Updated #STCbudget schedule, including open house dates. #StCath

Dates and location for the current Budget schedule are as follows:

  • Departmental Presentations #1 – Burgoyne Woods Room, City Hall – February 2nd, 5-7pm
  • Departmental Presentations #2 – Burgoyne Woods Room, City Hall – February 4th, 5-7pm
  • Budget Open House #1 – Irene Locke Room, Kiwanis Aquatic Centre – February 5th, 6-7pm
  • Budget Telephone Town Hall – February 11th, 6-8pm
  • Budget Open House #2 – Sean Jackson Room, Seymour Hannah- February 12th, 6-7pm

Additional meetings may be added if necessary. Once again, if you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding the budget, email the committee at budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget.

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Upcoming individual meetings with Councillors regarding the #STCbudget

Earlier this week, city staff sent out an email on my behalf asking Councillors to meet with me individually next week to speak about budget priorities. I am hopeful that these individual meetings will allow Councillors to let me know what their priorities look like for the upcoming budget cycle, and to ensure that their voices are heard before the budget is brought to Council. While I recognize there will be debate on budget night, and I welcome additional input, I am hopeful that we can do some of the legwork of crafting a more agreeable budget before we get to Council.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding the budget, I encourage you to email the budget committee at budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget. Additionally, you can email your individual Councillor in the lead-up to the meetings taking place on Tuesday and Thursday of next week, and ask them to bring their concerns to individual meetings.

Addendum on Prof. Siegel’s column #StCath

As pointed out to me on Twitter, I didn’t address the criticism from Prof. Seigel regarding the concern about over-governance. So here it goes:

It is entirely possible that some people like having more elected reps rather than fewer – in Prof. Seigel’s words, it allows councillors to ‘stay close to their constituents’. If that is your belief, then you may not agree with changing the system.

My response to that, however, is that with the system being proposed, the actual ratio of City Councillors to residents doesn’t change. Neither does the ratio of Regional Councillors to residents. It’s simply the ratio of politicians to residents which is altered. Each ward maintains two councillors for the residents to contact. It’s simply that one of them also fulfills the role of a Regional Councillor.

In practice, this is more useful for residents. I receive many inquiries from residents who have an issue with something that is Regional; social services or the state of a Regional road, for example. It is frustrating for residents to find out that the person they called can’t help them – and it sounds like passing the buck when I tell them it’s a Regional issue, and give them a list of 6 Regional Councillors they can contact. If my City Council colleague in the ward, however, was also a Regional Councillor, I have regular contact with her or him, and can help my colleague deal with our ward resident’s concerns more effectively.

I will note, by the way, that this serves as a bit of an indictment of the at-large method of electing councillors as well. That would be correct – I dislike the at-large method. I prefer ward based elections for two reasons:

1) It opens up the possibility for more residents to get involved. Had I had to run an at-large campaign in 2010, I would not be a councillor. The costs associated are too high for the average resident to compete (see the issues that Niagara Falls candidates face for some more context on that one).

2) It provides geographical context for residents. If you live in St. Patrick’s Ward, you know that Coun. Elliot and I are the Ward Councillors. If you have a question, you know who to contact. When it’s an at-large system, who do you call?

I hope that clears up my lack of opinion specifically related to that particular point.

Doug Herod on the #STCbudget process #StCath

A good column by Doug Herod in today’s Standard, outlining the thought processes guiding the early days of this year’s budget process. I’m looking forward to working with Councillors Britton, Haywood, Harris, Phillips and Mayor Sendzik, along with City staff, to craft a budget that is fair and balanced. If you have questions, comments or concerns, email the committee at budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget.

Starting the 2015 #StCath budget process #STCbudget

Monday night at City Hall myself, Mayor Sendzik, Deputy Mayor Phillips, Councillors Harris, Britton and Haywood, along with members of city staff began the process of crafting the 2015 City Budget.

