Thoughts on our Guelph 2017 Budget

November 21st:

While the festive season is upon us, it’s not quite as jolly at city hall. It’s budget time! I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you about it, and to get YOUR input on the important decisions that are soon to be made.
First off, I want to commend city staff for their hard work in coming up with a series of budget recommendations that seem to be finding approval and consensus around the horseshoe.
The biggest new item we are tackling is the proposed levy that would address the crippling backlog we have in keeping up with our aging infrastructure. We are really a generation behind in addressing the huge gap created by years of sending the true cost of keeping our city safe and sustainable down the line to the NEXT council so that we can keep our taxes unrealistically low.
I am sensing a positive shift in my fellow elected officials. We are starting to see that it can be a political asset to give top priority to keeping our city as healthy as possible. This is a shift from a prevalent belief that driving taxes down was a goal despite the impact on our marginalized citizens and our future generations. I am hearing our councillors reflect what seems to now be a common voice in our community: we want to ‘make things’ right, we don’t want to pass along the problems to our children, and we are willing to invest in that future even if it costs us a little extra now.
Taxation has become a bad word in our culture, yet some are now reframing the discussion so we can look at taxes as our prime means of contributing to the well being of our city. More and more of our citizens understand that it is more important for their leaders to demonstrate that they are getting the best VALUE for their tax contributions than to look for an artificial tax ceiling that can sometimes mean service and staff cuts that put that well being at risk.
Like all of us, I want my taxes to be affordable. My goal on council is to strive for affordability without sacrificing anything that would leave our most vulnerable citizens behind. Often our zeal to cut our expenses in an effort to lower taxes helps those who need help the LEAST, and negatively affects those who need that help the MOST.
A case in point for this is transit. Last year, in our efforts to meet our base budget goals, we essentially attacked the efficiency and the frequency of our bus service. This proved to be a disaster for our transit users. Some couldn’t get to work or school on time;  the new schedules were confusing and frustrating; many were driven away from our system all together just at a time when we need the most effective public transit we can to meet our growth needs and our environmental sustainability targets. In our efforts to meet the challenges of climate change and our projected 46% growth by 2031, the last thing we want is to reduce the efficacy of Guelph Transit. For one thing, it grows our already severe income gap. Some of us CAN afford to take a car instead. Some can’t, and if they can’t navigate our bus system to meet their needs, they are out of luck. We’ll never get people out of their cars if they aren’t offered an alternative that is cheaper and more reliable. We CAN do this if we commit the funds and the energy necessary, and I feel we MUST. This is not the time to move backwards on transit. It’s a classic example of a tension that still exists on council: short term vs. long term thinking. We can no longer look towards saving a little now when it will cost us more in the long run.     Efficient, safe, vibrant transit is one of the things that makes us a desirable place to live. It attracts employers who want to make sure their workers’ needs are met.
Staff tells us that it will cost 1.5 million dollars just to bring us back to 2015 levels with our transit. That’s a lot of money. Can we afford it? In some cases like this I believe that we can’t afford NOT to. We owe it to our transit riders to at least make up for the mistakes we made last year. We should be moving ahead, not falling behind.
Another area that we must move forward with is our investment in capital projects like the South End Recreational Centre and a new downtown main library. Again, we’ll lose our reputation as one of the best places in Canada to live if we can’t provide our growing population with the quality of life that brought them here. Our library was built in 1960 when our population was a third of what it is now. Despite the stresses on it, our library has the highest per capita membership in the province. It’s more essential and appreciated than ever. If you can’t afford a computer, internet service, if you don’t have a safe home or workplace to study or gather with your community, you head to the library where all are welcomed. It’s the age-old argument. Are our rec facilities, neighbourhood hubs, libraries, and our cultural centers “needs” or “wants”? More and more we are recognizing them as important elements in offering the sense of community that every city needs to remain vital and attractive. These are the things people expect a city to provide for the taxes they pay. And yes, these things cost money.   To me, we are as behind in this area as we are with our infrastructure, so I am in favour of a proposed .5% City Building levy that would exist temporarily until those capital projects are completed. For the average home-owner, that’s just 2 dollars a month. These projects end up giving a handsome return on that investment. It’s visionary long-term thinking.
There are some on council who think we can pay for projects and our infrastructure with some quick cash through the sale of Guelph Hydro or by privatizing aspects of our services like waste and transit. All across Canada we’ve seen that when this happens, there IS money to spend in the short term, but prices go up, wages go down, and in the case of our utility we lose a steady income from a profitable company and we lose control of our own innovative energy initiatives.
I believe that we owe it to our future generations to be the best stewards we can be of our resources and our environment, and the best we can be at creating the kind of city that THEY will thrive in.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I want to be sure that your voices are heard in this process. We discuss the budget, ( and public delegations are encouraged ), on November 30th. We vote on December 7th with the hope that we can act together on council to create a budget that we can celebrate in this season of giving and sharing!

thanks for reading and responding. James

find me at james.gordon@guelph.ca or use the comment section on this blog page.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Thoughts on our Guelph 2017 Budget

  1. Jason

    Why is Senior staff, in their news release about hiring Mike Spicer, saying they set the visit for transit and not council? It seems to me that the Mayors office has high jacked this department. The hiring of Mr Spicer is worrisome He presided over year after year of cutbacks in Burlington’s once-decent transit system. From a 7% modal share in the 1980s, Burlington Transit has now declined to a 2% share today. Spicer never stood up for transit when it counted. I take his hiring as a very, very bad sign for transit. part as a result of the cuts and poor service that Burlington Transit has delivered over the past 10+ years. Due largely to Mr Spicer’s lack of ability Burlington has the worst Transit Service in the GTA, if not the province. This isn’t just my opinion, this is the opinion of Toderian UrbanWORK the consultant hired by the city of Burlington. The Mayor & Council of Guelph should go over the head of staff & withdraw this offer immediately. Not just for Transit Users, Staff & the city as a whole, but for the reputation of the City of Guelph.

