This Week at Council: Funding the Mission and Service Improvements

It feels like we were only just getting started, but Guelph city council wrapped up for the year after taking care of a couple of key pieces of business. Just in time for Christmas, there was some good news for people who want to see more aid for those who are unhoused downtown, and there was also some good news for people who like to complain to City staff with an exciting and interactive new way to make you voice heard!

Regular Meeting of City Council – December 13

The last council meeting of 2022 let council catch up on a bit of unfinished business to start with. Three local members of the Team Ontario Lacrosse Champions finally got their city medals after they were unable to attend a council meeting in November.

As for the business of council, they first approved the Alectra LP battery energy storage project although Councillor Dan Gibson sat out the final vote because of a conflict of interest.

Next, council debated a request from Wellington County to help fund the current and expanded hours of the Royal City Mission with $250,850 from the tax operating reserve. The hours of the Mission were extended during the pandemic thanks to funding from the County, but there’s a timing gap right now because it doesn’t open till noon and local shelters close for the morning at 8 am. That means for four hours in the morning, people who are homeless downtown have almost no where to go.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Shakiba Shayani was the one official delegate on the item, appearing as the co-chair of the Mayor’s special downtown advisory committee. She described how the pandemic has changed or cancelled many of the services that used to be offered downtown, and how the Mission seemed like the best, and perhaps only, fit to fill the immediate service needs right now.

The head of Royal City Mission, Reverend Kevin Coghill, was in the gallery and asked for his feedback. He said that the Mission will offer a warm space and wrap-around care like usual during the extra service hours, and that his facility is one of the few downtown that let’s people hang around for hours at a time. He also added that the number of people the Mission is helping has “gone out of control,” and confirmed that the pandemic has changed the way that other aid agencies do business, and there just aren’t as many services as there used to be.

Most members of council were open to the answering the need, but were concerned about the technical aspects of the plan, and how the City of Guelph is getting more sucked in to the provision of social services. In terms of the mechanics, Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush explained that this will essentially be a Community Benefit Agreement, but because of the tight timeline caused by the election and the fact that winter is here, staff need to get council approval for the spending, and then write up the agreement and set reporting requirements.

Mayor Cam Guthrie emphasized in his remarks that this is a band-aid solution. “We have some major issues we need to solve in the absence of the Province not helping to solve them,” he added. He also encouraged the everyone to volunteer and help out this holiday season if they’re able to because attacking these issues is a whole community effort.

The recommendation was approved unanimously. As for the expanded hours at Royal City Mission, they may not start immediately at the beginning of the new year as originally planned, but they should be open 12 hours a day Monday to Saturday starting fairly soon in early January.

One of the improvements that staff showed off was an online map that allows people to report a problem to the City, whether that’s a broken streetlight or a missed garbage pick-up or graffiti on public property. There are now 68 potential services that can be flagged using the Report a Problem Map, and you can find out where and how to access it thanks to this timely City of Guelph press release.

Staff also discussed how the process has begun to fold the 45 departmental phone numbers, and 35 departmental email addresses used as the public access points to City of Guelph services into one phone number and one email address. This process will take years to complete as staff need about five or six months to upload each department. After some technical questions, council unanimously received the report.

The last item of the night, and of the year, was a motion coming out of the recent information report to council about the Service Rationalization Implementation. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke had concerns about the report as a missed opportunity to celebrate progress made, and she also wanted to see some cost benefit analysis around the implementation while getting assurances that the follow-up work from the rationalization won’t end up melting into staff work plans.

O’Rourke’s motion asked for annual updates about implementation of the rationalization measures, starting with a report to the audit committee in the second quarter of 2023. She explained that council approved a list of recommendations and that they have accountability for it so council must be able to trace a line from the recommendation to whether or not it’s been completed. Staff offered assurances that producing an annual report does throw too big of a wrench into the audit workplan and council approved the motion unanimously.

Mayor Guthrie finished the meeting by (essentially) saying Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is the Committee of the Whole meeting on January 10, 2023 at 2 pm. The agenda for this meeting will be posted on the City of Guelph’s website on Thursday December 29, 2022.

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