Let me start by saying that I’m honoured my colleagues appointed me as the Budget Chair for this year. I am looking forward to a big challenge in this budget cycle; with two major projects coming online in the Performing Arts Centre and the Meridian Centre, there are budgetary obstacles that we need to deal with head-on. I believe that we can do this, while ensuring we don’t overburden taxpayers; a balance must be struck between these two competing interests, and I believe our group will be able to strike that balance.

With respect to last night’s meeting, a great deal of work was done, although not related specifically to the expenditure budget. We as a committee did approve and forward to Council the Rates and Fees for 2015, a book outlining the costs associated with some of the services offered by the City. This will go to a public meeting for comment on the 9th of February. While not a lot of changes were made, the committee did ask for a number of items to be reported back on regarding the rates and fees structure, including comparisons to other municipalities, and ideas for who to better utilize under-utilized city facilities through incentivized pricing. Not a lot of movement will be made on this issue this year, but this is part of the process of ‘setting the table’ for future year’s budget discussions. The impetus for these reports is to find ways to ensure the City is maximizing the use of city assets as revenue generators, while ensuring that the demands placed on those paying the fees is not too burdensome.

Also on the agenda last night was the process of public outreach we will be undertaking. In the past, our attempts at public outreach have been what I would describe as ‘standard issue’; hold several public meetings make a presentation, and ask residents to provide feedback on sheets of paper, to be duly noted by the committee and Council. While this is the way we’ve always done it, the results of a process like this have been generally dismal; only a fraction of the community is engaged in the process, and when a contentious issue comes up, the public comment portion of the committee’s work can be skewed in one direction or another by a well organized group.

We will still be organizing 2 public meetings during the budget process, but we will also be trying something new this time around – a telephone tele-forum, where several thousand residents are called, at random, to participate in the ‘town hall’. Residents can ask questions of the budget committee, provide feedback via polls during the town hall, listen to the questions and answers of others, and leaves further feedback from the comfort of their home. My goal, as chair, and the goal of the committee, is to try and reach as many people in the community as possible, and to make the process as open, transparent and accessible as it has ever been in St. Catharines. As more details are finalized, I look forward to sharing this information with residents through the media and through this blog, as well as social media.

I will also ensure that relevant documents are linked to here through various posts, and if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email at budget@stcatharines.ca. Feel free to tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget to also share your feelings.

In terms of upcoming dates of interest – the Draft Expenditure budget (the overview of how departments will spend their money, located here) will be tabled at the Council meeting on Monday night, and the next meeting of the budget committee will be on Monday, February 2nd in the third floor Burgoyne Room at City Hall. The full preliminary meeting schedule is here.

Links: Ad-hoc Budget Committee info

Prof. Siegel’s column on #StCath governance; missing the mark on a few issues.

I have a great deal of respect for Professor Siegel – so much, in fact, that he was one of the first people we had come and speak to the Governance Committee in the last term of Council. I suppose that is why I find the title of his column so strange.

The Governance Committee DID define the problem; quite succinctly, in fact. The problem is one of knowledge for the decision-makers in government; that is, the elected officials. No one doubts that staff at the two levels of government speak to one another – if they didn’t, there’d be some serious low-hanging fruit for this Council to pick off. But staff don’t set policy for the community.

The ‘Answer’ that we developed was quite clearly an answer to that problem. When the problem is one of lack of knowledge at the two levels of elected officials, the answer is to arm Councillors with that knowledge. A simple and effective method of doing that is to have some Councillors sit at both levels of government, and receive that information first hand. This is, coincidentally, a solution that other Regions have implemented and found quite effective.

The argument that Councillors should talk to each other is fine to a point, but what about when there is In-Camera information being disseminated at one level or the other? When the debate over the new Station 1 for the NRP was on-going, there was information of an In-Camera nature that Regional Councillors had, leaving City Councillors in the dark. While I trust our Regional Councillors to make good decisions (and I do), I would also feel more comfortable if Councillors I worked closely with were in possession of that information.

