My thoughts on setting realistic intensification targets for Guelph over the next 30 years.
My thoughts on setting realistic intensification targets for Guelph over the next 30 years.
On Monday April 12, 2021 City Council held a Parking Workshop specific to the ongoing Zoning Bylaw review in Guelph. At this meeting, I once again laid out the case for expanding the current 3.5m maximum driveway width for Semi-Detached and Townhome dwellings in #Guelph. See Videos Below.
As many are aware, Guelph council is in the midst of planning the 2021 City Budget. And after spending the past few weeks digesting all of the information, as well as public input, I’d like to offer some thoughts on what an appropriate and responsible 2021 Guelph City Budget might look like.
In May of this year I wrote about the City’s commitment over the past six years to “save in the good times“, and how this commitment has set the City on a firm foundation to respond to the COVID public health and economic crisis (Link Here). I wrote about the city’s tax rate stabilization reserve being completely rebuilt since 2014 ($2.1M, to a projected balance of over $13M in 2020); and the city’s total contingency reserves being rebuilt from $10.8M (2014), to a projected balance of over $23.4M (2020).
So as a follow up to this article, I’d like to offer a second (equally important) piece to the equation. “Save in the good times…………in order to stimulate in the bad.” Since the 1930’s this has become a core function of Government (stimulate during recessions), in order to cushion economic impacts and excelerate recovery; and this function is something Guelph is well situated to perform.
Armed with healthy reserves, Council must focus on responding to the thousands in our community who are still out of work; have returned only part time; have lost a business; or, are facing another round of income insecurity this winter. To achieve this, one thing is clear. Council must work harder to minimize the tax increase in 2021 (currently projected to be 3.6%), all while committing to targeted and immediate reserve funding of community supports to promote resiliency and recovery. Community Grants, Arts and Tourism, Youth Sports, Care Facilities, Welcoming Streets Initiatives, Small Business Tax Reductions (just to name a few), all need to be supported in 2021. And because of our collective success in rebuilding reserves, we can do this. All while acknowledging the impact this pandemic has had on Guelph households and small businesses by minimizing the tax increase. These adjustments (funding through reserves) are no different then what every household in our community is having to do this year.
Further, through this strategy, council will be modelling a similar approach to the provincial and federal government‘s pandemic relief and recovery initiatives (i.e. payroll support, rent relief etc), by focussing on immediate funding needs while keeping an eye on recovery.
City Council, City staff and the executive team have done diligent work over the past six years putting us in the financial position we are in today. Now it’s time to provide targeted support in 2021, which includes minimizing a property tax increase.
It’s understandably difficult to find room in the current Election News Coverage to talk about municipal elections BUT here in #Guelph we are already planning for the 2022 municipal election. And we need your help!
Many municipalities across Ontario are seeking ways of broadening access to voting (i.e. vote by mail, over the phone, or internet voting), and increase voter engagement during elections. #Guelph is no different.
We want to ensure your voice is heard in 2022 and we want as many of you to speak as possible. So if you have ever considered (or would consider), casting a ballot in the 2022 Guelph municipal election by means other than “in-person” at a polling station (i.e. childcare issues, concerns over COVID, travelling abroad, work conflicts, accessibility concerns etc), it is very important to take 5 minutes and complete this survey. GO!
Thank you to all residents for reaching out to me over the past few weeks with your thoughts on this file. It has been great corresponding with you and hearing your feedback. And after responding to dozens of email about my position, I thought it best to provide my thoughts in advance of this evenings council meeting so residents knew where I stood. So here goes. Short and sweet.
As illustrated in the Watson and Associates Report, there are in fact only three, single tier municipalities in all of Ontario that currently employ “Full Time” councillors. Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton. Of importance to note, all of these cities have considerably larger populations than Guelph.
There is (of course) no “rule” for determining when and how large a city must be before moving to full time councillors, but the consultants report does serve as a benchmark. Similarly, and by comparison in the same table, it is clear that Guelph city councillors (two per ward) are appropriately paid for their time ($41,528/year).
Secondly, as per the consultants report. Guelph City councillors (based on personal interviews), spend on average about 20 hours per week on council business. This equates to 80 hours per month or approximately 840hrs/year when you consider council breaks (council breaks for two weeks at Christmas and four weeks each summer). This equates to approximately $48/hr for part time work. No system is ever perfect, but if you support a two councillor per ward model in Guelph, it is clear that the current system is well designed and the compensation is comparatively, very competitive.
