Mark's Voting Record

Voting Record

In this area of the website, I am posting an ongoing record of my notable public council and committee votes, as well as justifications of my votes when warranted. I am accountable to not just Ward 6 residents but to all Guelph citizens and this webpage shall serve as my record of commitment to you. The agenda, minutes, and video for the meeting are available for download from the city's website.

9 and 10 December 2015 – Budget Night

Dec 9 — NO (majority) to approve a $217,336,736 operating budget for 2016, which represents a 3.42% tax increase over 2015.

Dec 10 — NO (minority) to approve a $216,442,599 operating budget for 2016, which represents a 2.99% tax increase over 2015.

These two budget nights proved an interesting exercise in representational democracy. I voted with the 5-7 majority against a 3.42% budget on Wednesday night but was in the 7-6 minority voting against a 2.99% budget on Thursday. For more details on why I did not support either budget read my blog post about budget nights. The breakdown of my individual votes on specific budget items are below.

YES (majority) to approving a 2016 capital budget of $60,884,349

This vote was unanimous, demonstrating that council approves of how the capital budget was constructed for 2016.

SPONSOR YES (majority) to funding the Mayor's promotions budget for $6,100

This budget item is a continuation of previous budgets. Originally Mayor Guthrie requested it be removed since he wasn't going to use it in 2016 but an opportunity presented itself late in the process that may require the funds. Consequently, I brought forward the motion to retain it for the mayor and this motion passes unanimously.

NO (majority) to reduce planned fee increases to the Farmers' Market from $9,000 (a 15% increase in vendor fees) to $3,000

The Farmers' Market currently runs at a significant deficit to the city each year. Since it's recognised for having cultural and tourist value for the city, though, a funding cost is acceptable. This year staff suggested a 15% increase in fees to help catch up on the growing funding deficit to partially offset additional costs, followed by more moderate 2-5% increases each year. While a 15% jump in a single year seems steep, the actual cost for a single vendor six-foot table will rise approximately $3-4 a week. I believe this increase is both fair and reasonable and places the fee structure more in line with other city markets. The motion was narrowly defeated in a 6-7 vote.

NO (minority) to reducing the planned cash fare transit increase from $1 to 0.25¢ (Dec 9) and then ultimately to no increase (Dec 10).

NO (majority) to freezing transit rates at 2015 levels for 2016 instead of approving planned increases in monthly rates and ticket prices.

Transit fares has not increased in several years and is currently supported by the tax base at approximately 57% (over $18M). Staff presented increases for 2016 that would generate an extra $1M in revenue from users, which would drop the tax subsidy to 55%. The staff proposal of new monthly, ticket and cash fares is based on a mathematical matrix that I fully support and is rational, fair, and reasonable.

It became clear even before budget night that the majority of council would not support a $1 cash fare increase. A proposal to reduce it to 50¢ (which I supported, since a $1 was no longer in consideration) failed 6-7, but a reduction to a 25¢ increase passed 7-6. During the subsequent budget meeting on Dec 10, the 25¢ increase was removed completely in another 7-6 vote and consequently cash fares will remain at $3 for 2016.

Freezing the monthly and ticket prices for 2016 at 2015 levels failed in a 6-7 vote on Dec 9 and did not have enough council support to be passed on Dec 10. That is a positive step towards helping fund transit more sustainably.

SPONSOR YES (majority) to reducing the affordable bus pass from $37.50/$32/$31 adult/youth/seniors to $32/$27.20/$27.20 adult/youth/seniors

For the past two years I have been a strong proponent for making the affordable bus pass even more affordable. Eligibility is based on income and is designed to help those who need it most. Currently, the pass is set at 50% of the monthly pass rates for adults/youth/seniors but I proposed to lower it even further to just 40% of the regular monthly rates. According to my research, this 40% benchmark would give Guelph the lowest affordable bus pass in Ontario and possibly even Canada – a compassionate and progressive decision that helps demonstrate what we can do together as a city for those in need.

Naturally, I was thrilled when the vote passed 9-4 to adopt this lower rate, with councillors Allt, Downer, Gibson, Gordon, Hofland, MacKinnon, Piper, Van Hellemond, and Wettstein supporting the motion. But that was just on Dec 9. The next day, councillors Allt, Downer, Gordon, Hofland, Piper, and Wettstein pulled their support of the previously approved motion and returned the 2016 affordable bus pass rates to 2015 levels. This decision took nearly $80,000 more out of the pockets of those receiving government financial assistance. Only Mayor Guthrie and councillors Gibson, MacKinnon, and Van Hellemond took a strong stance for those on lower incomes who rely on transit's affordable bus pass and voted against raising the rates back up.

I believe this vote was the biggest mistake of the 2016 budget process and cannot fathom why some councillors pulled their support of this motion.

