What did City Council do?
Asset Management Report Cards
Council received our annual report cards highlighting where we are at with respect to our assets. The City of Waterloo owns $3.4 Billion in assets ranging from transportation assets like roads, sidewalks and trails to storm water assets and sewers to facilities like RIM Park and the Waterloo Memorial Rec Complex and parks. At current funding levels the city is facing an approximately $34 Million annual infrastructure deficit to maintain those assets in good standing. That deficit is primarily in transportation assets ($20.2M), with storm water assets ($4.1M), facilities ($3.3M) and parks ($2.2M) also representing significant portions of the deficit. Previous Council had increased infrastructure funding in the past three years of our term, however COVID construction cost increases and well above average inflation increases have not only outstripped that funding, but increased the deficit. It is extremely important that Council continue to fund this deficit in order to ensure that future generations of residents are not facing exorbitant tax increases and/or crumbling infrastructure. Today, approximately 35% of our tax based assets are in poor or very poor condition. If we don’t tackle the deficit, that number will increase to 75% of our assets within the next 25 years.
Crossing Guard Request – Laurelwood Drive at American Beech
Council approved a new warranted crossing guard on Laurelwood Drie at American Beech, to help the approximately 116 students that cross the street there to get to Abraham Erb Public School. The average speed on this road is 42km/hr, with over 1,500 vehicles using the road daily, underscoring the need to help school aged children cross in this location. If you know anyone who might be interested in these important positions, we are always recruiting new guards and you can learn more here – https://careers.waterloo.ca/Job/Details/48ef2745-bcc8-4ba6-8930-aed600c16350.
Council received a report outlining all of our reserve funds, which are used to fund capital projects throughout the City. Currently the City of Waterloo has $38M in obligatory reserves (mandatory reserve funds required by the Province) and $4.7M in discretionary reserves. These reserve funds are in good shape today, but require constant monitoring. I am really pleased to see that the City of Waterloo is creating a Climate Action Reserve Fund for the first time, starting out with a transfer of $918,000 to fund climate related capital projects. This was something I brought up in my first year on Council and to see it come to fruition is exciting, as it provides greater visibility and a stable funding source for climate projects.
Utility Rates and Other Fees
Council approved increases to utility rates for water, sanitary and storm water. The financial impact for the average household is an approximate 5.1% increase (3.6% city share, 1.5% region share) or approximately $59 per year. In spite of these increases these utility rates come in below or closest comparator city (Kitchener), with an average household in Waterloo paying $1,218 and an average household in Kitchener paying $1,380. In addition to above average inflationary increases, the city has also had to deal with a number of impacts to water, waste water and storm water including new environmental compliance approvals that have been downloaded by the Province to the Municipality without any increased funding. Other fees related to building standards, business licensing and cemetery have also increased by amounts necessary to keep these programs operating and to keep our reserve funds in good shape for future capital upgrades. Overall, the City has taken a sensible approach to fee increases, that keep us closely aligned with nearby comparator cities, while supporting the core infrastructure needed to ensure these utilities and other enterprises are meeting the needs of our residents.
Bill 23 Ten Point Adaptation Plan
Those who follow my newsletter will recall that I wrote a motion to the Provincial government asking for reconsideration and deferral of Bill 23. Unfortunately, the Bill has passed in spite of outcry from residents, elected officials, environmental planners, heritage advocates, conservation authorities, architects and many more. Our newly elected Mayor McCabe wrote an op-ed on Bill 23 that contains more information here – https://www.waterloo.ca/Modules/News/index.aspx?FeedId=0d868655-ba17-4efa-988b-1951530c7aec&newsId=0cf9c39e-dddc-4289-9fd3-8d6d1085a44c.
In spite of the opposition to the Bill and the hope that the government will reconsider it is incumbent upon staff and the City to begin plans for adapting to the many changes in Bill 23. Some of the aspects of this plan and it’s impacts are highlighted below:
Streamline Development Approvals
- The need to consider amending bylaws to comply with Bill 109 and 23 including contemplating giving certain development authority to staff versus Council.
Revise Planning Application Consultation
- Since Bill 23 prioritizes speed over consultation, we will need to review or consultation approach.
Look at Joint Initiatives with Other Municipalities
Review how we Collaborate with the Development Industry
Review Staffing Adjustments
- Bill 23 is likely to require between five and eight new full time employees as well as more specialized consultants, which will be reviewed as part of the 2024-2026 budget.