Thirdly, for councillors to whom the following statement feels true (see below), I would reiterate the importance of time management when performing this duty in the community. On a personal note, I commute to work each day, coach youth sports and have a young family. I have worked full time for the past 6 years while also serving on city council. At times has it been stressful to manage? Of course (just see budget time each year)! At the end of the day however, being effective at something comes down to effective time management. To serve as a councillor and still maintain full time employment is absolutely possible with effective time management………….just ask me 😉
Finally and most importantly, the position of an elected councillor is first and foremost a public service. It should never be seen as a job. If a primary motivator in running for council is to be ”paid appropriately for your time”, you are missing the call to public service. I have read no better quote articulating this message then an email I received earlier last week. Thank you to the resident for passing this along. I hope this message helps ground our conversations this evening.
Since the depression of the 1930’s there’s been a prevailing economic philosophy amongst western democracies thatadvocates for managed growth through regulated free market economies. Simply put, to avoid the historic boom and bust of free unregulated markets, governments should seek to manage inflation and growth during the good times, as well as cushioning losses of economic productivity in the bad times.
“Save in the good times, stimulate in the bad times!”
From my perspective, even at the municipal level, governments can (and should) practice this general philosophy. Because if it is an expectation that governments intervene to cushion economic impacts during recessions, it should also be understood that governments must commit to stockpiling surpluses and restraining spending during strong economic times in order to avoid continuous debt being loaded onto the next generation. While a number of western democracies have seemingly departed from this general philosophy in recent years, the fundamental principle still holds true, and is something our city can take pride in when looking back on recent years of local government in Guelph.
The citizens of Guelph have the right to know how the city has managed public resources over the past number of years, and how this culture has set us on a firm foundation to respond to this public health and economic crisis. Case in point, since 2014 the city’s tax rate stabilization reserve (the key tool council can use to mitigate unforeseen increases in operating costs), has been completely rebuilt from a dangerously low balance of $2.1M, to a projectedbalance of over $13M in 2020; a six-fold increase. Further, over this same period the city’s total contingency reserves have also been rebuilt, from a balance of $10.8M (2014), to a projected balance of over $23.4M (2020).
How was this accomplished?
It was accomplished through the city’s executive, outside boards, staff and council diligently turning a -$1.1Mbudgetary shortfall in 2014, into five consecutive surplus budgets of $1.14M (2015); $3.08M (2016); $3.5M (2017); $3.25M (2018); and just announced for 2019 ($5.47M). These surpluses (coupled with disciplined spending), have been central in rebuilding these critical reserve funds during strong economic times, and have prepared our finances for responding to the public health and economic crisis we find ourselves in today. Armed with healthy reserves, it is now council’s opportunity to support our community through this years (and future years) operational and capital budget.
So while many large municipalities today are calling on upper levels of government for emergency financial aid to sustain services, our community should be reassured that today, Guelph’s core city services are strong, funded, and will continue to be there during this crisis. On a personal note, I am proud to acknowledge the good work of our City’s executive team and staff over the past six years for helping put us in the position we are in today. Moreover, I include in my thanks the near 1,000 city staff members who are currently at home on emergency leave, as well as the residents of Guelph who are at home, helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You are all helping to ensure a strong local government and a strong, resilient city when we get back on our feet. We are all in this together.
19.33% in 5 years (2015-2020)…..that will be the cumulative increase (even after assessment growth) to the City’s tax supported operating budget if Guelph Council supports a 4% (and potentially higher) increase to the budget this week.
Just as important, these increases all come while the city has run $11.1M (approx) in operating surplus’s over the same period of time (2015-2019).
How did we get here?
Well, as it stands, the current projected budget increase for 2020 is 3.08%. This, for many, already seems high but built into this figure are all of the year-over-year cost increases to City departments and operations; a 1% increase to the 10 Year Compounding Infrastruature Levy (currently in Year 4); as well as the much needed 10% increase in the Guelph Police Services budget. Yes, there is also the much publicized hospital capital request ($4.5M over 6 years for an expansion of the Guelph General Hospital), but the 2020 contribution ($750,000) can likely be paid through the operating surplus reported by staff in 2019 ($2M).
