What did City Council do?
2023 Budget Approval
In my previous newsletter (https://www.roycebodaly.ca/december-2022/) I provided a high level overview of the proposed budget. Much of the past two months was dedicated to reviewing, discussing and ultimately approving the 2023 budget.
There were a number of public engagement opportunities that informed Council decision making. A public meeting was held, with participation from a variety of residents. The key themes that emerged from this meeting included requests to increase funding for sidewalk snow clearing, concerns around the impacts of Bill 23, improving relationships with post-secondary students, increased financial support for vulnerable residents, improving accessibility across the City and a strong desire to tackle climate change. The City also undertook a statistically relevant Municipal services satisfaction survey. The survey revealed that 92% of residents are satisfied or very satisfied with the City, 85% felt they were getting good or very good value from taxes and 79% felt the budget was spent on things that matter to them. The top five most important issues highlighted through this process were Affordable Housing, Road Maintenance, Cycling Infrastructure, Climate Change and Snow Clearing.
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.
The net operating budget for the City of Waterloo was approved with a 5.45% tax increase. This is inclusive of a 3.51% Base Budget Increase, 0.39% Operating Impacts of Growth Increase, 0.45% Service Level Increase, 1.00% Infrastructure Increase and 0.10% Increase for Council Activated Menu Items. These were discussed at length in my previous newsletter.
One way to look at the budget is that it is used to fund the business plans of each department across the City. The City is broken out into Waterloo Public Library with a $7M operating budget and over $7M in capital spending over the next ten years, plus four divisions as follows:
The CAO’s office includes the Strategic Initiatives, Economic Development and Indigenous Initiatives Anti-Racism Accessibility and Equity departments. In 2023, our Strategic Initiatives department will be undertaking the four-way strategic planning process and developing our corporate climate action plan, alongside ongoing work related to housing and homelessness and lean six sigma efficiencies throughout the organization. The Economic Development department will be focused on strategic land development, targeted business attraction and retention and increased investments in arts and culture. Our IIARAE team will be focused on developing their first departmental strategies alongside seeking place-keeping and land opportunities.
This division represents just over $4M in operating budget and 21.7 full time employees. The total capital budget to be spent by this division in 2023 is just over $8M, with approximately $33M to be spent from 2024-2032.
In Community Services the departments include Programming and Outreach, Recreation, Parks-Forestry and Cemetery, Facilities, Fire and Municipal Enforcement. In 2023 the Key Initiatives for Programming and Outreach include community grant renewal, continuing the transition of older adult services to the new Community Pavilion at the Rec Centre and looking into space renewal for the City of Waterloo museum. The Recreation department will be focused on implementing the recreation review, supporting our sport tourism initiatives and conducting a thorough review of equipment and facility spaces. Parks-Forestry and Cemetery will be focused on a variety of new park development including dog parks, spray pads and skate parks. They will also be undertaking an urban forestry strategy. Our Facilities team will be tackling a variety of capital projects including Albert McCormick accessibility and mechanical upgrades, city-wide accessibility improvements and overall facility electrification as part of our net-zero commitments. The Fire department will be updating our fire master plan, while also looking at new firefighter certifications and enhanced records management. In Municipal Enforcement, they will be focusing on expanding the administrative monetary penalty system alongside a variety of education, public awareness and community safety initiatives.
This division represents just over $45M in operating budget and 455.4 full time employees. The total capital budget to be spent by this division in 2023 is just over $25M, with approximately $124M to be spent from 2024-2032.
