Post #STCBudget meeting update from Nov. 23rd meeting #StCath

An eventful budget meeting on Monday, with the committee receiving information regarding winter control programs, the asset management plan and the budget night process.

With respect to Winter Control, the committee voted unanimously to maintain the level of service in the downtown with respect to sidewalk snow shovelling; staff had put forward a plan at the request of some Councillors  and residents about shovelling all sidewalks in the downtown, which is not currently done. Store owners and residents are currently expected to meet the same shovelling requirements as businesses and residents in the rest of the City. The committee felt that maintaining this practice was prudent, as the addition of streets not currently dealt with by the City would be upwards of $160,000 (obviously dependent on the severity of the winter we get). As it currently stands, the procedures around snow-clearing currently used would ensure that the new City facilities would be clear of snow already, without any additional cost.

The report regarding the Asset Management Plan was illuminating, specifically for Councillors who were not a part of the creation of the plan two years ago. As I pointed out last year, there are significant infrastructure challenges that the City will need to meet in the upcoming years, and maintaining as low a tax rate as possible is a requirement of this Council as we find a way to deal with these (expensive) issues. 

Indeed, as part of the Strategic Planning process earlier this year, there was near-unanimity from Councillors that the tax rate needs to be brought down to at or below the rate of inflation. The challenges Council will face with respect to roads, water and sewers, recreation facilities and trees are large and they’re not improving. It was reported last night that Council has not increased its contribution to maintaining road infrastructure over the last 5 years, and in fact, as a percentage of sustainable funding levels it has actually decreased its contribution. This can’t be allowed to continue, and the Committee will be tasked with finding savings in non-priority areas at City Hall to make sure the core services of the City are properly maintained.

As an addendum to the infrastructure conversation, staff will be bringing forward a report regarding Infrastructure Levies, which are being imposed in other communities to try and deal with the problems all municipalities are currently facing. For an example of a municipality that is looking  at an infrastructure levy, check out this article regarding Windsor’s current debate on exactly this topic. Windsor is often held up as a model community in terms of wise municipal spending, so it’s interesting to see what solutions they are seeking to their own infrastructure woes.

Finally – the committee is looking at ways to change the actual Budget Night process, to make things more streamlined and avoid the decision-making at 1:30AM problem we encountered last year. My hope is that Councillors will bring amendments to the table earlier in the process so that staff can detail for Council exactly how much their additions or deletions to the budget will cost/save the City. This has been an issue in the past several years, with some Councillors claiming massive savings that simply did not exist from their proposed changes.

As always – if residents have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to email me at msiscoe@stcatharines.ca, email the budget committee at budget@stcatharines.ca, or tweet using the hashtag #STCbudget to get your opinion across.

And a reminder that the next budget meeting will be Wednesday November 25th in the afternoon, 3:30 at City Hall. The agenda for tomorrow night’s meeting can be found here.

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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.

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.

#StCath Council agenda for December 15th – early (and preliminary) edition

St Catharines council resumes its meeting schedule with the first business meeting of Council a week from Monday. A lot of the standard stuff, along with some important items related to how Council works on the agenda.

First and foremost, Council will be debating changes to the make up of the advisory committees at City Hall; more specifically, striking a task force to potentially reduce the number of committees and streamline how they operate. There have been many complaints from committee members over the last term that their voices were not being listened to – I am hopeful that this task force’s recommendations will help to fix that. In addition, we’ll also be selecting the Deputy Mayor and the Ad-hoc Budget committee, as well as the City representative(s) to the LCHS, the Niagara District Airport Commission, the Niagara Wine Festival BOD, the Downtown Association, the Folk Arts Council, St. Catharines Hydro, the Library Board, the Transit Commission, the Port Dalhousie BIA and the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. Representatives to Regional committees will also be chosen – specifically, the Transportation Steering Committee, the Culture Committee and Greater Niagara Circle Route Committee. That report is here.

Also on the agenda will be the appointment of a Disaster Relief Committee that will help fundraise under the auspices of the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program, which was set up for those residents in the West end affected by this summer’s floods. That report is here.

Council will also receive a report on the continued property standards concerns in Port Dalhousie. That report is here.

Other items on tap(reports can be found through the full agenda here):

An Incentive Grant report regarding 583 Welland Ave;

Corporate Insurance for 2015;

A streetlight maintenance contract renewal;

The passing of the final version of the Open Air Fires and BBQ By-law;

The 2015 schedule of meetings for Council (listed here);

The sidewalk snow removal program for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities;

Parking prohibitions on Albany Dr, Glenholme Dr and Rainbow Dr;

Removal of parking prohibitions on Royale Rd;

The tender of a water main replacement on Hiscott St;

The implementation of school zone policy (lowered speed limits, primarily) at 6 locations (listed here);

A pedestrian signal request on Vine St at Hill Park Ln;

The cheque register (where we spend money);

The cancellation, reduction and refund of property taxes;

The monthly investment report;

And finally, the correspondence that we receive. Most interesting amongst those items is a Public Meeting Notice – the 2nd Public Information Centre regarding the new Downtown Streetscape Design Guidelines will be on Dec 16th from 3:30-6:30 in Committee Room 1 at City Hall.