Look at Mitigating the Financial Impact
- As it stands, without further changes to the Bill, the direct cost impacts will necessitate between a 7 and 10% tax increase over and above inflationary impacts for the 2024-2026 budget cycle. Note that this is simply lost development charge revenue from the development industry and not additional impacts from the need for more staff/consultants.
Look at how we Engage on Bill 39 (Strong Mayors Bill)
Review Station Area Zoning
- While we are awaiting approval of the Region Official Plan before we can update our station area zoning, we only have one-year to finalize this under Bill 23.
Review Affordable Housing Strategy
- In light of lost revenue opportunities, Bill 23 may necessitate a rethink of the city’s first ever affordable housing strategy.
Review how we Communicate the Impacts of Bill 23 to the Public
By dedicating some space to the impacts of Bill 23 in my newsletter, I’m hoping to highlight how problematic this Bill is going to be for municipalities, residents, environmental protection and more. While the City is working to adapt to the Bill, there are many advocates fighting to have it reconsidered. I would urge you to email your MPP to express your concerns with Bill 23.
The City of Waterloo is in process of reviewing our 2023 budget. This budget is to be aligned with the goals of our 2020 to 2023 Strategic Plan. Later this year Council will develop a new strategic plan to guide us from 2024 to 2027, which will formulate the basis for business plans and the three-year 2024 to 2026 budget. The City of Waterloo has held a policy to guide staff, which states that property tax increases should be based on the twelve month rolling CPIX rate at the time of budget. The current twelve month rolling CPIX rate is 5.2%, while it was at 6% for September (latest available rate).
When you consider property taxes it is important to note that the average household in Ontario earns $129,872 and pays $50,582 in taxes. Of those taxes approximately 56% goes to the Federal government, 34% goes to the Province, 6% goes to the Region, 1% goes directly to Education, leaving about 3% of your total tax bill going to the City of Waterloo. That is in spite of the fact that municipalities own more infrastructure than the other levels of government.
It is also important to note that staff have worked exceptionally hard over the last ten years to identify budget efficiencies to mitigate the property tax impacts. This year alone staff have identified $1.3M in efficiencies, which represents approximately a 1.5% tax impact savings. That number totals $11M from 2012 to 2023.
The proposed tax increase for 2023 is 5.35%, which represents an estimated $74.98 increase per household. This increase can be broken out into the following:
3.51% – Base Budget Increase
- This is the increase needed to maintain our current service levels. It represents things like inflationary increases, rising fuel costs and salt price increases. Put another way, without this increase we would have to cut our service levels.
0.39% – Operating Impacts of Growth Increase
- This is the increase needed to accommodate growth experienced by the City in the past year. It represents things like increased Waterloo Public Library funding for the new East Side branch, as well as new fleet needed to service a growing City.
0.45% – Service Level Changes Increase
- This is the increase proposed to increase service levels for a variety of initiatives that residents are asking us to improve. It includes things like funding our Indigenous Initiatives, Anti-Racism, Accessibility and Equity strategic plan, implementing parts of our Affordable Housing strategy and changes to Community Programming.
1.00% – Infrastructure Deficit Increase
- This is the increase aimed at tackling the infrastructure deficit discussed above. The City cannot fully reduce the infrastructure deficit ($34M per year) overnight and small, steady increases above inflation are aimed at helping ensure future residents are not facing exorbitant increases and/or crumbling infrastructure.
I will note that the City of Waterloo tax increase represents only about one-third of your property tax bill, as the rest goes towards education and the region. It is important to note that currently the Region of Waterloo is proposing a 9.8% tax increase (before any police budget increase impacts). Should you wish to engage further in consultation related to Regional property taxes, you can do so here – https://www.engagewr.ca/budget2023.
With respect to the City of Waterloo budget process, business plans (which underpin the budget) will be presented to Council on January 16th, 23rd and 30th. The city’s capital budget will be reviewed on February 6th and the budget is intended to be approved on February 13th. There will be a public engagement information session (hybrid – Online and at WMRC) on January 10th from 6:30-8:00pm. Child care is provided for children over the age of four and transit costs will be reimbursed for anyone who attends via GRT/ION. You can pre-register for this event by January 5th by contacting email@example.com or calling 519-747-6075.
All of the budget documentation can be reviewed at this link, for anyone interested in reviewing documents in greater detail.
