Rundown of #StCath Council for 150223

A few highlights from Council on the 23rd:

  • Council endorsed setting up a task force to start implementing an open data initiative at City Hall. Kudos to Trevor Twining, Laura Ip and everyone else who was involved in putting together an excellent presentation, and helping to drive the City towards open data. I am hopeful that our steps in this direction will lead to better service for residents and more engagement by citizens in our community;
  • Several changes were made to the city’s procedural bylaw, which explains how we govern ourselves. One of the biggest was my request that in-camera meetings be recorded so that there was an actual record of what is said in-camera. The number of $25,000 for a recording system is, in my estimation, massively inflated. There is no requirement for an expensive recording audio system; two digital audio recorders could be purchased for less than a thousand dollars (and those would be high-end audio recorders). In addition to that, I asked that staff remove the ability for in-camera meetings related to ‘training and education’. I don’t see any need for in-camera meetings of that sort, and Council agreed;
  • Council passed the changes to the Open Air fires and Barbecue bylaw, as well as the Rates and Fees for 2015;
  • I had the opportunity to thank the members of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Black History for their service over the last 4 years, which culminated last night with their report to City Council. The report will be used by Museum staff as they finish their strategic planning and look at how to incorporate Black History programming into the Lock 3 Museum, so that the stories of black history in Niagara can continue to be told.

Coming up at #StCath Council for February 23rd

After a bit of a hiatus, dealing with Budget and Rec Master Plan (both of which are conspiring to take up the vast majority of my life right now), I figured I should throw down a post relating to what’s on tap at Council on Monday.

The excitement is as follows:

  • The Open Air fire bylaw comes back after a bit of a delay to be dealt with. No changes have been made since it was originally brought to Council in December.
  • The open data initiative report will be considered, after being deferred in January. I am extremely hopeful Council will endorse a timeline to implement an open data philosophy at city hall.
  • The Rates and Fees public meeting will occur, and hopefully the Rates and Fees for 2015 will be passed.
  • The Procedural Bylaw (how we govern Council) will be debated.
  • A noise bylaw amendment to deal with issues in the downtown.
  •  An MOU with the St. Catharines hospital regarding displaying artifacts and displays at the hospital.
  • A report on the ODRAP program.
  • The final report of the Black History Committee will come forward.
  • The development charge fund will be reported on.
  • The Hulse and English Memorial Forest Reserve Fund will be reported on.
  • The Folk Arts Funding agreement will be presented to Council for approval.

In addition to hose, there will also be presentations regarding the Black History Committee’s work, the Folk Arts festival and the Open Data initiative, as well as a Motion declaring Vegfest an event of Municipal Significance. The General agenda for the evening is here, and the Regular agenda is here (for those unsure of the difference, technically two meetings happen every Council night – both agendas are relevant to figuring out what we’re doing ).

For interested parties – the #STCbudget committee will also be meeting on Monday night from 5-6pm in the Burgoyne Room at City Hall (formerly Committee Room 1, 3rd floor).

What happened at last night’s #STCbudget meeting #StCath

A busy night at Budget Committee yesterday, as we got back on track after a missed meeting due to Monday’s snow storm. A few items of note (over and above the article in today’s Standard):

We received presentations from the Operations Commission, which includes Transportation and Environmental Services (TES), as well as Parks, Culture and Recreation Services (PRCS). Together, these two departments make up almost 40% of the City’s budget, and PRCS is also responsible for the new facilities that are being brought online in the Meridian Centre and the Performing Arts Centre (PAC).