In Corporate Services the departments include Communications, Finance, Fleet and Procurement, Human Resources, Information Management and Technology Services (IMTS), Legal and Legislative Services. In 2023 the Key Initiatives for Communications include a variety of public engagement initiatives and updating our digital services strategy. Finance will be working on the upcoming three-year budget, the 2024 asset management plan and phase two of our advanced metering infrastructure implementation. In Fleet and Procurement we will be supporting a significant capital infrastructure program, alongside implementing a social procurement policy. Human Resources will be undertaking a thorough policy review, alongside ongoing labour relations and employee development work. IMTS is adopting a host of new software applications, while focusing on cyber security, technical support and network infrastructure challenges. Our Legal team will be supporting other divisions in reviewing our site plan process, applying a lean six sigma approach to our official plan amendment/zone change process. They will also be supporting affordable housing initiatives and helping implement truth and reconciliation commission recommendations. Lastly, our Legislative Services department is completing a review of our Council committees, while also providing orientation to a new Council.
This division represents just over $15M in operating budget and 122.5 full time employees. The total capital budget to be spent by this division in 2023 is just over $12M, with approximately $50M to be spent from 2024-2032.
Lastly, the Integrated Planning and Public Works division includes Planning, Engineering, Building Standards, Transportation and Utilities. The Planning department is undertaking our Official Plan review and our affordable housing strategy in 2023. Engineering will be working on Waterloo Public Square improvements, updating our engineering manual and our sanitary master plan. Building Standards will be enhancing our e-permitting system, alongside ongoing permitting, inspections and building code enforcement. The Transportation department will be implementing a host of Transportation Master Plan priority projects, reviewing maintenance standards for roads and sidewalks and implementing traffic calming measures. Lastly, our Utilities department is focused on infrastructure renewal, the aforementioned advanced metering infrastructure and supervisor control system upgrades.
This division represents just under $12M in operating budget and 191.5 full time employees. The total capital budget to be spent by this division in 2023 is just under $66M, with approximately $531M to be spent from 2024-2032.
I wanted to highlight some Capital Projects that may be of interest to Ward 2 residents:
Generation Park Servicing – $13.81M – 2023-2025
West Side Recreation Facility Needs Assessment and Development – $9.78M – 2027-2031
West Side Operation Center – $4.19M – 2025-2026
St. Moritz Community Hub Park Improvements – $1.22M – 2024-2025
Westmount Sports Park Pedestrian Bridge – $341,000 – 2025-2027
Vista Hills Amphitheatre – $537,000 – 2028-2029; I highlighted to staff, the high public interest in this project and reiterated that although there is an approved concept (from 2002), it needs a new concept with thorough public engagement
West Side Trails – $2.8M – 2023-2032
Beaver Creek/Conservation Reconstruction – $68.39M – 2024-2025; This project was originally slated to occur in 2023, Council deferred this project by one year because it is our largest project and $58M of this project is funded though Development Charges. With DC revenue in jeopardy due to Bill 23, Council chose to delay this project until we have a stronger understanding of how we will pay for it.
Ira Needles Bypass Road – $8.1M – 2024-2025
Laurel Creek Trail – $1.79M – 2023-2025
There is no doubt that this was a challenging budget. Inflationary impacts have been and will continue to be a challenge for the City. Not just to address operating impacts, but also the $849M plus capital program over the next 10 years. Staff worked extremely hard to keep this budget close to an inflationary increase so that we can continue to address our strategic priorities. This budget includes increases to our affordable housing reserve, significant increases to traffic calming investments, the development of our IIARAE strategy, the creation of a Climate Action Reserve Fund, a full living wage implementation for employees, an investment in infrastructure renewal to lower our infrastructure deficit and key investment in accessibility improvements throughout the city, all while investing in the capital projects like dog parks, splash pads, skate parks, new trails, recreation opportunities and more that residents are asking for. Of course there is more for the City to do to continue tackling the challenges we face as a community, but I am proud of the progressive action we are taking on a host of priorities our residents continue to advocate for.