NO (minority) to keep Sunday transit service as a 30-minute service instead of a proposed 60-minute service

Most of Guelph's comparable cities in Ontario have 60-minute transit service on Sundays whereas Guelph offers 30-minute service. This enhanced service costs an extra $317,790 annually and some believe it is money well spent. I floated to council the idea of moving to 60-minute service but instead extending transit hours by 2-3 hours on Sunday from 6:45 pm ending to 8:45 pm or even 9:45 pm. This way, we could still save nearly $180K but offer a significant service enhancement to Sunday riders. In those extended hours, workers would have more time to return home, children could visit parents or grandparents, or friends could spend more time together. Clearly my vision truly was only my vision, because the vote to move to 60-minute service failed 12-1. As a result, I never made a motion concerning extended Sunday hours since funding space was consequently not available.

NO (majority) to fund summer peak service from May to August at a cost of $778,600

To help control transit costs and adjust service levels to ridership demand, staff recommended eliminating peak hours during the summer months. During peak times (7:00 am to 9:40 am and 2:00 pm to 5:40 pm), busses run every 20 minutes instead of every 30 minutes as normal. I believe eliminating peak service will have a small impact on riders yet offers substantial savings to taxpayers. The motion to keep summer peak service failed 5-8.

SPONSOR NO (minority) to trimming year-round peak transit service by 20 minutes in the mornings and afternoons

Instead of peak times extending until 9:40 am in the morning and starting at 2:00 pm in the afternoon, I proposed shaving 20 minutes from each timeframe: mornings would end at 9:20 am and afternoons would start at 2:20 pm. This small adjustment would have saved $100,550 from the budget for 2016 since it could only be implemented from Sep-Dec, or over $200K annualised come 2017. My motion seemed reasonable but failed 3-10.

NO (majority) to keep statutory holiday transit service as a 30-minute service instead of a proposed 60-minute service

Arguments to reduce statutory holiday service to 60 minutes from 30 minutes are similar to those made above for other transit service adjustments. By voting 5-8 to move to a 60-minute service the 2016 budget is reduced by $105,010.

YES (majority) to reduce the council training budget from $20,000 to $10,000

With much of the training for our new council completed in 2015, we do not require the entire $20K in this budget line. Some would argue that no funds are needed, but keeping $10K available gives council flexibility should a training/educational opportunity arise. The motion to reduce our budget passed 7-6.

NO (majority) to remove the Open Government Action Plan from the budget

YES (majority) to reduce funding for the Open Government Action plan by $50K

I believe the citizens of Guelph is getting great value from our Open Guelph plans and agree that we should continue our efforts for at least several more years. Part of the plan requires staff and part requires funds for applications (like the 311GIS application the city launched in the fall of 2015). On Dec 9 I voted with the 2-11 majority to fund open government for $264,200 but on Dec 10 voted with the 7-6 majority to reduce funding by $50K. The reduction of $50K means that Guelph will slow the release of applications to the community but that they will still get released. It seemed like a reasonable compromise.

YES (majority) to fund Asset Managements positions for $277,500

Asset management is absolutely vital for the city to control and manage our infrastructure in a methodical and orderly manner. We have massive infrastructure priority challenges that have resulted in a $24M annual funding deficit and $100M+ backlog of maintenance work. Most cities have a dedicated asset management division but Guelph does not. Until now. I voted in the 10-3 majority to hire our first two employees for this new department.

YES (majority) to conduct a city-wide service rationalisation in 2016

NO (minority) to remove the service rationalisation from the budget

A service rationalisation involves the city hiring consultants to examine the city's scope of service delivery to determine the most effective and efficient ways to deliver the services ... or whether the city should even be delivering some of these services at all. Perhaps we are underfunding some services and more staffing is needed. Perhaps other services are bloated and ineffective and need to be trimmed. And even still more services might best be removed from the city staff's responsibilities and an alternative service delivery method, such as privatisation or P3 delivery, be considered. Until the city does a thorough examination of our services and rationalise each of them individually, we simply don't know. That is precisely why I am a huge proponent of service rationalisation and voted with the 7-6 majority to add $450,000 to the budget to fund a 2016 study.

Sadly, on Dec 10 an 11-2 majority voted to eliminate the $450,000 from the budget and kill the idea of service rationalisation in 2016. I believe this was a mistake.

YES (majority) to fund the Special Olympics with $35,000 of in-kind funding

In 2016, the Ontario Special Olympics will come to Guelph. Council unanimously voted to approve the requested funding for in-kind expenses (such as Sleemans Centre rentals)

YES (minority) to fund sidewalk maintenance in the amount of $434,500

It's no surprise to anyone to state that our city sidewalks are in a sorry state of disrepair and do not meet provincial guidelines for accessibility. By approving 10-3 over $430K in funds, the city can address these sidewalk issues aggressively starting in 2016 until we are caught up with repairs.

YES (majority) to fund a park planner for $56,050

Council was told that we lack an additional park planner and consequently residential development is being delayed. For $50K, this new staff position seems reasonable and necessary, which is why I joined the 10-3 majority to approve it.

YES (majority) to funding enhanced transit service on Canada Day for $11,100

Transit already funds enhance transit service on Canada Day out of their operating budget. To align budget to actuals, it made sense for council to add the $11K into the budget in an 8-5 vote.