Setting aside the police request and the infrastructure levy, staff have once again brought forward an operational budget increase that aligns with inflation (between 1-1.5%), and should be commended for it.
And this (from my perspective), should be what defines the 2020 budget. A fiscally defensible budget that supports our valued police service and promotes community safety, all while taking care of the infrastructure assets under our care. Instead however, I suspect the budget increase will climb significantly higher on Tuesday, as signalled by council last week in their intentions to add items.
Items like $1.7M in transit service expansions that are projecting poor ridership for the foreseeable future. Routes such as the proposed Hanlon Creek Business Park expansion that will cost over $900,000 per year to operate and has a projected revenue stream of only $16,000 in 2020. The result being another underperforming transit route that will be over 98% subsidized by the tax base.
To be fair, there have been a number of attempts to moderate the increase. Councillor Mark Mackinnon’s motion to delay the introduction of a second capital infrastructure levy until more information is known in 2020, passed, as well as my motion to reduce the over $1.4M worth of tax based subsidization for downtown parking, also passed. But most of the impactful motions brought forward to date, such as phasing in the new community bus line, or phasing in the new Hanlon Creek bus route, have been rejected.
As a result, a budget that should be about supporting our Police Service and investments in our built assets, will likely include many additional, non-essential items that could/should be phased in over time. Not simply all at once. This approach however (all at once), does help explain why Guelph is approaching a 20% increase to the budget in just five short years.
On Tuesday, I’ll be happy to be wrong.
For many families in our community, the City’s Zoning Bylaw Review related to residential parking and driveway widths is a very important file.
Lost in the headlines of the Budget (it seems) over the past few weeks, is the City’s announced Workshops and Open Houses related to this city wide review.
For those following this file closely, I wanted to draw your attention to two specific workshops coming up next week.
These are very important meetings for residents to attend to voice your opinions as staff have recommended the restoration of the existing enforcement provisions of the Zoning Bylaw (I.e. the enforcement provisions we worked hard to pause earlier this year). This would mean a return to the previous system of enforcement. And for many, a return to an unworkable system. Please consider attending.
If you cannot attend in person, the City has also established a website for resident feedback at HaveYourSay.Guelph.ca.
On June 10, 2019, Council voted in favour of continuing the city-wide suspension of enforcement for some driveway width infractions on specific types of properties (providing that specific criteria is met).
The criteria set out is as follows:
As a result, staff will be following up with open complaint files relating to driveways of semi-detached and on-street townhouses to confirm that the specific criteria set is met or that the property is now in compliance with the Zoning By-law.
In order to ensure customer service levels are maintained, staff will be staggering follow up correspondence and inspections by street over the coming weeks. Below is the process that will be followed by staff:
No more than 2 weeks before the follow up inspection, the property owner will be mailed correspondence outlining Council’s decision (including the criteria), and the process that will follow (inspection, opportunity to comply with the Zoning By-law or, if possible, the criteria set out to suspend enforcement).
After the inspection, follow up mail correspondence will be sent, advising the owner the following (whichever is applicable):
• that the property now complies with the Zoning By-law;
• the Zoning By-law requirements to comply; and
• if the property has the ability to meet the criteria set out by Council for suspension of enforcement and what the property owner can do to meet that criteria.
If compliance with the Zoning By-law or criteria set out by Council is required, a timeline of 90 days will be given. After 90 days, an Inspector will re-attend the property to confirm whether or not compliance with the Zoning By-law or the criteria set out by Council for suspension has been achieved. If compliance with the Zoning By-law or the suspension criteria has been achieved, follow up mail correspondence will be sent, advising the owner of the following (whichever is applicable):
• that they now comply with the Zoning By-law;
• that they meet the criteria set out by Council for suspension of enforcement and an explanation of what that means (and doesn’t mean). Essentially that they do not comply with the Zoning By-law, but that enforcement has been suspended.
If compliance with the Zoning By-law or the criteria set out by Council for suspension has been NOT been achieved, legal action may commence.
On Monday, June 10th council will decide whether or not to continue pausing enforcement (with conditions) of the Driveway Width Zoning Bylaw for semi-detached & townhomes in Guelph; all while the City completes a comprehensive review of the Bylaw over the next two years.
In advance of this meeting, I took the time this week to visit with friends Virginia & Paul Miller on Schroder Cres to discuss how their neighbourhood street has responded to the pause in enforcement since September 2018.