    • jamesgordoncouncillor

      thanks Jason. Council cannot hire staff. We only hire the CAO and HE hires staff. thanks for raising this concern though.

  2. Mork

    I am a Ward 2 resident. I agree with your goal of improving Guelph Transit. The worst thing about Guelph is that its inhabitants are heavily dependent on their vehicles. My colleagues even go for a drive to get lunch in their lunch breaks! I know this outrageous dependence on vehicles is primarily due to individual choice, but if our transit system was efficient, frequent and affordable, it would be a more likely option, even for those who can afford a car. Similarly, At the same time, we need to invest much more heavily and urgently in out bicycle infrastructure. If our bicycle tracks were comprehensive and without dangerous gaps, more of us would use our bicycles to commute to school and work. It is a cheap alternative to a gym membership. But currently riding a bicycle is only for the brave-at-heart. So please be sure, Councelor Gordon, to include a hefty budget for improving our trails and separated bicycle lanes. (And also to smooth out, clean up and finish the year-old multi-use path on Woodlawn, that is still not useable).

    Sincerly, M

  3. Jim

    The need for a huge downtown library has long past, invest a small portion of this money in the existing neighborhood branch library system. We cannot afford a South End Rec Centre, Mr Gordon and his comrades long ago raided the cookie jar.

    • jamesgordoncouncillor

      Thanks for your input Jim. Regarding the library, a vibrant downtown library is a strong economic driver. Even our crumbling existing main branch brings over 5 million dollars annually to downtown businesses, and all over the world we are learning that when we make a welcoming, modern centrally located library, it becomes much more than a place for books… it’s the heart of a community and it brings economic and social gain to cities that build them than outweigh the investment costs. It’s why I stand by my statement that we can’t afford NOT to do it now. Council after council committed to it, it’s time to deliver, and you’ve pointed your finger at the ‘short term vs. long-term’ vision around this… which is where we apparently disagree. As to your comment in your NEXT post about council not considering staff wages at budget time.. we have committed to a full service review of all positions and all wages. We cannot arbitrarily make decisions about this until that review is complete.

  4. Jim

    Sorry for the double posting. I sent this to my Councillors, one of whom responded, one of whom never does because he does not share my views. The nonresponder is not Mr Gordon who is quite transparent in his views.

    I have followed the Guelph budget woes for some time. These are my thoughts.

    First, the fiscally responsible members of Council need to remind voters why Guelph is in such a sorry state. Policies pushed by the far left that were unnecessary, poorly thought out and implemented in a sorry fashion are the cause of the current budget dilemmas. Of course, the Gaggle of 7 and their comrades will never admit this nor will they quit forwarding their visionary agenda’s. It is time to point fingers.

    Operating budget: Council never seems to consider staffing and wages during budget debates. Until you take these two issues seriously you will be left arguing over the peanuts required to plow sidewalks. Of course, staff will never forward a plan to cut wages or staffing. That is YOUR job one.

    Special Levy: A tax is a tax is a tax……nothing “special” about them. However, if the “special” label is required to keep the funds out of the hands of the Gaggle of 7 and their special visionary projects then I will grudgingly go along.

    Downtown Library: I like and use libraries but the role of a library has changed so much in the past 20 years it seems very foolish to spend $60+ million on bricks and mortar in a location that is hard to access and expensive to get to. The City has poured more than enough money into downtown development. Take a small part of this budget and expand the accessible local branch libraries and digital access.

    South Side Recreation Centre: I live on the South side; it would be nice to have a recreation centre. We cannot afford it because of previous Council’s mismanagement.

    Woodlawn walking path: A path from nowhere to nowhere, just what we needed. Finish the current path and put expansion in the 2050 budget.

    Urban neighborhoods: I had to laugh at this one. An urban neighborhood around Wal-Mart, around the evil empire – in Guelph!! A South side urban neighborhood, please, please save me from this. We have a nice neighborhood without the meddling of City planners. Unless the plan involves a turning lane on Gordon, forget it – we don’t need nor want it.

    Energy initiatives: Kill them, FAST. Giant sink holes for taxpayer money. The private sector will handle this quite well, thank you.

    Roads, Bridges, Infrastructure: The essential capital expenditures every City needs. Please do not ignore these trying to please special interests.

    Subsidized Affordable housing: It seems like Council has done well in this regard. However, most decisions of the Provincial government and City government increase the cost of housing, which then requires bigger subsidies, etc.

    Income redistribution: This is not the proper role of local governments.

    Your task is a difficult one – good luck.

  5. R&J

    We 100% agree with Jim. Could not have said it better.

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