SPONSOR YES (minority) to fund a council composition and employment status and ward boundary review for $190,000

The last time council examined ward boundaries and council composition was nearly a decade ago. Since that time, much has changed in the population location demographics of the city as well as the workload of councillors. Good governance requires that we examine our democratic system periodically to ensure we are getting the best and most effective results during our elections. Just take a look at the 2014 demographics: there were only 13,047 eligible voters in Ward 3 yet 16,766 voters in Ward 6 — a nearly 30% difference that's only going to get larger for the 2018 election with all the intensification in south Guelph. Regardless what the study would ultimately recommend regarding ward boundaries, full- vs. part-time councillors, and council composition, I think is is vital for us to undertake that examination. Unfortunately, the majority of council believes the current status for the 2018 election is good enough the way it is and my motion was defeated 5-8.

NO (minority) to adding $100,000 to the affordable housing reserve

My reasonings are the same as for the 2015 budget: I am passionate about the city taking a leadership role in affordable housing (read my blog for some thoughts on affordable microhousing). I believe the city needs a solid action plan before we should be committing tax money to a reserve fund, though, which is why I voted against this 9-4 motion. Affordable housing is a huge and complex issue we need to tackle in the coming years and I look forward to the process.

NO to a wide variety of staffing/service expansion for 2016

Throughout the evening, many staff positions and expansions to service were considered and voted on individually. I believe that many of these positions/services are either not necessary or that hiring could be delayed until 2017 or beyond. Here is a compilation of the votes:

• Guelph Transit vehicle repair @ $250,000 (Fail 3-10)

• Environmental Services promotion and education @ $25,000 (Fail 5-8)

• Building Services integrated operational review @ $70,000 (Fail 3-10)

• Construction communications @ $7,500 (Pass 7-6)

• Committee of Adjustment catering @ $1,500 (Pass 12-1)

• Mechanic in training @ $84,100 (Pass 7-6)

• Sports field operator @ $83,900 (Pass 11-2)

• Supervisor of trails @ $137,500 (Pass 7-6)

• Compliance co-ordinator @ $94,200 (Fail 5-8)

• Roads and right-of-way supervisor @ $163,166 (Pass 9-4)

• Licensed electrician @ $90,200 (Pass 7-6)

• Trails technician @ $108,200 (Pass 7-6)

• Information and access co-ordinator @ $86,800 (Pass 7-6)

• GIS program manager @ $127,600 (Pass 7-6)

• Paramedic @ $86,800 (Fail 5-8)

• Arborist @ $107,400 (Fail 6-7; originally passed 7-6 on Dec 9)

• Inspector arborist @ $130,700 (Fail 5-8)

• Community paramedicine @ $120,000 (Pass 8-5)

• Winter control @ $350,000 (Fail 5-8)

• Zoning inspector @ $125,000 (Pass 7-6)

• Stabilisation fund @ $500,000 (Fail 6-7)

• Goose mitigation strategy @ $50,000 (Fail 4-9)

• Downtown facade and minor activation grants @ $130,000 (Fail 6-7)

• Library capital reserve @ $100,000 (Fail 6-7; originally passed 7-6 on Dec 9)

3 December 2015 – Niska EA Meeting

YES (majority) to file the results of the Niska Road/bridge EA and implement staff recommendations to reconstruct Niska Road and replace the existing one-lane Bailey bridge with a new two-lane design

SPONSOR YES (majority) that staff develops a public consultation process for use during the detailed design phase of the Niska Bridge that includes elements to address truck traffic and vehicle speeds.

Given the limited responsible options staff and legal presented to council ( additional details are outlined in my blog post), I believe that a two-lane bridge replacement for Niska is the best option. I voted in a 9-4 majority to proceed to the bridge design phase, which will include additional public consultation.

9 November 2015 – Planning Meeting

NO (minority) to approving a grant of $1.5 million dollars for the heritage restoration of the Gummer Building, in contravention of grant policy

When the Gummer Building suffered fire damage eight years ago, council agreed to provide a grant to assist with the restoration of heritage elements. Under the city’s Heritage Redevelopment Reserve (HRR) grant policy, such projects are eligible for a maximum grant equal to 10 years of tax growth from reassessment. This means that any tax increases the city would receive for 10 years as a result of increased property value from work done could be rebated back to the developer as an incentive to complete such work. Regardless of whether one agrees with the policy or not, the Gummer Building was promised grant money under this grant programme.

Unfortunately, the buildings final redesign resulted in a reassessment that was significantly lower than projected. Had the property been redeveloped as a strictly commercial building, the grant could have been as much as $2 million. The developer’s decision to refurbish as a mixed-used commercial-residential building resulted in a lower assessment that would produce a 10-year growth of only $1.1 million. Under the city’s policy, the maximum amount of grant that should have been available to the Gummer Building was $1.1 million.

The developer was willing to “only” accept a grant payout of $1.5 million – less than the potential $2 million but $400,000 more than what is allowed under our HRR grant policy. I proposed to council that the city be held to our policy and pay the developer $1.1 million but by a 9-4 vote council instead agreed to pay the $1.5 million instead (by ratios, closer to 14 years of tax assessment growth instead of 10).

The additional $400,000 paid to the private real estate developer is equivalent to a nearly 0.2% increase in property taxes. Though the grant money was in available in a reserve (and thus not requiring the city to collect it from residents in the 2016 budget), that $400,000 is no longer available to put towards other projects. In the future, city council will need to collect an additional $400,000 in property taxes to make up for this grant.

