By Doug Hallett
Council heard a lot of ideas for more spending when delegations spoke about the city’s 2013 budget, but one of the delegations came equipped with ideas for how the city might raise more money.
David Sills, president of the Guelph Civic League, said his group supports proposed budget spending for such things as the city’s new urban forest management plan, energy-saving initiatives and more money for the adult crossing guard program to help kids get to school safely.
But if council wants ideas for raising more money, the civic league has a few, he said. These include charging residents for garbage pickup that can’t be composted or recycled, charging for Christmas tree pickup, charging more for heavy water use and a permit fee for overnight on-street parking. Sills said council shouldn’t focus overly on the size of the 2013 budget, be it the 3.74% increase proposed by city staff or the Guelph Chamber of Commerce’s suggestion that council move closer to a 2% tax increase.
Rather, he said, council’s focus should be on “the well-being of its citizens.”
Consumer Price Index
Chamber of commerce president Lloyd Longfield said he was impressed with city council’s success in recent years in paring budget increases to be closer to the Consumer Price Index. He said he wouldn’t like to see the city’s 2013 budget increase move in the other direction.
The chamber’s official submission on the city’s 2013 budget urges council to think carefully about proposed city hall staff increases – the full-time equivalent of about 23 more employees for city departments.
“Businesses have had to be increasingly resourceful in working with external and internal resources to deliver their products and services,” the chamber’s brief says. It says the staff increase proposed in the city’s draft budget is out of line with what most Guelph businesses are doing.
With the private sector continuing “its cautious recovery as governments around the world struggle with deficits and debts,” local businesses are forecasting the coming year “to show flat employment growth,” the chamber’s brief says.
The draft budget, which will be debated at a Dec. 5 council meeting starting at 6 p.m., includes $142,500 to hire a coordinator for the city’s adult crossing guard program and to hire six more crossing guards, as well as fill-in guards. Several parents from a number of schools appeared as delegations to urge council to support the program, which complements the work done by Grade 5 and 6 students who act as safety patrols.
Also appearing before council to urge hiring of more adult crossing guards was 11-year-old Jack Sills, son of the Guelph Civic League president.
The boy, who is a patrol captain at King George school, spoke of the difficulties encountered by safety patrols, who are trained by city police to help fellow students get to and from school safely. “Sometimes the cars just like to go through without stopping for us,” he told council.
Asked by Coun. Leanne Piper if he thinks there’s still a role for safety patrols, Jack replied with a simple “Yes.”
This prompted a remark from Mayor Karen Farbridge that sparked widespread laughter. “I wish everybody was as succinct as you are,” the mayor told the boy.
Another topic that was the focus for several delegations was the need for more bicycle lanes on city roads, as well as more bike-parking equipment downtown.
Yvette Tendick was among those urging council to support the idea of setting aside 5% of the city’s road budget for “active infrastructure,” including more bike lanes and sidewalks.
“The purpose of roads is for mobility, including cycling and walking,” Tendick said.
Devoting 5% of the roads budget, or about $550,000 a year, to bike lanes could lead to over 50 kilometres of bike lanes being added each year, said Donna Jennison, who also complained about the city’s current bike lanes.
“The bike lanes right now are very random. They stop and start suddenly,” she said, and they are not well maintained in terms of removal of debris. “All these things add up to not feeling very safe” using bike paths, she said.
City engineer Richard Henry told council that 3% of the city’s budget for building new roads or reconstructing existing ones is currently devoted to bike paths.
St. Joe’s request
A request for city funding came from St. Joseph’s Health Centre, which wants a $1.3-million city grant over three years starting in 2013 to aid its work.
Guelph Non-Profit Housing also appeared as a delegation, seeking $100,000 in 2013 to help with a deficit problem in operating Paisley Place, an affordable-housing facility at 747 Paisley Rd.
Homeowner Bill Gardner said council would “avoid triggering an avalanche of new problems” if it turns down a staff recommendation to save $100,000 in 2013 by getting rid of sidewalk plowing in front of private residences. The low per-capita cost of this service is “a great, fabulous value,” he said, and ending the service would be “an unwelcome burden.”
Marty Williams, executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association, objected to a budget proposal to save $130,000 by reducing grants for the downtown façade program. He said this program has been “hugely successful” in sparking private investment in measures that improve the look and function of the downtown.
Williams also objected to city plans to study how to raise $250,000 more revenue from downtown parking in 2013.
Seeking increased city grants in 2013 were the Guelph Arts Council and Ed Video Media Arts Centre.
The Guelph Arts Council plans to hire more staff next year to launch new programs in line with its new five-year strategic plan, said executive director Sonya Poweska. It’s asking the city to grant $38,000 for its operations in 2013, which would be an increase of $5,000. Such an increase would still leave the arts council’s grant “well below what other cities are granting to their arts councils,” she said.
Elizabeth Dent, Ed Video’s executive director, said her centre has been getting $5,500 a year from the city and is seeking an extra $1,000 in 2013. “We live on the edge. The staff are overworked and underpaid,” she said.