What did City Council do?
Waterloo North Hydro Proposed Merger
Waterloo North Hydro (WNH) is a public utility owned collectively by the City of Waterloo, Township of Woolwich and Township of Wellesley. Council approved the next steps in a proposed merger with Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro, which includes public engagement. The new proposed utility would be 30.83% owned by the City of Waterloo, 53.39% by the City of Kitchener and the remainder in the various townships, which is based on the latest valuations of the organizations. The new proposed utility would be the 7th largest hydro utility in Ontario. The City of Waterloo conducted an extensive public engagement process four years ago, regarding what we should consider with WNH. The primary takeaways were that any future plans must include stable rates, reliable service and keeping jobs, growth and returns in local hands. This proposed merger crucially, seeks to keep the utility as a publicly run organization.
Why are we proposing a merger? WNH leadership strongly believes that there are synergies between the two organizations, which can be leveraged towards operational savings and greater efficiency. A significant amount of effort has been put into analyzing the potential savings, which suggests that approximately $2.9M per year could be realized. The intention would be to pass along 50% of those savings to the shareholders (Cities and Townships) in the first 10 years, after which those savings would be directly passed along to customers. There is certainly a risk that not all of those cost savings are realized, however the main justification for the merger from my perspective is related to what WNH calls Utility 2.0 (effectively tackling Climate Change). Utility 2.0 references the changing nature of the hydro industry, whether that is how electricity is generated, customers generating their own supply of electricity (solar panels), battery usage, changing peak usage and more. In order to decarbonize the municipality and reach our GHG goals we need to recognize how important electrification is as a key component in meeting those goals. My hope with this merger, if it were to go through, is that the larger corporation will have the capacity and capital to focus on new technology development and innovation within the industry in order to help fight Climate Change. Please check out the website – connectinglocalpower.ca to learn more and provide your feedback.
Coalition of Muslim Women Delegation
October was Islamic Heritage Month (IHM) and Council received a delegation from the Coalition of Muslim Women (CMW) with a list of municipal actions that we can take to help combat Islamophobia in our City. The list includes passing street and neighbour harassment bylaws, investing in documenting/reporting hate, dedicated funding towards helping victims, neighbourhood programming, leadership training for Muslim women, an awareness campaign and celebrating IHM. Council is eager to tackle this problem at the local level and are encouraging staff to work with CMW on their recommendations.
Streamlining Engagement in the Planning Process
Planning staff are working through a strategy to help streamline public engagement in the planning process. This work is a recognition that it is difficult to navigate the planning process for the average resident and attempts to break down some of the barriers to engagement in what is a highly legislated process. The report highlights 15 recommendations to implement, 6 of which are short term in nature:
– Pilots within City driven planning projects (new City owned developments)
– Lobby for changes to Provincial legislation regarding timelines (they are very short at the moment, which makes engagement a challenge)
– Enhanced education on the planning process (to help residents better understand timelines, legislation, etc)
– Updated development signage (simplified signage with less jargon)
– Master template for communications
– Post engagement feedback on projects
If you have any feedback on ways we can streamline engagement on this or any other topic, please reach out to me.
Infrastructure Needs and Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets
As folks who follow this newsletter will know, the City of Waterloo (and indeed all Cities across Ontario and beyond) are facing significant infrastructure deficits. I have spoken in the past about the need to tackle this problem, the award winning work on our Asset Management Plan as well as the commitment Council has made to address this problem over time through small tax increases above inflation. I have also spoken about how important tackling this problem is, not only to ensure that our assets do not fall into a state of disrepair, but also to our GHG goals. Council received an initial report outlining the connectivity of these two topics, particularly for City buildings. City buildings on their own face an overall $124M infrastructure deficit and a simple like for like asset replacement won’t meet the GHG targets we have set. This highlights the need to ensure that facilities Asset Management Planning is performed not only through a Level of Service lens, but also through a GHG emissions lens. This report is the first step in ensuring that occurs.
Additional Council business this month included a delegation from REEP Green Solutions, updates on grants that the City has received, fee updates for 2022 related to building standards, rental licensing and cemetery, as well as a report on our Strategic Plan progress. Additionally, Council listened to Informal development meetings for 287-291 Woolwich and 535 Quiet Place. Lastly, Council approved $15,000 from our Council Contingency Fund to help support Afghan refugees resettling in the City. 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
Outside the Council chambers I wanted to thank everyone who supported my Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) Fun Run. Together we raised more than $1,600 to help support survivors across the Region. I had a lot of fun running through Laurelwood, Columbia Forest, Vista Hills and Clair Hills and I feel so grateful for the support of the community to help raise money for this awesome local organization. I also had an opportunity to join the Waterloo Public Library Islamic Heritage Month lunch & learn. This was an awesome opportunity to learn about the history of Muslims in Canada, from the transatlantic slave trade to World War II and beyond. I appreciate the WPL for hosting this informative event and the Coalition of Muslim Women for organizing it.
Take care, stay safe and get vaccinated!