I strongly oppose council giving taxpayer money to a private corporation in contravention of our policy. I stated my position strongly during council debate but only received support from Councillors Billings, Gibson, and Van Hellemond. As council speaks with one voice once a decision has been made, I accept the will of the majority.

YES (majority) to approve the rezoning of 360 Woolwich Street and 15 Mont Street to permit six residential apartment units + office space

Council heard from many passionate delegates who live on Mont Street and oppose the application. The current plan is greatly changed (and, in my opinion, improved) from the initial application and is now one that is more suitable for a residential street like Mont. Though some will view the redesignation and intensification as negative, I concur with staff’s recommendation that this project is sound and reflects good urban infill design. The majority of council agreed in a 9-3 vote.

27 October 2015 – Budget Meeting

SPONSOR YES (minority) to raise the 2016 water volume charge from to $1.61/m3 and wastewater volume charge to $1.79/m3

Mirroring a motion I brought forward during 2015 non-tax supported budget deliberations (28 Jan 15; as outlined in an earlier blog post), I proposed a motion to established a sustainable non-tax supported budget that works towards eliminating the city’s longterm annual infrastructure deficit for both water and wastewater. Staff was recommending an unsustainable 4.0% increase to the 2016 rates ($31/year increase to the average bill), whereas I believe it should have been raised to a higher sustainable level to address the infrastructure funding deficit: a 5.8% increase ($45/year increase to the average bill). Sadly, council elected to kick the funding deficit down the road to another year; the two motion failed 4-9 (increasing water rates) and 6-7 (increasing wastewater rates). I will keep pushing council to sustainably fund the city’s infrastructure in future budgets because being careful stewards of our critical assets the right thing to do.

26 October 2015 – Council Meeting

NO (minority) to declare that Guelph opposes the Province of Ontario’s sale of Hydro One

While I may not personally support the sale of Hydro One, I believe that the City of Guelph does not have the jurisdiction nor the mandate to make such demands of the Province of Ontario. Since the asset is wholly owned by the province, they have the sole authority to determine its fate. I would be very displeased if the provincial or federal governments tried to direct our city’s business outside their jurisdiction and consequently I will not support doing so to them. I have been consistent with this voting stance since elected (as my 2015 voting record below shows): if I believe an issue is beyond the jurisdictional mandate of the City of Guelph, it will not receive my support. The vote passed 12-1, though, clearly indicating that I am in the minority on council who takes this position.

YES (majority) to adopt a made-in-Guelph municipal declaration for the right to a healthy environment, loosely based on the Blue Dot Initiative

On June 22nd, I strongly opposed Guelph adopting the Blue Dot Initiative declaration since I believe the ideas espoused by the Blue Dot Initiative are best done through independent advocacy groups and not municipal governance. Staff drafted a made-in-Guelph declaration, “Right to a Health Environment”, that I believe does little good but also little harm. Since this custom-made declaration did not stray outside our municipal purview, I voted yes as council unanimously supported the adoption. I was in the minority with an 11-2 vote, though, that directed the Mayor to call on the provincial and federal governments to create legislation surrounding this issue. Once again, I prefer to let each level of government handle their own affairs.

YES (minority) to two councillor resolutions concerning the reconsideration of the previous council’s decision on the downtown Guelph Streetscape Manual and Conceptual Design of St. George’s Square

Councillors Bell and Gibson brought forth special resolutions, asking council to reconsider downtown Guelph decisions made by the previous term of council. Bell’s motion addressed the lack of bicycle safety in the Streetscape Manual and Gibson’s motion addressed the lack of consultation and support for the Conceptual Design (traffic circle) of St. George’s Square. I believe that both councillors brought forth good points that would warrant a reconsideration of these resolutions but was in the 6-7 minority when the vote was called. Consequently, the previous decisions stand.

28 September 2015 – Council Meeting

YES (majority) to approve a service rationalisation review of city programmes and services in 2016, subject to budget approval

Part of good governance involves looking within the organisation at our services to determine how we can provide services better, how we could find an alternate delivery method of the services, and whether or not the city should even be providing certain services. After I voted to defeat a 6-7 motion to refer the review back to committee for further discussion, I joined the 10-3 majority to proceed with a detailed corporate-wide service rationalisation review in 2016. This detailed review is estimated to cost $500-$850K – a large number but well worth the expensive consider the efficiencies and savings that could be found. Council approved the review subject to the budget process for 2016 that we will be voting on this fall. Looking within can be a painful, expensive, and time-consuming process, but we owe it to our citizens to make the effort.