Sidewalk Snow Clearing
One of those areas where the City needs to do better is related to sidewalk snow clearing. We heard from a number of delegates over the last two months, who are advocating for an improvement to the way we currently tackle clearing sidewalks in the winter. Those residents highlight that expanding sidewalk snow clearing to some or all private sidewalks would be in-line with our guiding principles. They point to our moral and civic duty to our most vulnerable road users such as seniors, parents with strollers and those with physical challenges. We know that full sidewalk snow clearing will add $3M to our budget. We also know that full sidewalk snow clearing is not a panacea and will have challenges associated with it as well. Often our privately cleared sidewalks are cleared to bare pavement by diligent friends and neighbours in an expeditious manner that the City would be challenged to meet, but the problem with this approach is that it only takes one uncaring neighbour to make the entire system inaccessible for those vulnerable residents. On the flip side sidewalks that are currently cleared by the City are generally in much better shape, but not necessarily all the way down to bare pavement. Is a more consistent, but not down to bare pavement solution better? There are also questions about a significant increase to our capital spend vs. outsourcing solutions to contractors, questions about the amount of salt usage and more. Council directed staff to report back with options as part of our three-year budget. This will include a scan of surrounding municipalities, a review of key nodes and corridors and involve public engagement. I look forward to tackling this issue and will have a focus on improving existing services, ensuring that intersections are clear for pedestrians, highlighting priority routes for schools and public transit and considering a phased in approach.
Council approved $130,000 to be taken from our Council Contingency Reserve to help address existing encampments in the City of Waterloo. This funding will be used for encampment support and cleanup where appropriate, street outreach, service provider operations, neighbourhood support and more. The focus of these efforts is on security, not enforcement. It is a starting point for us to help address these challenges in our community through a human centered approach where making connections with the unsheltered population and ensuring their safety is paramount.
After Hours Call Centre
Council approved improvements to address customer service in the City of Waterloo, notably in the area of after-hours calls. A review of our current processes revealed a lack of consistency, ad hoc reporting practices, lack of digital services and highlighted 29 areas for improvement. Six alternatives were evaluated, with an ultimate recommendation to approve all six in a phased implementation from 2023-2026. Those alternatives include hiring a corporate customer service leader position, creating a critical event management system, developing an intake process for after-hours requests, creating a list of services we provide, developing best practices for each and dramatically increasing our digital intake. In addition to improving customer service for residents, these recommendation will help us benefit from costs savings related to avoided costs under our current system.
Green and Inclusive Community Buildings Grant Applications Phase 2
Council approved grant applications for three projects under the Federal Governments, Green and Inclusive Community Buildings grant. We have had success receiving funding for these in the past and it has helped address community priorities, while finding alternative funding sources. In this second intake we applied for $25M for retrofits to RIM Park, $3M for Albert McCormick improvements and $6.9M for Moses Springer retrofits. If we received all three this would help us reduce our corporate greenhouse gas emissions by 23.9% and provide a strong ROI to the City with respect to energy savings. The funding would be used to swap HVAC systems for electric, air source or water source heat pumps, improve building control systems, improve insulation, roof repair and solar implementations and changing to LED lighting. It will also help us with accessible washrooms, tactile floors and more.
Strategic Plan Workshops
Council undertook two workshops as part of the creation of our new City of Waterloo strategic plan. In the first workshop each Councillor had five minutes to highlight the priorities we heard during the election campaign. I used my time to highlight the four main themes I heard, which were making our streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, tackling the climate and affordable housing crises and making our community more equitable and inclusive. There was a lot of alignment between Councillors on these topics, with other issues related to important issues like quality of life, community connections, COVID recovery, park maintenance and more emerging as well. In the second workshop we began looking at mission statements for the City. Those discussions led to conversations around the City of Waterloo being an innovative, fiscally responsible, sustainable and equity focused community that has a future focus to our efforts. I love strategic planning and look forward to continuing the creation of this seminal document, guiding the work of the City for the next four years.
