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Big challenges ahead for new Greater Sudbury city council

Expected spending cuts from the province, downtown parking and the KED, to name just a few
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With a host of challenges facing them this term, getting themselves reelected may prove the easy part for this term of city council. (File)

After a tumultuous campaign that ended with a major voting problem that extended the election for another day, the new city council is facing several challenges as it heads into a new term.

All incumbents who ran for reelection are back, and there are new councillors in Ward 4 (Geoff McCausland) and Ward 11 (Bill Leduc). 

As Mayor Brian Bigger put it Tuesday, city government can hit the ground running thanks to the continuity on council. In 2014, by contrast, there was a new mayor and 10 new city councillors.

Here's a look at some of the issues they will have to deal with:

The Kingsway Entertainment District: The first hearing of the planning appeals filed to stop the project is set for Nov. 6, when a case management conference will held. Opponents of the plan had hoped several strongly anti-KED politicians would be elected, but this term there will be two: Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti was re-elected easily, and he'll be joined by McCausland, who is also opposed to the project. 

Election night Bigger said as far as he's concerned, nothing has changed. “I think that the Kingsway centre is still moving forward and the arena's moving forward,” he said. “As mayor that's what I promised to the citizens and so from that perspective, I expect that that will continue.”

What to do about the Junction? The proposal to build a new art gallery, library and convention centre isn't as far along as the KED, and plans call for it to be built on the site of the former downtown arena. But the more than $100 million pricetag is a concern, plus some argue the convention centre isn't needed with the

Place des Arts and new arena already being planned. A final decision likely won't come until a decision on the KED is made, sometime in June next year.

Related to the Place des Arts, construction of the $30 million centre has begun downtown. While a positive development for the area, the fact the centre is removing several parking spaces will make the chronic parking shortage downtown more severe. During the election, downtown business owners made it clear their customers have told them they avoid downtown because they can't park near where they want to shop. A proposed walking bridge to a city parking lot has been rejected as too expensive, more costly even than a long dormant plan to build a municipal parking garage downtown.

Council unity will likely be a bigger issue this time around. In 2014, residents were fed up with divisiveness on council and elected almost an entirely new city government, who determined to work together. But things have changed. 

In addition to the two councillors strongly opposed to the KED (the aforementioned Signoretti and McCausland), Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier are still angry over what they consider an entirely improper harassment investigation they faced over their comments during the failed fire optimization plan public meeting process. 

Speaking of the fire optimization process, while that plan was rejected – it called for closing of some volunteer stations and hiring more full-time firefighters – the report said even to maintain the current system, the city needs to spend $4 million more every year for 10 years to renovate and upgrade existing fire stations. The matter has yet to come back to council for a decision.

After the Nov. 6 hearing for the KED, councillors will be in full city budget mode until early 2019. With big budget cuts expected from the Doug Ford government at Queen's Park, the city could be looking at less money in transfers from the province, putting pressure on how much property taxes will increase next year.
The previous council benefited from the fact both the federal and provincial government were providing large sums for infrastructure projects, which is how the Maley Drive extension, active transportation and other projects were financed.

The Ford government is also expected to slow or even halt work on four-laning the last stretch of Highway 69 between Sudbury and Toronto. Election night, Bigger said the province was still doing its line-by-line review of spending the last time he spoke with them. 

“There's been limited conversations through the election process,” he said. “They weren't really prepared to provide clear direction on where they felt they were going. I think things are clearer now and so I'll be following up with them shortly.”

Finally, a decision will have to be made on the future of the Greater Sudbury Police headquarters. Audits have concluded there are significant safety and practical problems with the current Brady Street building, which was not designed for police. 

The force has a $18.8 million renovation plan in place, but the city has been delaying a decision as it encourages them to look at other city owned buildings.




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