20 July 2015 – Council Meeting

NO (majority) to set the 2014 inflation rate (CPI = 2.4%) as the 2016 budget guideline for staff

NO (majority) to use staff’s recommended budget guideline formula equal to 5-year CPI + 5-year assessment growth + 0.5% investment factor

SPONSOR YES (majority) to instruct staff to create a 2016 budget suggestion using no formula

These three motions (of many) are intrinsically linked and took place as council debated how staff should prepare its 2016 budget suggestion. I posted an earlier blog entry about why using no budget formula make logical sense and both the Guelph Tribune and Guelph Mercury have posted summary articles on how the votes played out. Councillor Gibson’s motion to tie the budget guideline to the 2014 CPI of 2.4% failed 5-7. My motion to not give staff a guideline was originally defeated 5-7 as well, though after council seemed deadlocked on making a decision Councillor Downer re-opened my motion and it pass on a second vote 8-4. It’s important to remember that this vote was about providing guidance (or, in this case, lack thereof) creating a budget for council to review and DOES NOT touch upon the actual budget that council will pass in December. It’s entirely possible that the final budget will pass at CPI or less after council debates.

YES (majority) to approve staff’s recommendation of four lanes and no bike lanes for Speedvale Ave reconstruction

The necessary reconstruction of Speedvale Avenue for underground infrastructure gave council a chance to decide how the city should put the road back together. Though several options were on the table, two primary favourable options emerged: four lanes with no bike lanes (staff’s recommendation) or two lanes plus a centre two-way turning lane plus bike lanes (the major alternative). This issue dominated council and committees for several months and hundreds of delegates spoke to council or sent letters pleading for one preference or the other. Based largely on the professional opinion of senior staff that traffic would be severely delayed and bus transit impacted should the three lane option be selected, and considering the myriad of resident voices on the issue, I voted with the 7-5 council majority to adopt staff’s preferred option of four lanes and no bike lanes. While I would have of course liked to see bike lanes integrated along Speedvale Ave it was not possible to do so safely with little impact on traffic flow and without too much expropriation of household lands along the road.

22 June 2015 – Council Meeting

NO (minority) to ask staff to examine a Guelph-based support for the Blue Dot Initiative (Right to a Health Environment)

Similar to the proposed gas pump legislation from the 25 May 15 vote (below), I strongly oppose the City of Guelph exploring issues that are outside municipal purview. I believe that the ideas espoused by the Blue Dot Initiative are best done through independent advocacy groups and not municipal governance. Council voted 10-3 to have Intergovernmental Staff examine how we can create a Guelph-based municipal declaration.

25 May 2015 – Council Meeting

NO (minority) to endorsing a resolution for the Canadian government to legislate gas stations to place greenhouse gas warning labels on pumps

Although it is a non-debatable fact that gasoline engines in cars contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that are injurious to human health and the environment, I strongly oppose the City of Guelph taking a position that supports West Vancouver’s declaration. This issue speaks to our municipal council’s scope, expertise, and jurisdiction, and I believe that council should be solely focused on matters concerning running our city. By passing this ideological resolution with an 8-4 vote, Guelph council is recklessly striding into territory beyond our mandate without comprehensive information.

27 April 2015 – Council Meeting

YES (majority) to approve the Guelph Property Tax Policy that reduces the multi-residential and industrial tax ratios

Tax ratio reductions are typically approved to relieve a tax burden that is perceived to be creating a competitive disadvantage or inequity for properties in one or more classes. A reduction in tax burden for one tax class will result in an increased tax burden for properties in all other classes. Over the past several years, Guelph has been reducing the multi-residential (ie. apartment) tax ratios – which are currently double the single-family residential rates – in an effort of fairness. Similarly, industrial tax ratios – the highest of all classes – have been reduced to keep them competitive with neighbouring municipalities. I was convinced by the staff recommendations to keep this reduction trend going for 2015 and voted in the majority 8-5 to reduce these two class ratios.

13 April 2015 – Planning Meeting

YES (majority) to approve the rezoning of 60 Woodlawn Road East (The Villages of Riverside Glen) to permit a medical clinic and living classroom

Council heard from many delegates on this issue weighing in on both sides of the argument. For me, the critical aspect of this application is that council were to only consider planning issues, not operational issues, of the two secondary use inclusions. To quote from the staff notes:

“While Staff acknowledge operational concerns that have been raised these are not within the land use planning jurisdiction of the City. Staff's assessment has focused on the planning merits of the proposed uses. From a land use compatibility perspective, the scale and location of the proposed uses are key considerations.”

Consequently, after reviewing the staff recommendations and listening to the delegates, I was satisfied that this application fulfilled the planning requirements. Council voted 6-5 in favour of allowing the on-site medical office and 7-4 in favour of the living classroom.

NOTE: In the interests of transparency, I disclosed to council well before the meeting that my wife, Karen McLarney, would be delegating at the meeting in support of rezoning to allow the living classroom at Riverside Glen. Since I do not have any actual or perceived pecuniary interests in this matter, Karen’s presentation to council and my subsequent vote on the application did not present any conflict of interest.

25 March 2015 – Budget Night

YES (majority) to approve a $207M operating budget and a $52M capital budget for 2015, which represents a 3.55% tax increase over 2014.

I voted with the 9-4 majority to pass the 2015 budget. Although the 3.55% increase is higher than I would have liked to see for affordability issues, I believe is a reasonable and measured approach to providing the residents of Guelph with the services they need. The breakdown of my individual votes on specific budget items are below.

