What did City Council do?
COVID Financial Impact
Finance staff have continued to keep Council up to date on the financial situation that the City of Waterloo is managing in light of COVID. We received a summary for 2020 as well as a projection for 2021 based on Q1 results. For 2020, the final financial impact represented approximately a $2.2M deficit from the tax base and a $3.1M deficit when you include our enterprise-funded departments (Parking, Utilities, etc). For 2021, the projected impact is approximately a $4.6M deficit from the tax base and a $5.3M deficit when you include enterprise-funded departments. The good news is that the Federal and Provincial governments continue to support municipalities in recognition of their importance as an economic driver of their communities and as a service provider for essential services. The City of Waterloo, through a variety of safe restart agreement funding and other grants we have applied for, has secured over $8.8M. As I have mentioned in the past, one of the key drivers of this is lost recreation revenue, which accounts for approximately $10.7M over the past 2 years. Of course, this is mitigated by a host of cost cutting measures that the City has introduced and is only one example of lost revenue or increased expenses that we are dealing with. The funding provided by the Province and Feds is extraordinarily important and is projected to ensure that we do not have to dip into our tax based reserves and can continue to fund essential services and vital projects for the community.
Action Sports Park Implementation
Council approved implementation of action sports parks throughout the City. In 2021, Albert McCormick Community Center and RIM Park West will begin construction on skate parks. In 2023, RIM Park East will begin construction on a BMX park. Exciting news for Ward 2 is that the Harper Library will begin construction in 2022 on the skate park planned for the site! I look forward to adding onto the community hub that is the Harper Library and to see kids out utilizing the park next year.
Affordable Housing Grant Project Introduction
Council continued its work with respect to affordable housing by introducing a grant program for non-profit organizations. This work is expected to be brought back to Council in September of this year. In addition to this project, Council was introduced to two other related projects that are to be worked on for 2022 and 2023. One project is to create a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant, which is a lengthier process than the one being worked on this year due to its involvement of for profit developers. The other is looking into a Development Charge (DC) exemption for affordable housing projects. DC’s are funds that developers are required to pay to support infrastructure and growth related to any new project in the City. It is a significant cost to developers and a revenue source for the City to spend on things like parks, roads, underground infrastructure, etc. Creating an exemption in certain situations may help incentivize more affordable housing builds, which are greatly needed in the community. This work is desperately needed and we need a suite of options available to us in order to help tackle this problem. As mentioned before the City is working on an overarching affordable housing strategy, but is getting going on a couple of needed projects before the strategy is finished. Feel free to review and offer your feedback on both projects here – https://www.engagewr.ca/affordable-housing-waterloo; https://www.engagewr.ca/affordable-housing-grant.
Council engaged in a lengthy debate and discussion pertaining to backyard fires. Ultimately, Council decided to keep maintain the existing open burning bylaw, prohibiting solid fuel backyard recreational fires. Council was presented with a pilot option that would have cost $430,000 per year. This funding would be needed to hire multiple part time enforcement officers, a fire prevention officer to help with the backlog of fire related complaints, a clerical staff as well as fleet, equipment and training. Staff advised against this option based on their internal conversations revealing three themes. 1) Health and Safety – propane and natural gas fire tables are already permitted and are options that mitigate safety issues and issues pertaining to air quality/smoke. 2) Neighbourhood Strategy – concerns around ensuring equity and inclusion, with a focus on potentially looking at a more inclusive community fire pit program. 3) Enforcement and Fiscal Responsibility – research of other municipalities suggests a sharp increase in enforcement calls can be expected and the cost associated with providing an immediate response is high. We heard from delegates who asked us to forego this staff direction and we also heard from an air quality expert from the University of Waterloo explaining some of the issues associated with wood burning. Although I struggled with this decision and acknowledge that I am disappointing many community members, I decided to vote to keep the bylaw as is. I released an official statement outlining my rationale, which you can review here – https://www.facebook.com/roycebodalyward2/posts/924282944786682.