An informal meeting to review a development proposal at 720 Erbsville Road took place. The current proposal considers 159 units in this area; 59 townhome units and 120 stacked townhome units. The majority of the development is zoned OS3 (Conservation) and the developer is respecting that designation for the 65% of the land zoned conservation. While I am not permitted to comment on my opinions on this development, the questions that I asked of staff and the developer during this meeting were focused on:
- Broader trail connectivity in the area, including the potential to create a trail to act as a buffer to prevent encroachment issues into the OS3 area
- Ensuring that a sidewalk is constructed along Erbsville to ensure that important future pedestrian connections are created immediately
- Consideration for transferring the OS3 land to City ownership for further protection of these important lands
- Ensuring that parks and storm water facilities are considered in the final proposal
- General questions around ensuring wildlife corridors, appropriate flood prevention and protection of the conservation area
Council approved a new implementation plan for reducing speed limits in the City of Waterloo on neighbourhood streets. Many residents will know that I have been advocating for a reduction to 30km/hr on our neighbourhood streets for many years. I won’t revisit this discussion, but will highlight that ultimately the data and emerging best practices show that 30km/hr is a practice that works to reduce incidents, injuries and deaths. It is a proven piece of the puzzle to help lower speeds and ultimately make our roads safer for children, seniors and all pedestrians. Staff proposed a phased approach that looked at local streets and school zones at 30km/hr, minor collectors at 40km/hr, major collectors at 50km/hr and Regional roads remaining the same. I felt like this was a measured, compromise, step approach that positioned us well to get to 30km/hr on all neighbourhood streets in the future. Ultimately, after a lengthy debate, multiple tied votes and passionate discussion, Council chose to implement that plan in the Uptown ward only, while the rest of the City will only see speed limit drops to 40km/hr. I fought very hard for this measure, I am disappointed with the end result and I sincerely apologize to all the residents who advocated and fought alongside me for this change. That said, I have great faith in the democratic process, I believe that Council acted in good faith and I believe that Council still holds a commitment to Vision Zero and Safe, Sustainable Transportation. A disagreement in tactics at Council is healthy and in truth reflects the discussion that community members have had on speed limits since introduced nearly two years ago. We have a great plan now, that I fully support and staff will focus on implementing this plan, which is undoubtedly an improvement over where we are today. Council will focus on committing to and providing staff with the resources they need to ensure that our streets are safe for our kids.
Other Council Business
Council also approved tenders for Waterloo Park improvements; including formalizing the multi-use loop around the West end of the park, improved east-west connections, pedestrian bridges and more. Other tenders include for a universal washroom at the Button Factory, upgrades to Albert McCormick partially supported by intake #1 of the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings grant discussed above as well as the Waterloo Public Square Water Feature, partially funded by a developer donation. Other development applications reviewed include informal meetings for development at Bridgeport and Weber, the former Waterloo Inn lands and 309 Hemlock; as well as formal approvals for Columbia Street/Hemlock development. Council also approved resident appointments to our advisory committes, reviewed the 2022 Municipal election process and more. 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
Outside the Council chambers I am pleased to see our neighbourhood associations starting to get back to the wonderful community events that bring everyone in our neighbourhoods together. I attended the Vista Hills Winterfest and Laurelwood Skating party this past month. It was wonderful to see so many folks having fun, skating, roasting marshmallows and making connections. I attended a recent Vista Hills parent council meeting to discuss traffic safety issues during school drop off and pickup and I am encouraged by the work of parents and staff at the school, alongside work by City staff. There is much to do, improving communication among everyone is an excellent first step to making pickup and drop off safer. I also attended the Council Community Party at RIM Park to celebrate the new year.
The Region’s new outdoor shelter at 1001 Erbs Road was a topic of a public engagement session, which I was able to attend. I am encouraged by the partnership with The Working Centre and appreciate the concerns that a number of residents in Ward 2 and beyond have highlighted, which require a focus of the Region, the City and The Working Centre as the site becomes inhabited. I was also pleased to connect with WLU Student Union representatives to talk about student advocacy efforts related to Regional and City efforts. Our student population are so vital to the social and economic vibrancy of our community and it’s always wonderful to connect with students advocating for improvements in our community.
Take care, stay safe and get boosted!