NO (majority) to removing $150K for the design work relating to Niska Road bridge and road

The future of Niska Road and bridge is of significant interest to many Ward 6 residents. The Environmental Assessment is ongoing, with a report due back to council likely in the fall 2015. It is at this point that council needs to make a decision: shut down the bridge; repair the existing one-lane bridge; replace the existing bridge with a new one-lane bridge; or replace it with a new two-lane bridge. The 2015 budget includes $150K for design work relating to whichever of the above decisions council makes but does not touch upon any of these specific decisions. Remove the $150K could impact plans for 2016 that may result in safety issues for the ageing bridge. Keeping the $150K in the budget is an example of good planning practices which is why I voted against this motion in a 5-8 decision.

NO (minority) to fund the construction of a multi-use path along Woodlawn Road in the amount of $600K

It is clear that Woodlawn Road needs a sidewalk or multi-use path for both safety and convenience. The original plan was to fund the $900K project in three phases of $300K in each of three years. I did not support the proposal to combine the two $300K payments for 2015 and 2016 into a single $600K payment for affordability reasons, instead preferring to keep the $300K/$300K schedule. This proposed amendment, to which I voted yes, failed 5-8. The main motion to fund the entire $600K this year, who which I voted no, passed 11-2. I am not overly disappointed that the $600K is funded in 2015 because I do know this project is necessary, but affordability was impacted in a way I believe could have been mitigated.

NO (majority) to add $250K to a reserve fund for the construction of a new library

If council decides to proceed with a new $20-60M library, significant debt must be incurred. I did not support taking $250K of tax money today to sit in a reserve fund since it impacts affordability without any real benefit. If the city needs to borrow $30M for construction, that $250K is not significant. The vote failed 5-8.

YES (majority) to remove $25K for signage at the West End Rec Centre

Since the proposed signage seemed redundant and unnecessary, the vote to remove its funding passed unanimously 13-0.

YES (minority) to fund the city’s IT Strategy at $381,300

The argument to fund an IT Strategy for the city seemed strong, though the motion failed 6-7. The strategy will still be implemented but over a longer period of time since it is a vital component of city operations.

NO (majority) to remove funding for a new ice resurfacer for $90K

The current ice resurfacer used at Market Square is on its last legs and $90K would allow the city to purchase a new one. Given how important the downtown rink is to the community, I voted with the 5-8 majority to remove its funding.

YES (majority) to fund an updated York Road EA at $200K

Councillor Dan Gibson made a passionate plea to council to revisit the York Road Environmental Assessment so the city can lay the foundation for reconstruction and rehabilitation of this important traffic corridor. The motion passed unanimously 13-0.

NO (majority) to fund the installation of additional school zone speed signs at $43K

Since this issue is currently being examined by staff and a report will be coming to council later, this vote failed 1-12. School zone signs are important but expansion should be done as part of a comprehensive plan.

YES (majority) to fund a traffic management initiative at $85K

Council unanimously agreed that the city needs to better fund traffic calming and management since it’s an important issue for residents.

NO (majority) to increasing stormwater infrastructure funding by $1M

Many people know that I am a big proponent of funding infrastructure at appropriate levels. The city has self-assessed its funding of stormwater infrastructure with a failing F grade due to lack of funding. Consequently, many would be surprised I would vote against this funding increase in a 1-12 vote. Staff is already undergoing a review of stormwater funding and I believe that eliminating the infrastructure funding gap needs to undergo a serious evaluation for council to consider. I believe that council will make significant movement on this issue in 2016/2017 and consequently I am satisfied with waiting until we have an action plan.

NO (minority) to add $250K to an affordable housing reserve

I am passionate about the city taking a leadership role in affordable housing (read my post for some thoughts on affordable microhousing). I believe the city needs a solid action plan before we should be committing tax money to a reserve fund, though, which is why I voted against this 8-5 motion. Affordable housing is a huge and complex issue we need to tackle in the coming years and I look forward to the process. A vote to expand the amount to $500K instead failed 3-10.

YES (majority) to move $150K from the gapping reserve to the operating budget

I voted with the 12-1 majority on this accounting issue since much of the budgetary impact for 2015 involved staffing issues. The gapping reserve is specifically meant to address this, so this internal transfer is warranted.

YES (majority) to add $1M to the rate stabilisation reserve

This vote narrowly passed 7-6. I want to be clear that this $1M funding is NOT a tax-related issue but a governance issue. The rate stabilisation reserve is used to help balance the budget at the end of each year, which is mandated by the province. If the city underspends, excess tax dollars collected are placed in this reserve. Conversely, if some unexpected events cause the city to have a budgetary shortfall at the end of the year, funds are drawn from this reserve to achieve balance. This reserve fund should be maintained by council in the $8-10M range but as of 2015 is effectively drained to zero. The city needs cash in this reserve to account for unexpected events yet the policies of the previous council term didn’t fund it at sufficient levels. Adding $1M to the reserve is a cost to taxpayers but is one necessary to ensure the viability of our city.

YES (majority) to reduce the repayment to the capital asset renewal reserve from $900K to $500K (related to the Urbacon lawsuit)

Although it was widely reported in the media that the multi-million dollar costs associated with the Urbacon lawsuit would not increase taxes, the exact opposite is true. The money used to pay the settlement claim was taken from the capital asset renewal reserve and that money must be repaid. The original plan called for a $900K payment to be made each year for 6 years but can be repaid over as long as 10 years. To ease the pressure off the 2015 tax increase, council voted 8-5 to reduce the repayment by $400K in 2015 from $900K to $500K. This year council will examine how we should proceed with repayments to the reserve.

SPONSOR YES (minority) to remove $130K from funding the downtown community/facade improvement grant plan

With so many budgetary pressures on service levels and resident affordability, and the pending shared agenda reviews that our council is currently workshopping, I believe it’s both prudent and responsible to pause the downtown community improvement grants for the remaining nine months of 2015. I think we need to take a hard look sometime this year whether the residents of Guelph should be funding out of their own pockets storefront improvements of for-profit independent businesses exclusively in the downtown core. My motion to remove the grants failed 2-11.

SPONSOR YES (majority) to add $100K to the budget to offset parking fine revenues lost when reducing the winter on-street overnight parking ban from six months to four months

On 28 July 2014, council voted nearly unanimously to reduce the duration of the winter overnight on-street parking restrictions from six month to four months (December 1st through March 31st). The anticipated loss of parking revenue for November and April equals $160K, $100K of which is for November 2015. My motion to add $160K to the budget and start the new enforcement term on 1 April 2015 was modified to instead 1 November 2015 and thus reduced to $100K. The final motion passed 10-3.

SPONSOR YES (minority) to hold Guelph Public Library funding at the 2014 level, removing the requested increase of $164,215

I spoke briefly about the 2015 Guelph Public Library budget, which is of course a vital city service all residents can enjoy. After considerable budget research and discussions with library staff, I believed our citizens can expect exceptional value by holding the line on the library budget for the remainder of this year and not reducing it below 2014 budgetary levels. I have continued confidence that library management can identify the most effective and efficient way to continue delivering the wide range of services that so many of us enjoy. My motion to remove the $164K expansion failed 4-9.

YES (majority) to maintain Guelph Transit’s Sunday and holiday service levels at the cost of $327,511

To help with affordability in the 2015 budget, staff proposed reducing Sunday and holiday bus service levels from a 30 to 60 minute schedule. I believe that transit is a vital service for a growing city and one that should receive increased, not decreased, funding. Not only is convenience and compassion a factor in this decision, but safety for riders waiting in extreme temperatures without shelter is of paramount importance. I voted with the majority of council in this 8-5 vote.

NO (minority) to reduce the $1M amount contributed to the rate stabilisation fund to $500K

Many on council were shocked with the approval of the early vote to add $1M to the rate stabilisation fund. After several hours to budgetary additions, it appears that several councillors changed their minds about the importance of that $1M. I was not one of them, and voted no in the 8-5 minority to reduce the $1M to $500K. There was a preliminary vote to reduce it by just $350K to $650K and I was the only councillor voting against this reduction by 12-1. The closer 8-5 vote came when the $350K reduction was increased to a $500K reduction. My commitment to this important governance issue never waivered.

YES (majority) to removing asset manager positions at $246K savings

These new positions were recommended by staff but I don’t believe council was given sufficient information concerning their role or importance. Consequently, council voted unanimously 13-0 to not approve these staff expansions.

NO to a wide variety of staffing expansion for 2015

Throughout the evening, many staff positions were considered and voted on individually. I believe that many of these positions are either not necessary or that hiring could be delayed until 2016 or beyond. Here is a compilation of the votes:

• Reduced funding for fire prevention officer @ $68K (Fail 5-8)

• Remove funding for three paramedics @ $350K (Fail 4-9)

• Add Dragon’s Den programme @ $50K (Fail 4-8)

• Add bike paramedic @ $17K (Fail 4-8)

• Add GID framework employee @ 50K (Pass 7-6)

• Add urban forest technologist @ $125K (Fail 6-7)

• Add record information specialist @ $48K (Fail 5-8)

• Add community education programme for student rentals @ $15K (Pass 8-5)

• Add zoning inspector for rental housing @ $124K (Fail 6-7)

• Add arborist @ $140K (Pass 7-6)

• Add assistant to committee of adjustment @ $23K (Fail 9-4)

28 January 2015 – Budget Meeting

SPONSOR YES (minority) to raise the 2015 water volume charge from $1.52 to $1.61/m3 and wastewater volume charge from $1.66 to $1.79/m3

I proposed a motion to established a sustainable non-tax supported budget that eliminates the city’s longterm annual infrastructure deficit (as outlined in my blog post). The motion failed 9-3 with only Councillors Salsbury and Van Hellemond joining me.

NO (majority) to several budget amendments concerning the staff-recommended hiring of new water/wastewater employees

Several motions were presented by councillors to mitigate the financial implications of hiring additional FTEs (full-time equivalents, or employees) for the water and wastewater departments. All amendments failed to pass and I joined the majority voting against them. Councillor Billings proposed only funding new positions for six months instead of for the entire year. Councillor Bell proposed funding a new position at $0 and instead move the planned $100K+ salary into a contingency reserve. Councillor Gibson proposed that the dollars to fund a new $100K+ position could be found through internal efficiencies instead of through a higher fee structure.

YES (majority) to approve the proposed 2015 non-tax supported operating and capital budgets

The non-tax supported budget includes four areas for funding: court services, the Ontario Building Code administration, water services, and wastewater services. I disagreed with the proposed unsustainable water/wastewater rate increase (as outlined in my blog post). My amendment failed by the will of council. Given that consideration, I voted in favour of the budget, joining the majority 11-1. Councillor Gibson was the lone dissenter; he posted a transparent and detailed blog entry about his perspective (that I encourage Guelph residents to read), which shows his dedication to his councillor duties.

19 January 2015 – Orientation Meeting

SPONSOR YES (majority) for the following motion: “To direct staff to prepare a list of options available for council to consider that aligns the 2015 levy rate increase with the 2014 Ontario rate of inflation.”

I proposed the above motion to give staff the time to propose options to council for consideration during budget deliberations to keep the 2015 tax rate lower than forecast. Staff reported to council that they were preparing a 2015 budget approximately based on a suggested historical formula that includes:

A) 5-year average Ontario CPI increase (1.68%)

B) 5-year average increase in number of taxable properties in Guelph (1.53%)

C) An investment factor (0.5%)

Thus the 2015 guideline is 3.71% tax levy increase.

On the 2014 campaign trail, I heard from many Ward 6 residents that they’d like some relief from high tax increases. Mayor Guthrie campaigned on a platform to limit tax increases to the rate of inflation and was elected with more than 50% of the vote. Although I believe that government budgets must be created to meet the needs of the city – rather than merely adhering to an unrelated specific number like the rate of inflation – I believe everyone benefits from council having more information during budget deliberations. I want to see what staff could recommend to close the gap between the original 2015 guideline and 2014 rate of inflation since they have exceptional knowledge of city operations that I as a newer councillor do not have. Information and suggestions are never a bad thing to have, though the will of council ultimately must make the final decision on budget numbers. Consequently, I proposed the above motion which passed 9-2 (Councillors Salsbury and Gordon voted against). Coverage of the vote can be viewed in the Guelph Mercury and Guelph Tribune.

15 December 2014 – Council Meeting

YES (majority) to approve sign bylaw variances for 575 Wellington St W and 28 Wellington St E

Matters involving these properties are straight forward applications with few identified issues and consequently I support staff recommendations. Though I didn’t raise the issue in council chambers, I do believe a thorough sign bylaw review should be undertaken by council in the next year or two (as part of council’s shared agenda) to address some of the illogical disconnects regarding sign specifics (such on the ban on interchangeable copy and minimum height-above-ground sign requirements).

NO (majority) to approve the special resolution to send an expansion for the Trail Master Plan to the Public Services Committee for consideration

Nearly all councillors expressed their support of expanding linkages in the Trail Master Plan where deficiencies were identified, yet this motion (brought forward by Councillor Bell) was still defeated. I agree with several of my colleagues that this special resolution has some process problems and would be better handled through a re-examination of the Trail Master Plan as part of council’s shared agenda in 2015 after budgeting priorities are identified and tackled. I have confidence in staff and the committees that trails will be addressed and felt this resolution looked at one aspect in isolation rather than as a whole. Consequently, the idea was sound but the procedure was problematic. This vote was tied at 6/6; in the event of ties, the motion is considered defeated.

8 December 2014 – Planning Meeting

YES (majority) to approve planning matters for: 1750 Gordon St, 50 Law Dr, 95 Couling Cr, 300 Grange Rd, 2 Deerpath Dr, 1511 Gordon St

Matters involving these properties are straight forward applications with few identified issues and consequently I support staff recommendations.

YES (majority) to approve 144 Watson Rd N Zoning Bylaw Amendment

Although there is some resident concerns with rezoning this area from commercial to residential, I support staff recommendations that there is a strong case for this amendment. Ward 1 Councillor, Dan Gibson, has included a very informative post about this amendment on his website and I agree with his detailed assessments.

NO (minority) to approve 78 Starwood Dr Zoning Bylaw Amendment

I take the position that there are too few parking spaces planned in this mixed-use condo apartment and commercial development. Based on the planned 300 residential units + 105 retirement-focused units, 442 parking spaces are needed to meet the current zoning bylaw. Developer proposes only 414 spaces – 28 spaces short. Too frequently council has been approving condo developments with inadequate parking, which inevitably leads to problems in the future. One example development where too few parking spaces has caused numerous problems is the condo apartments on Goodwin Drive and that development was shorted 27 spaces. A small parking variance may be reasonable but 28 missing spaces is simply inadequate planning. I voted NO to the amendment, which passed with an 11-2 council vote.

YES (majority) to approve 170-178 Elizabeth Zoning Bylaw Amendment

I support staff recommendations that the proposed housing redevelopment meets city and community needs and interests.

YES (majority) to approve 781 Victoria Rd S Zoning Bylaw Amendment

There are some significant questions regarding the appropriateness of this proposed detached luxury/executive home condo development by the University of Guelph, not least of which are environmental impacts and stewardship. I believe that staff has examined all angles for this development and have done due diligence with the application. After carefully considering the proposal, debating council’s options, and looking towards the city’s best interests, I support staff recommendations to approve this official plan and zoning bylaw amendment.