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.

#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 – 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/.