch the events and/or delegate on a specific project, but things started to obviously go wrong after council played “O Canada” and the screen that played the music was unable to be taken down. When that was solved, Mayor Cam Guthrie proved that the tech issues ran deeper when he was unable to communicate with the virtual councillors.

Guthrie called for a recess until 6:55 to give staff a chance to work things out, but during the break the audio from the virtual councillors could be occasionally heard. Were the tech issues resolved?

They were not. Guthrie suggested that they could set up a laptop and live-stream over Facebook Live or YouTube because there was quorum in the room, but there was also a question about making sure the meeting was as transparent and above board as humanly possible. At this point, the cancellation of the meeting was first considered.

After about 10 more minutes Guthrie confirmed that the meeting would be cancelled after conferring with the City Clerk. Next steps are where the difficulty lies. The two consent agenda items could be passed at a special meeting of council scheduled for later this week, but the statutory planning items, and the decision report on the Emma-Earl bridge, would have to be reschedule with the regular 10-day notice.

Guthrie said that council would arrange their schedule and let the public know when the meetings will go down, and then apologizes profusely to everyone that came out, in-person, to the meeting that night. And just as we were about to be gavelled out, it looked like for a moment that the tech issues had resolved but ending the meeting and trying to reschedule seemed like the safer bet.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – June 20

Council met for the first time since last week’s technical gremlins stopped the planning meeting before it could even get started. In the first of a number of make up measures, council approved the 15 Forbes Avenue Heritage Permit (HP22-0002) for a Detached Additional Residential Dwelling and a Detached Garage, it was a consent item on the planning meeting agenda, and no one on council felt the need to add any additional commentary. The meeting was over in about 15 minutes, and less than 10 tweets.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Shareholder Meeting for GMHI – June 27

It was a pretty straightforward meeting for the shareholder of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, but there was a surprise announcement.

After a closed meeting in-camera, it was announced that the downtown District Energy node had been sold to Cascara Energy, a Toronto-based company that specializes in clean tech and green power. GMHI CEO Scott Stewart said that the Cascara sale is good news, and the result of good guidance from council. See more details below.

The audited financial statements and the annual report were both received swiftly and smoothly.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Shareholder Meeting of Guelph Junction Railway – June 27

Starting 30 minutes after the end of the GHMI shareholder meeting, council sat as a shareholder again but for Guelph Junction Railway. The main thrust of the annual report, again presented by Scott Stewart, was that GJR has returned to profitability after a COVID-caused slump in 2020. Councillor Rodrigo Goller filled the role of chair as Mayor Cam Guthrie stepped out to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.

Two delegates had some concerns to share though. John Fisher of the Guelph Hiking Trail Club said that he wanted to see GJR take more of an active role in exploiting the rail line’s potential for trail development, while Ward 2 candidate Morgan Dandie was concerned about several points raised at a recent Breezy Breakfast meeting, including the apparent priority of GJR to maximize profits.

Among the shareholder there was some concern about potentially splitting the City’s trail development efforts between the Parks department and GJR, and Stewart noted that the focus on profits this year was because of the COVID dip last year (also it’s hard to re-invest in GJR’s capital without a healthy profit). Stewart and DCAO Jayne Holmes both admitted that there are perhaps more outreach opportunities between the public and GJR, and that includes the issue of discarded rail ties in Puslinch, which is being done, but disposing of the ties in a sustainable way takes time.

In an additional motion, Councillor Cathy Downer offered direction to have GJR staff collaborate with the Parks department on trail opportunities, to develop an annual report on those efforts, and to look at the earmarking GJR dividends as an investment into developing trail systems during the 2023 budget discussion. While the shareholder can’t decide how to allocate GJR’s dividend, it is transferred to the infrastructure reserve at which point council can decide how to spend it. Downer’s four-part motion was approved unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – June 27

The regular council meeting, still being chaired by Councillor Goller, initially moved very quickly. New appointments to the Elliott Board of Trustees, much of the Committee of the Whole agenda, and the decision report on 12 Poole Street postponed from this month’s planning meeting were all passed swiftly.

Next, council revisited the 2021 Water Supply Master Plan Update as one delegate wished to express concern about how the report was lacking the words, “climate change.” Council expressed concern about the assumption that Guelph has enough water to cover growth out to 2051, but staff said that they were “quite conservative” in their assumptions about the potential future impact of drought and climate change. The report was eventually passed unanimously.

On the 2022 Wastewater Treatment and Biosolids Management Master Plan Update, one delegate there spoke to concerns the intake and outtake flow rates, especially when Guelph’s rates are compared to cities in Waterloo Region. City Engineer Terry Gayman says those cities started reviewing their flow rates in 2008 and are now seeing big results, where as Guelph has just started that work here with the oldest infrastructure in the core. The recommendation was passed unanimously.

Up next, the decision report on the Emma-Earl Bridge brought two very enthusiastic responses and one very suspicious one. Dr. Hugh Whiteley suggested that the City should include a platform for a river view along the bridge as his only criticism, but Martin Collier from the Residents for a Safe Speedvale Avenue tried again to get council to scrap the whole thing as a matter of safety and the environment.

Council would find safety concerns unpersuasive, and a couple of councillors went further and said that they even found it offensive. Councillor Phil Allt was once of them and added that his concerns about the project have been answered, and that he doesn’t want to go backwards by starting again from scratch. Councillor Leanne Caron said design was going to be key for the project and got assurances that there would be opportunities for community input on what the bridge will look like. The recommendation was approved unanimously.

Next was a motion from Mayor Guthrie, who had rejoined the meeting via video, about the proposed Environmental Assessment for the rail crossing on Edinburgh Road at the Metrolinx tracks. There was some initial confusion when Guthrie said he had an updated motion from the one in the agenda after some additional consultation with area residents and the confusion persisted.

The two delegates expressed more than a little suspicion about the process, and a lot of concern about the area losing a sense of cohesion and connectivity. The council debate though focused on process, with Guthrie’s new motion directing staff to take specific measures on community engagement like making sure everyone in a 300-metre radius is included in the notification.

There was a lot of misunderstanding about which of the two motions council was debating, and there was also a question about how there was no direction in the motion for staff to start the EA. Point of fact: Staff don’t need council approval to start an EA, and they have no standards for how big the notification radius should be in an area where an EA is being developed.

Gayman said he appreciated that many residents were caught unawares about the initiation of the EA and that staff were looking for direction from council about how to “soften the blow” and proceed better in the future. The mayor’s new recommendation was passed unanimously as the preferred solution.

To wrap up, Councilor Goller put forward a motion to suspend the bylaw rules concerning the parking of recreational vehicles this summer, but the motion failed 4-7. After that, Councillor June Hofland’s requested update about the City’s Race-to-Zero climate change targets was received.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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