TransformWR Community Climate Action Plan
The City of Waterloo had the great pleasure of being the first municipality in the Region to officially endorse TransformWR, the local community climate action plan. This plan is a bold, local action plan with 6 transformative changes and 78 actions, with milestones. This is a plan not just for the local municipalities, but also for local businesses and local residents as well. Of the 78 actions, the City of Waterloo has a role with 44 of them and are lead/co-lead on 22. The 6 transformative changes are:
- By 2050, most trips are by active transportation with robust transit support.
- By 2050, remaining personal/commercial vehicles are zero emission.
- By 2050, businesses and homes do not use fossil fuels for space heating/cooling and hot water.
- By 2050, we use less, waste less and are not disposing organic matter in landfills.
- By 2050, we have a local food system, local farming, food production and processing.
- By 2050, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions while increasing equity, creating a prosperous and resilient low carbon community for all.
This plan is not only aspirational, but also operational as it outlines actions to achieve these goals. Below are a few examples for reference:
- Policies and programs are created to de-incentivize driving.
- Major active transportation corridors are planned for walking, cycling and rolling.
- 15-minute neighbourhoods are created where all essentials are within a 15-minute walk, cycle or roll.
- Half of all municipal vehicles are zero emission by 2030.
- Electric vehicle ready spaces are required in new developments.
- Public buildings are designed to be net zero.
- Energy planning is required as part of the development review process.
- Land use protections are implemented to protect agricultural land.
This plan was developed in line with community expectations and with community and technical expertise. It was created in conjunction with Sustainable Waterloo Region and REEP Green Solutions, as well as all eight area-municipalities. Council approved an addendum recognizing that in spite of all of these transformative changes and actions, we are still falling short of the 50% GHG emission reduction target by 2030 (50×30) that science suggests is needed. We created an aspirational goal of 50×30, with recognition that provincial and federal government will be needed to help us get there. There is a lot of work ahead of the community to tackle the climate crisis and this is a strong first step and guide to help us get there.
Additional Council business this month included; annual update from Communitech, Bill 108/197 timing impacts to the municipality, Urban Design Manual refresh project inititation, Union Street E reconstruction approval, new Fleet Management Policy and development approvals on Westhill Drive. If anyone would like to learn more on any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.
Outside of the Council Chambers
I wanted to use this opportunity to personally thank the Sustainability Advisory Committee for creating a report and delegating to Council in support of the TransformWR plan. As the Council liaison I am proud of the work that we do on this committee and to see it so well crystallized to Council is always a wonderful opportunity. Excellent job to the team! When advisory committee positions are up for recruitment again, I cannot stress enough how awesome it is to participate.
Huge shout out to the Vista Hills Community Garden team for putting together such an awesome project in Sundew Park. It was so inspiring to see so many new people from the community come out to support the build, including so many youth who wanted to help shovel mulch and soil. A long process to get things going, but it looks great now and I appreciate all of the hard work of the volunteers who saw it to fruition.
Lastly, I wanted to speak to folks about the ongoing and continued fight for equality and racial justice. One of the benefits of white privilege is that even as allies we are afforded the benefit of being able to detach ourselves momentarily from the ongoing fights happening locally and abroad. This is not meant to shame; I am guilty of this as much as anyone is. The month of May was a harsh reminder of why this work is continual; locally, across Canada and around the world. Locally, we experienced a counter-protest in Wilmot after some members of the community put up White Lives Matter posters and advertised a rally (https://www.facebook.com/roycebodalyward2/posts/910554732826170). A local car rally took place in response to some of the horrifying imagery coming out of Palestine. In addition, just last week Canadians were forced to reckon with our genocidal past when the remains of an estimated 215 children were discovered outside of a Kamloops residential school. I hope residents will take time to reflect on the fact that although these moments offer an insight into the pain and trauma that folks from these communities are dealing with, many members of the Palestinian community, BIPOC community and Indigenous community are forced to carry the heavy burden of this trauma with them everywhere they go and at all times. Please check in on and support your friends and neighbours from these communities as we work towards an anti-racist future with equity and justice for all.
#EveryChildMatters #FreePalestine #BlackLivesMatter
Take care, stay safe and get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible!