June 2023

What did City Council do?

2023-2027 City of Waterloo Strategic Plan

Council approved our strategic plan for 2023 to 2027.  This strategic plan will guide our priorities for the next four years.  It will be used as the principles for departmental business plans and will guide our budget priorities for the remainder of our Council term.  I spoke in more detail about the draft strategic plan here – https://www.roycebodaly.ca/may-2023/.  In the final, approved strategic plan we elevated discussions around accessibility and changed some verbiage to acknowledge the transformational change needed to tackle the climate crisis.  Additionally the final strategic plan discussed performance measurement, including how we will report back to the community on our progress on this plan.  I believe this plan is a bold, progressive approach to a variety of topics, including; Reconciliation, Equity, Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion, Climate Action, Vision Zero Transportation Planning and more.  I look forward to watching it get implemented and embedded into everything we do at the City.

Advanced Monetary Penalty System Expansion

In my first term on Council, the City of Waterloo created an Advanced Monetary Penalty System (AMPS) for parking infractions.  This system prevented those that had a concern with their ticket from having to access the Provincial court system under the Provincial Offences Act (POA).  The City created a screening and hearing officer AMPS system, which allowed for more informal discussions by our enforcement team and if a resolution was still not met a hearing system that is much more accessible than the court system.  The AMPS system for parking tickets had 92% of tickets resolve through the screening process and reduced the average wait time for collection of fines from 246 days under POA to 69 days under AMPS.  Often infractions are reviewed and resolved over email and/or by phone call.  From a resident perspective this process is less intimidating and a more efficient process.  From the City of Waterloo perspective it has led to more consistent revenue collection, more effective enforcement, enhanced customer service and greater flexibility and discretion.  All of this while reducing the strain on our Provincial court system.  Now that we have proved the concept through our parking enforcement, we have extended AMPS to all municipal infractions within the City of Waterloo.

Housing Accelerator Fund

Council approved 8 projects to apply for the Federal government Housing Accelerator Fund.  This fund is a $4 Billion grant opportunity to accelerate housing starts for municipalities.  The projects we have applied for include; process improvements for municipal land disposition, employment land conversion strategy, online development application/approval tracking system, expansion of our affordable housing incentive, an additional residential unit toolbox and more.

Fire Master Plan

Council approved, in principle, funding requests related to our forthcoming Fire Master Plan (FMP).  The FMP will be reviewed in full in fall of 2023.  The new plan is not recommending a new fire station, rather it is recommending an expansion of fire station #2 (on Columbia Street in Ward 2).  Currently we are experiencing increased drive response times to incidents from 4:37 in 2016 to 6:23 in 2021 and we are seeing third vehicle arrival times increase from 8:46 in 2016 to 13:29 in 2021.  Our consultants are recommending that 24 new fire fighters are needed just to respond to fire related incidents in our community.  The resulting operating cost increase will be approximately $5 Million per year.  Rather than funding this increase through a very large one-time tax increase, we have approved a funding model (again in principle) that will see these fire fighters phased in over a four year period at a tax increase of between 1 and 1.5% per year.  By utilizing our existing spaces and increasing our operating costs in a phased in manner we will be improving our response times to fires, increase our ability to respond as first responders to medical emergencies and do so in a fiscally prudent manner.

Digital Services Strategy Implementation

Council approved, in principle, the implementation/funding approach for our new digital services strategy.  This strategy will complement our customer service strategy and help us catch up with our peer municipalities, as we have fallen behind comparator cities when it comes to our ability to access city services in a digital form.  Again, this is a phased approach over time to help integrate communications and our IT department, address larger challenges related to account synchronization and ultimately reach digital maturity where most of our services by 2026 can be accessed in a digital form, with measurable progress and strong user satisfaction.

Bill 109 Implementation

Council also approved, in principle the implementation/funding approach to respond to Bill 109.  Bill 109 is Provincial legislation that is intended to speed up planning approvals.  While Bill 109 is extensive and far reaching, some of the key takeaways are that site plans need to be approved within 60 days of receipt, Council decisions on Zoning Bylaw changes need to be made within 90 days and Council decisions on Official Plan Amendments need to be made within 120 days.  These are significant reductions in the turnaround time and will necessitate changes to our planning processes, as well as the number of planning staff needed.  Moreover, the Province has created rules that may require the municipality to pay back fees and charges related to development applications if those timelines aren’t met.  All of this is in addition to the numerous changes that Bill 23 will impose, for which we are still awaiting regulations from the Province.  With respect to Bill 109, this means we are hiring two new planning staff immediately and will need to hire more planning and legal staff to meet these requirements in a phased in manner going forward.

