This Week at Council: Money and Scooters

The month of May started a day late at city council with a two topic Committee of the Whole meeting that focused on last year’s money matters, and then looked to the  more immediate future with a new bylaw. In this meeting, there was a rather substantial budget variance to dispatch, and then there was a bylaw for the use of escooters that has to come back to council in less than two months. Let us recap the meeting…

Committee of the Whole Meeting – May 2

Money was the main point of the May meeting at Committee of the Whole, but there was also some discussion about scooters of the electric variety.

But first, the money. Specifically, the operating surplus of $13,698,567 for 2022. These numbers still have to be confirmed by the external audit, which should come back to council next month, but the City’s financial staff are pretty comfortable with the results of their math. They got to a 2.8 per cent positive variance despite a tight labour market, escalating fuel prices, seven interest rate hikes and later-period pandemic challenges.

The most obvious question about the 2022 finances was the first one asked: If the City got $13 million more than it needed last year, do we need to raise taxes as high in 2024? Tara Baker, GM of Finance and City Treasurer explained that the factors that led to the surplus were largely out of the City’s direct control and that there are even more vagaries ahead thanks to Bill 23. In terms of $6 million saved on capital, Baker said that was owed to efficiencies being found when work on one project was combined with another.

There was also a specific question about the reserves for water, wastewater and stormwater specifically; if those reserves are at 100 per cent already, why were staff recommending to put more money in them? Baker said that the City is not collecting “too much” for those reserves, but the long-term capital plan is significant and they’re trying to manage rate increases so that there’s no big jump year-to-year. Staff are also in the process of reviewing the targets for those reserve funds since they’re only meant to cover the cost of infrastructure renewal and not the cost of growth and upgrades.

Committee approved the 19-part recommendation that deposits the surplus across several reserve funds, but Councillor Cathy Downer gave forewarning that she might have a request for one-time funding at the end of the month for heritage. Council also approved the allocation of $375,000 for the in-progress construction of a wildlife crossing on Maltby Road East.

After that, there was one item left and it was a three-part motion to have the City of Guelph join Ontario’s escooter pilot program by having staff develop a bylaw by the July Committee of the Whole meeting for the regulation for escooters in Guelph while sidestepping the usual public engagement process.

Adrian Salvatore, vice-chair of Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation, delegated in support of the motion saying that bike theft is a big issue for people, and that escooters eliminate those concerns because you can fold it up and take it inside. You can also use them for “the last mile”; meaning that you can park your car or take transit a certain distance, and then ride your scooter the rest of the way.

So why the rush? That was the big question about the motion. Staff will basically have two weeks after the council meeting at the end of the month to prepare the finished bylaw before they have to have it ready for the July Committee meeting. Taking the usual consultation process into account, it might take eight months to a year to get that process done, and by then it will be less than a year before the end of the pilot, at which point the Province will put their own rules in place based on the pilot’s results.

One of the recommendations was amended to say “pre-consultation” instead of “consultation” to theoretically leave the door open for consultation after the pilot, but there was a lot of lamentation about why Guelph is so late to the party on this. Ultimately, any misgivings about coming up with a bylaw this quick and dirty were supressed by committee because there are people in Guelph riding escooters right now and there are no regulations to guide their safe and lawful use. The motions were approved unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is the planning meeting on Tuesday May 9 at 6:30 pm. You can see the Politico preview here.

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