Other Council Business
Council also approved tenders for work at the Waterloo Park baseball diamonds, HVAC systems at a couple of city owned buildings as well as mechanical and roof repairs needed at Grey Silo. Council also reviewed our current debt situation as well. If anyone has further questions on these or any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for further discussion.
Outside the Council Chambers
I am eager to begin working with my new committees for this term of Council. In addition to staying on as Council liaison to the Sustainability Advisory Committee, I will also have the opportunity to work on the Active Transportation and Waterloo Park Advisory Committees. I have also been selected to represent the City of Waterloo as the cities representative sitting on the Wilfrid Laurier University Board of Governors. As a Laurier alumni I couldn’t be more excited to give back to my alma mater in this role.
The Region of Waterloo has selected its first site for an outdoor, managed shelter as part of their Interim Housing Solutions strategy. Residents in Ward 2 may have learned that the site will be located just outside of the City boundary, near Ward 2 at the Waterloo Region Emergency Services Training and Research Centre at 1001 Erb’s Road. The site will accommodate 50 individuals, will be furnished and equipped with electricity, heating and cooling. There will also be a main complex with running water, washrooms, laundry services, a common area and a food servery. The location will be fully staffed and managed, 24/7 by The Working Centre. Residents of the site will have mental health and addiction supports available to them on site, with a focus on connecting residents to permanent housing outcomes. Residents will also have expectations on them too, as there will be rules, managed by The Working Centre to ensure the security of residents of the site, staff and neighbours. It is anticipated that the shelter will be operational starting February of 2023.
Should residents have feedback or questions on this Regional decision, you can connect via the EngageWR page – http://www.engagewr.ca/outdoor-shelter, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 519-575-4400 x5008. If you have questions about the operation of the site, you can connect with The Working Centre at email@example.com or by phone at 226-476-1765. There will also be a public information meeting held in January, with more details shared in the coming weeks.
While this is a Regional decision, not a City decision I am happy to share my thoughts as well. I appreciate that there are legitimate questions and concerns from residents and divergent viewpoints on the issue. In my estimation the Region should be applauded for tackling this complex issue. I think most people too quickly dismiss how thin the line is between being in a stable financial situation and being paycheque-to-paycheque and being out on the streets. With the multitude of economic challenges we are facing globally, nationally and locally that line is getting thinner and thinner. I appreciate the urgency, innovation and compassionate approach the Region is taking in trying to find solutions to chronic homelessness. While the ‘A Better Tent City’ has operated in our Region for a number of years now, this outdoor shelter will be the first of its kind run by a municipality. While these shelters are an important tool, as with any problem worth solving, homelessness is complex and necessitates the implementation of a variety of actions. The Region is also creating a ‘Plan to End Chronic Homelessness’ in 2023, outdoor shelters will no doubt be a complementary piece to this plan.
With respect to this specific location, it has been said that there is no good site for an outdoor shelter. When folks say that, I believe they are acknowledging that there will be challenges, not only for the residents of the site, but also for neighbouring residents and businesses. As with any location, I believe this will be the case here and in spite of efforts to mitigate these challenges by The Working Centre and the Region, we would be naïve to think there won’t be issues to address. I encourage residents and businesses to let The Working Centre and/or Region know when these challenges reveal themselves, so they can be addressed as best they can. If I may, I will flip the saying on its head and suggest that there is no bad site for an outdoor shelter, when the alternative is human beings forced to live rough, in encampments with no heat, in tents with no support, in parks or forests with no hope. I believe it is a matter of human decency for society to do its level best to provide what is really the bare minimum of care and compassion. I commend the Region for doing their best to do the right thing since, there but for good fortune goes I.
In the Community
It was a pleasure to represent the City of Waterloo at a funding announcement from the Federal government related to three local businesses, which are continuing to innovate and create jobs right here in Waterloo Region (https://www.canada.ca/en/economic-development-southern-ontario/news/2022/12/government-of-canada-boosts-economic-growth-of-three-waterloo-region-tech-businesses-to-fuel-job-creation.html). I also appreciated the opportunity alongside Mayor McCabe to speak with students at Laurel Heights Secondary School about a wide variety of topics. It’s so great to hear from young people about the issues that matter most to them. It was also great to attend the tree lighting in Waterloo Town Square. I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday and I wish everyone the best for 2023!
Take care, stay safe and get boosted!