Sidewalk Snow Clearing Service Level Improvements

Again, in principle, Council approved an implementation/funding approach to increasing service levels related to sidewalk snow clearing in the City of Waterloo.  I spoke in more detail about the workshop we held last month here – https://www.roycebodaly.ca/may-2023/.  In short, we are improving our overall service time from 72 hours to 48 hours on City responsibility sidewalks and providing further incremental improvements in a phased in approach over time.  The total tax impact will be 0.4%, 0.5% and 0.1% increases in 2024, 2025 and 2026 respectively.  I have also asked staff to report back as a menu item during our forthcoming budget approvals, the potential to further increase service levels around elementary schools, by taking over responsibility of sidewalk snow clearing within 1km of schools.  This may have a further increase of 0.2%, but is more appropriately discussed during the fullness of budget.  While I believe transformational change is necessary in order to improve winter accessibility, I believe this incremental approach sets us up well for potential future enhancements including more complete sidewalk clearing city-wide.

2024 – 2026 Budget Strategy

Council received an update from staff regarding the proposed budget strategy for our upcoming three year budget.  As noted above, we are still awaiting Bill 23 regulations, which could further impact this process.  The intention is for the budget documents to be released on December 12th, 2023 with engagement and ultimate approval through February 2024.  The City of Waterloo bases our budget off of the 12 month rolling CPIX, which is currently at 5.44% and we base our capital budget using the non-residential construction price index, which is currently 15.6%!  Given the astronomical construction price index, Council approved adjustments to our capital policy as well as a host of other policies, including our debt policy.  Beyond the typical inflationary increases that we need to budget for, we are also aiming to respond to a number of Council priorities and Provincial priorities.  This includes some of what was noted above (Digital Services, Sidewalk Snow Clearing, Bill 109, Fire Master Plan) as well as accessibility improvements, green buildings policy implementation, our infrastructure deficit and more.  Where this has put us at this stage is a proposed tax increase in each of the next three years of between 5% and 8.5%.  That is broken down into a 3-4% base increase, 1-3% service level increase and 1-1.5% infrastructure increase.  While it is still early days in the budgeting process, I appreciate the work that staff have done to provide us with this information and look forward to reviewing the budget in great detail later this year and into 2024.

Inclusionary Zoning

Council had our first look at the proposed Inclusionary Zoning Policy that is a joint initiative between the three large municipalities within the Region.  As a refresher, inclusionary zoning is a policy that allows municipalities to require developers to include a small percentage of affordable units within new developments.  The Province dictates the parameters under which this policy can be imposed and includes things such as the maximum percentage, the definition and duration of affordable units, which types of developments are applicable and in which location.  Inclusionary Zoning works best in strong housing markets, such as the one in the Region of Waterloo and can not only help by providing a modest number of new affordable units, but also ensure that these units are integrated into market rate buildings.  If approved, the policy will apply to all 24 Major Transit Station Areas (MTSA) in the Region, for all new developments greater than 50 units.  There are different rates required based on the viability of the market in the MTSA, which will escalate to as high as 5% by 2031.  The focus will be on affordable rental units, with reporting back every 2 years to allow for adjustments to the policy as needed.  While inclusionary zoning is not a panacea, it is a tool in our municipal toolbox that I look forward to implementing to help make a meaningful impact on the number of affordable units in the City of Waterloo.

Other Council Business

In what was an extraordinarily busy Council month, Council also approved 2023 green building policy implementations, updated our community cash grants policies, approved our 2023 facilities infrastructure improvements and signed a license with Hydro One to create a trail through the Hydro Corridor from St. Moritz Blvd into the new Generation Park employment lands.  We also approved a feasibility study to determine if we can move the City of Waterloo museum from Conestoga Mall to the Carnegie Library uptown, approved financial tenders for watermain and culvert improvements and received development applications in an informal meeting for 180 King Street and 435 King Street.  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

It was an equally busy month outside the Council chambers in June.   In my role as Board member of Wilfrid Laurier University, I attended a tour of Laurier’s Brantford campus.  It was really interesting to see how the University plans to expand throughout the city.  The campus has taken over much of downtown Brantford and includes a large number of repurposed buildings in the core, alongside new builds as well.  This includes the award winning YMCA/WLU Brantford partnership for a joint community/student athletic complex.  Having worked in Brantford in the past, it was great to see how the University has revitalized the core.  I also received a tour of the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science.  It was wonderful to learn more about this hidden gem amongst our post-secondary institutions and I was surprised to learn that it is the only English speaking optometry school in Canada!  They have some exciting expansion plans that I look forward to seeing come to fruition.