I asked the committee last night to send the Directors of both departments back to their departments to find ways to get their overall increases within the rate of inflation, with a few caveats. PRCS was asked to remove the Meridian Centre and PAC lines from their overall rejig of the numbers, and to bring the rest of their budget down to below a 2% increase. This was done for a simple reason – new facilities require appropriate funding, and that funding increase will have to be outside of the 2% growth rate. The Mayor also asked that, as part of that process of cutting the budget increase to a more appropriate level, PRCS look at the buildings that are currently being maintained by the City, and finally find ways to divest itself (that is, sell off) of properties that the City is not using but which cost significant amounts to maintain. This likely spells the end of the West Park pool, in addition to other identified properties. We are also looking at forming a partnership with another entity, like the NPCS, to maintain and potentially own the Morningstar Mills building.

On the TES side of things, the same request was made, and passed by the committee. Staff are to return with a below 2% increase for the department, excluding the line item for trees, which requires more than a 2% increase to deal with the Emerald Ash Borer problem the City is facing. This is due in part because some on Council last year decided to (in my opinion, inappropriately) take money from the Hydro reserves that were being set aside for Shickluna to create a one year artificial bump to pay for increased tree expenditures. As I and a few others at Council pointed out last year, this was an election-year ploy to make the budget increase more palatable. The mess that was created from these decreased revenues is left to us to clean up this year. With that said, TES has been instructed to come back with a 2% increase, and I have full confidence that they will.

As some additional background information – one of the other things the Committee asked of staff, and received yesterday, was information pertaining to the 3 year Actual spending for City departments. This has been incredibly informative, and I am hopeful that City budgets will come to resemble the actual spending that is done in the near future. That more accurate picture also showed that the TES spending has increased almost 16% over the last 3 years, and PRCS has increased almost 20%. While PRCS has grown considerably with the addition of the Meridian Centre, the PAC and the new Kiwanis Aquatic Centre, TES’ increase is harder to understand; hence, the expectation that it brought down under 2%.

As always – any questions, comments, concerns, feel free to email at budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using #STCbudget. Our first budget Open House is tonight at 6pm at the Kiwanis Aquatic Centre, and all are welcome. There will also be a post upcoming on the Telephone Townhall that we’ll be using next week to better engage residents.

What’s on tap at #StCath Council for Monday, February 9th.

A quick rundown for what is coming up in General Committee of Council next Monday. The highlights are as follows:

  • Amendments to the Procedural bylaw will be coming forward (I am one of the few who would call this a highlight, I am sure);
  • A Planning report on the background regarding Port Place development;
  • A report awarding the contract for Parking Enforcement to the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires;
  • A PRCS report on how special events are handled in Montebello Park;
  • A request for staff to submit the Rec Facilities and Programming Master Plan draft report for public input (the consultation will be February 18th);
  • Procedural reports regarding the Monthly Investment Report, Council Correspondence, the Cheque Register and a proposed street name change for a part of Disher St to become Arsenault Lane.

The full General Committee Agenda can be found here. If you have questions, comments or concerns regarding an agenda item, feel free to email me at msiscoe@stcatharines.ca.

Cleaning up after a nice snow dump in #StCath

So . . . taking a peak out my window this morning, it looks like my street is plowed, which usually means almost everyone else has been done as well. I now has a mound of snow to shoverl before I head to work, but that is a far sight better than the alternative. If your street has been missed, however, call 905.934.4600 – that’s the City Hall Winter Control Information Line – and someone there will be able to give you the low-down on what’s happening in your neighbourhood.

Yesterday’s canceled Budget meeting puts us a little bit behind schedule for this week, but I’ve got meetings scheduled today and Thursday with my fellow Councillors to discuss their opinions on this year’s spending plans, as well as departmental presentations tomorrow evening at City Hall, where we’re going to try and get through the scheduled presentations as well as the ones we missed yesterday. All of this is in anticipation of Thursday’s Public Open House at the Kiwanis Aquatic Centre, scheduled from 6 until 7pm.

If you have nay questions, comments or concerns regarding this year’s budget, please email them to budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget. (EDIT: Almost forgot – the Draft Budget can be found here – it’s not a particularly readable format, so if you’ve got suggestions on how to improve how people read the darn thing, let me know)

Enjoy the Tuesday, St. Catharines!