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Investment fund about city’s future

Although a lot of the dinner guests haven’t pulled up their chairs yet, the table is set for a very tasty  municipal election. The  Guelph Economic Investment Fund could be the centrepiece, the roast beef waiting to be carved up and devoured.
City staff developed an exciting plan for our downtown. It involves a partnership of the public library, the University of Guelph, the U of G Central Student Association, Conestoga College, Innovation Guelph and the YM-YWCA. How grand is the plan? It is so grand that the city no longer refers to it as redeveloping a parking lot. Now it is all about building the Baker District.
It’s more than just downtown. It’s also about Silvercreek Junction, the old Lafarge land, and the Guelph Innovation District in the sadly underdeveloped Starwood-Watson area. For Guelph to grow and prosper as it can, we need planned development in several parts of the city. Downtown will be the first use of the Guelph Economic Investment Fund but it shouldn’t, and won’t, be the last.
The fund will likely be seeded by a special levy on our property tax bills. I don’t know how much it will be, but I’m ready to pitch in. When it was brought to council at the end of February, the presentations were full of optimistic words like synergy, leverage, opportunity, diversification, sustainability and maximizing return on investment.
The property tax levy is our investment in Guelph’s future. It will leverage money from higher levels of government and enable the Baker District partners to invest their capital reserves. Private developers will get the confidence to put residences above the ground- floor institutional users.
We will see a return on our investment down the road. The entire city will benefit from the projects that are on the drawing board, but these districts and nodes won’t build themselves. There has to be a significant public investment in infrastructure before it all comes together.
The Baker District players will bring their resources to the table, but the city will have to pony up first.
At the February council meeting, our incumbent mayor, who is running for re-election, was in favour of the fund.
Coun. Cam Guthrie, also a candidate for mayor, voted against.
That’s good. It prepares us for a healthy discussion of the collection and distribution of public funds. The proposal returns to council in May for approval of the funding model. Then, if approved, it will go in two directions. Staff will take it back to the back rooms and work out the next steps with all the stakeholders.
Councillors will take it to you, the people, by way of the campaign trail.
On one side will be Team Guthrie. They have never met a tax they didn’t want to cut, and  certainly don’t want to see new ones introduced.
On the other side will be Team Farbridge. They started the ball rolling in the investment fund direction. They now have a golden opportunity to explain why tax is not a four-letter word.
Had previous councils not been gripped by a paralyzing fear of taxation, we could have had this investment fund in place already.
Other than in Ward 5, none of the incumbent councillors have filed nomination papers yet. Those who support the investment fund in May should be prepared to explain themselves on the doorsteps and at all-candidates’ meetings.
Elections are about the future, the kind of Guelph we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. The investment fund is this council’s version of the 2006 decision about buying the old post office building. We don’t want the same short-sightedness all over again.

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