To give a few examples, here are some instances from my first term of Council that I feel would have been better dealt with if there were dual-role Councillors, because of their association with both levels of Municipal government:

  • The 406 interchange issue in the Martindale neighbourhood.
  • The on-going problems surrounding the ingress of traffic on Elderwood resulting from the redesign of the 4th Ave. intersection.
  • The replacement of NRP Station 1.
  • The redesign of the St. Paul/Geneva/Niagara/Queensont intersection.
  • The various demands for a police presence in a variety of different locations (First Louth St, Third Louth St, Thomas St., Lowell Ave.).
  • The never-ending construction schedule at Ontario/Welland.

To name a few.

With regard to the over-governance issue – we have 19 elected officials in a city of 132,000 people. Ajax, for example, has 7 elected reps for 109,600 residents. Oshawa has 11 reps for 141,590 residents. Both have dual duty reps at Durham Region. In York Region, Markham has 13 reps, some dual duty, representing 261,575 residents. Newmarket has 80,600 residents, and has a dual duty Councillor at the Region and City, as well as a total 9 reps. (EDIT: See my addendum to this point here)

We in St. Catharines are over-governed.

Why are all of these other Cities tying their two Councils together with dual duty representatives? Is it possible that the communities we are trying to catch-up to have found a system that works better than ours? That’s my belief. I believe it is also shared by majority of our new Council.

To those who disagree – I respect your opinion, but I’m not on-board with your arguments. I don’t believe we need to strike yet another committee; we did that and reported back not even 14 months ago. We underwent significant public participation efforts; this is not an issue that a lot of people feel passionately about, but we still received more feedback than the average Budget committee does, and I think we all agree that the budget is a fairly significant part of what Council deals with. There are a lot of things that many residents are not overly concerned with that Council still needs to discuss. I would wager the vast majority of St. Catharines residents have never expressed an opinion on goose poop on the trails in Port Dalhousie, and yet I’ve spent more than a few minutes in the last 4 years discussing it. This is a problem (clearly identified) that has been discussed repeatedly for several decades.

The time has come to act. While the proposal of a dual duty system may not be absolutely perfect, I am convinced based on the research Council has done that it is a significant improvement over the current system, and the best option for St. Catharines at this time. I sincerely hope City Council chooses to move forward on this issue, sooner rather than later.

Link: 2013 Governance Report

An addendum to the #StCath Council rundown for Jan 26th

Received this afternoon by email from Coun. Matt Harris:

Whereas there is a vacancy to be filled for Regional Councillor;

And Whereas the City has no policy pertaining to the filling of a Regional Council vacancy;

And Whereas the City of St. Catharines passed a motion requesting the vacancy be filled by a dual-duty Councillor serving at both the City and Region, subject to approval by the province;

And Whereas the Province stated this change could be made in time for the 2018 Municipal Election, but not mid-term;

Be it Resolved that City Council endorses the following motion from December 13th, 2013:

“That Council request that the Region of Niagara apply to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to allow the City of St. Catharines to change its method of electing City and Regional Councillors to the “Double-Direct Method” as outlined in December 2nd, 2013 report, where six members of Council will serve on both Regional and City Council, while six members of Council would serve only on City Council, all to be elected on a ward system basis; and

That if the Region agrees to make this request, that a citizen task force be established to discuss and decide upon the issues related to compensation of these new ‘double-duty’ Councillors.”

Be it further Resolved that Kelly Edgar be appointed to the position of Regional Councillor,

Be it further Resolved that the City’s policy regarding filling vacancies on City Council be amended to include Regional Council vacancies.

FORTHWITH.

It appears the desire to deal with Governance sooner rather than alter will come to fruition. Good to hear. Questions/comments/concerns – email me at msiscoe@stcatharines.ca, or leave a comment here.