February for city council began with a stacked agenda at Committee of the Whole and loads of new information about the Chief Administrative Officer’s 2023 plan, the future of Our Food Future, and the newest iteration of the Operations campus. We also kicked off “Workshop Wednesdays” with a meeting to look at the City’s relationship with long-term care.
Committee of the Whole Meeting – February 7
Before the meeting started, there was another council meeting for an in-camera discussion about the sewage spill along the York Road Trunk By-Pass project in 2019. Mayor Cam Guthrie said that council gave staff direction, and that more information about this legal matter will be revealed to the public soon.
When committee itself started, there was the usual staff recognitions before the presentation of the Chief Administrative Officer’s 2023 performance objectives. The objectives were fairly predictable if you follow City Hall business, and Scott Stewart noted that while the challenges were many, the City is in good shape to weather the storms on the horizon. He also reminded council that they will have to sign the pledge to build 18,000 homes in the next 10 years by the end of the month.
Under committee questioning, Stewart said that there are a lot of unknowns as to whether the City can manage those expectations, but they have direction from the Province to prioritize growth and that’s what they’ve got to do now. Stewart was also asked about Guelph’s reputation as an environmental innovator, and he said that many cities have caught up to Guelph, but the City may be setting the curve again by being an early adaptor to electric transit vehicles.
After that, it was Our Food Future’s turn to present. The presentation was mostly good news about the success of the Smart Cities Office in terms of advancing its goals of fighting food insecurity and creating a circular food economy, but since the Federal government accelerated the funding for the Smart Cities winners during the pandemic, Our Food Future is looking at either finding new revenue streams or making sure others are able to take up the legacy of the project by summer. Kate Vsetula from the Guelph Community Health Centre and Brendan Johnson from the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition both spoke to the effectiveness of the programs developed.
After a break, and the approval of one consent agenda item, committee turned to the Operations Facilities Long-Term Plan Update. In brief, the once elaborate plan to combine all the City’s operations on one campus in the east end has been downsized to only housing the transit and fleet facilities.
Staff outlined how the chosen site for these facilities at Stone and Watson offers a number of development difficulties including stormwater management on the site and very different topographies and elevations within a few hundred metres. The City’s got to focus on transit because there’s a Federal grant to electrify the transit fleet, and the power needs at the current Watson Road transit facility are inadequate beyond a couple of chargers.
Committee listened intently to the report, but then Councillor Dan Gibson started asking for a budget number and staff were a bit shy about giving him one. There was acknowledgement that the smaller footprint for the building would mean a cheaper construction project, but it took a couple of more tries before Councillor Christine Billings finally got a rough estimate: $200-$250 million. DCAO Jayne Holmes asked not to be held to those numbers though.
Homes also revealed that the original plan for the operations campus was going to be 48 per cent funded from DCs, 17 per cent from grants, and the rest from the capital reserve and tax-funded debt. Committee also asked about the cost of renovating City buildings at the end of their lifespan, but staff didn’t have any data and were hesitant to speculate on the costs. The focus now, Holmes said, is to get the new transit facility completed before the Federal grant expires in 2027.
Many committee members were concerned about the uncertainty. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke, who was chairing the committee as the head of Infrastructure Development and Enterprise, said that she wants to make sure that the priority is public buildings like the South End Community Centre or the Baker District, and that she’s also worried about the debt capacity of the City. O’Rourke added that while she understands that this is asset management, she wants to see a more precise plan of attack before the 2024-2027 budget process later this year.
The final item was the formal rollout of the Guelph Green Homes program. Staff went over the criteria for the program, what type of work the loans will fund and how residents will be able to apply and when (look for it later this spring). Committee concerns included equal access to the program for low income residents, combining the Guelph program with similar grant and discounts, and the transparency of the loan when the renovated house changes hands.
Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.
Workshop Meeting of City Council – February 8
City council held the first of several Wednesday Workshops (trademark pending) with a focus this week on the City of Guelph and their relationship with long-term care through the Elliott Community. The staff presentation covered the history of long-term care at the City, how the Elliott became the City’s facility of choice, and how long-term care at the Elliott is managed.
There was no real news per se (even though there was a lot of interesting background information), but it was announced that the plan for 29 new beds at the Elliott, which the Provincial government has already agreed to pay for, will be coming to council on February 28 with a goal to begin construction in third quarter of this year. That council agenda will be released next Thursday.
Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.