All local City and Regional Councillors were invited to an ‘all council’ meeting at Regional headquarters.  During this meeting we learned more about Waterloo Economic Development Corporation’s goals, challenges and successes over the past year.  We also learned about Explore Waterloo Region’s post-COVID tourism recovery plans and received an update on our local hospitals, including preliminary plans for the building out of a new hospital site in the Region.

For June events, I was pleased, alongside Mayor McCabe and with thanks to the great work that Councillor Roe put into it, to attend a World Refugee Day celebration at THEMuseum.  It was an honour to have learned more about Rohingya culture.  I also attended the City’s Service Center Open House, the Open Streets festival on Willis Way and the KW Multicultural Festival.  I was also privileged to congratulate Hirey Abdikarim for winning the City of Waterloo’s Senior of the Year award.  It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Abdikarim’s friends, family and supporters and to thank him for all that he does to make our community a better place to live.  I was pleased to support the Laurelwood Community Garden team of volunteers as they are looking to build a community garden in Gatestone/Laurelwood Park.  We went door-to-door to talk to neighbours about the plans and it was exciting to hear the enthusiasm the community has for the forthcoming garden.  This will be the third community garden in Ward 2, alongside the garden in Clair Hills at St. Moritz Park and in Vista Hills at Sundew Park.  Learn more about community gardens here – https://www.waterloo.ca/en/neighbourhoods/community-gardens.aspx.  Alongside many of my colleagues, I also attended the Coalition of Muslim Women vigil to commemorate the second anniversary of the tragic Islamophobic hate crime, which led to the murder of four members of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario.  This interfaith gathering to remember the lives lost and the impact this terrorist attack has on the Muslim community also provided an opportunity to review the Coalition’s second annual Snapshot of Hate in Waterloo Region report.  There is obviously so much to do to end Islamophobia right here in our community.

Lastly, June was Pride Month.  Pride month is many things.  In part it is a celebration.  I was reminded of this when I was able to attend the Tri-Pride Festival in Willow River (Victoria) Park.  Seeing so many community members loudly and joyously celebrating the 2SLGBTQ+ community in the Region of Waterloo, with a variety of wonderful performers was great.  Pride month was a celebration for me again, when I was able to attend a beautiful event celebrating the 20th anniversary of marriage equality in Ontario.  To meet Jim and William and congratulate them on their anniversary was heartwarming.  Pride month is also a protest!  At the marriage equality event, listening to the stories from so many in the 2SLGBTQ+ community was equally beautiful and infuriating.  To hear from those who spent so many of their years fighting for something they never should have had to fight for, in marriage equality, showed the courage and fight that those community members had.  The continual fight for equality, freedom from discrimination for the rainbow community that continues to day necessitates the need to protest.  Sometimes pride is a literal protest.  Earlier this month, in response to homophobic and transphobic community members planning to harass and protest an event at the Kitchener Public Library, a counter-protest was planned.  I was pleased to attend and it was amazing to see the turnout for the counter-protest by community members loudly proclaiming that homophobia and transphobia are not OK.  Sadly, at the end of this month we were all reminded why we need to protest when a right-wing homophobic ideologue entered a gender-studies classroom at the University of Waterloo and violently attacked a professor and 2 students, sending those 3 to the hospital and terrorizing the classroom, UW and 2SLGBTQ+ community in our Region.  There has been a rise in misogyny, transphobia and homophobia in our community.  It is perpetuated by individuals who platform these agendas, who ‘both sides’ these discussions, who use strawman arguments and whataboutisms to hide their hate.  They have hijacked the work of our school board, they are working hard to push their agenda in our community and we need to not only have solidarity and hold vigils for those impacted, but to remain vigilant and fight back.  I don’t have the answers, I am saddened by this hate crime and I’m also furious.  Rather than simply state that ‘Hate has no home here’ in Waterloo Region, I am going to acknowledge that the hate exists and I’m going to keep asking myself ‘Why does hate feel emboldened in Waterloo Region and what can we all collectively do to make hate feel unwanted, unwelcome and uncomfortable spreading their vile messages across our community?’