The full agenda is here; as always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at msiscoe@stcatharines.ca (the best way), or 905-329-8162 (the second best way).

#StCath Council rundown for 141117

As I had stated previously, it was the final lame duck session for Council last night. Although the rules prohibited us from doing a great deal, a few items of interest for residents did occur: the Rogers Hometown Hockey Festival on December 13th and 14th was declared an event of municipal significance, allowing a liquor license to be obtained for a planned beer garden; stop controls were installed at a number of places throughout the city, including on Tuscany Ct. and Chicory Cres. in St. Patrick’s Ward; and the annual downtown holiday parking promotion was approved, allowing residents the opportunity to park for free for 2 hours in either City parking garage, between Dec 1 and Jan 2 from 9am to 5pm. A number of reports were also received for information, related to accessible parking and accessibility during the municipal election, among other things.

More significantly, this was Council’s final meeting during this term of Council. This, of course, meant saying goodbye to some very good people; I will miss Peter Secord, Jeff Burch, Len Stack, Dawn Dodge, Laura Ip and Brian McMullan and their contributions to our community a great deal, as I’m sure many of us will. Regardless of personal differences on certain issues that some of us will hold, all of them gave back to their community, and I am forever grateful that there are those in the community that will do so. An excellent article giving a rundown of the goodbyes is here.

On a personal note – thank-you to the residents of St. Catharines and St. Patrick’s Ward for the opportunity that I have had over the last four years, and thank-you for the chance to spend the next four years serving you again. I look forward to the challenges ahead, and welcome the opportunities that present themselves with our Mayor-Elect Walter Sendzik, as well as Councillors-Elect Dave Heywood, Sal Sorrento, Sandie Bellows, Carlos Garcia and Mike Britton.

To a stronger community, and a stronger St. Catharines!

#StCath Council rundown – Monday, November 3rd, 2014

An uneventful night at Council, but with a very significant development.

Council successfully passed the new 2015 Community Improvement Plan through Council this evening, with a unanimous 11-0 vote. Several changes were made from the 2011 plan, including opening the program up to the entire City, creating Community Improvement Priority Areas where the old CIP areas existed, and adding the GM lands on Ontario St. as an additional area.

While CIP policy can seem dry, it’s an opportunity for the City to entice and enhance investment opportunities in the St. Catharines. A good deal of the redevelopment of downtown that has occurred thus far has been a result of CIP spending, and the new look taking place to St. Paul St is proof positive of the good things the program can do. The changes we approved will help to ensure the program is sustainable in the long run, and also help build on the successes we’ve had so far.

Council also received a presentation from St. Catharines Transit about the new Transit app that can be downloaded to use when accessing the transit system. You can get more info about the app, which is available on Apple and Adroid platforms, here: http://www.thetransitapp.com/.

My thinking on Sustainability as an Economic Priority

This article only tells part of the story from last night’s Council meeting.

I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the Sustainability committee in St. Catharines for the last 6 months.  One of the things that has become a major priority of the committee, in the wake of the Sustainability report (which I can’t find on the city website, or I’d link to it), is an anti-shelving policy; that is, don’t just look at the pretty report and ignore it, actually implement it.  One problem for Councillors has been the lack of tangible projects we can embark on right now – many projects would cost a great deal of money, and are hard to understand in terms of how they will make things better.

The point I made last night, however, should be clear and tangible to everyone.  Our infrastructure deficit is growing, and we’re not being proactive in making sure funding is available to replace, rebuild and maintain our infrastructure at current funding levels.  A tangible example: it is the City’s stated goal to maintain our city-controlled roads at a PCR (Pavement Condition Rating) of at least 75 (on a scale of 1 to 100).  We are currently sitting at a PCR of 72 – not quite there, but hopefully on the way . . . except that, by maintaining the current level of expenditure, we’ll see our PCR deteriorate to 68.5 over 10 years.

Another tangible example: we should be budgeting for 2% of the total value of the watermains in the city to maintain sustainability, approximately 8.96 million dollars.  We’ve budgeted, however, 1.08% of the value, or 5.5 million dollars.

Neither of these makes sense.

If we want a city that doesn’t fall apart at the seams, we need to replace key infrastructure when the need arises.  To do that, we need to ensure that the appropriate money is budgeted to take care of the infrastructure.  If facilities were maintained properly, multi-million dollar replacements might be spaced otu a little more realistically.  When infrastructure reaches the end of its useful life, it needs to be replaced.  It’s not complicated.

With that in mind, I’ve asked Financial Management Services to report back on how we’re going to reach sustainable levels of funding for key infrastructure in a timely manner.  I have a lot of faith that our staff will find a way to get us there.  I look forward to getting that report back within the next 6 months.