It remains to be seen whether city council is able to reduce a tentative 2022 tax levy increase of 3.2 per cent, but it isn't likely to be at the expense of tackling the homelessness/opioid crises.
This much was made clear during tonight’s budget deliberations when the city’s elected officials offered their unanimous support for spending $600,000 on a transitional housing project.
“We feel it is a very high priority for our community,” Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo told local media during a conference call that followed tonight’s meeting.
That said, Jakubo, who also serves as chair of the city’s finance and administration committee, pointed out that the city is continuing to put pressure on the provincial government to fund it.
The funding decision came during the third night of 2022 budget talks tonight, which are far from over and expected to continue during a meeting scheduled for Dec. 7.
This transitional housing expense includes the redirection of $250,000 in savings that are expected to come as a result of a recent investment in technology improvements and process changes, such as the one-stop-shop at Tom Davies Square.
Although the expenditure’s associated motion resulted in a lengthy debate of city council, it ended with unanimous support for the project.
An Assertive Community Treatment Team is being assembled to handle approximately 20 people at an interim location yet to be determined, but hopefully at a single location and not spread out, said city director of community development Steve Jacques.
Some team members are already working with members of the city’s homeless community in places such as the downtown Memorial Park encampment.
“If we can get individuals who are willing to accept services and enter into a program … then we want to be able to create space for them to do that,” he said, adding that when a permanent transitional housing complex is opened they’ll be able to ease into that.
The team is expected to ramp up in size by the end of 2022 for a possible opening of a permanent site on Lorraine Street at or near the end of the year.
The city has yet to receive final confirmation of $7.4 million in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding, but Jacques said they’re expecting it soon and that it requires the facility to be substantially complete within 12 months of confirmation.
The number of proposed units in the facility most commonly cited by city administration and settled on during tonight’s meeting has been 40, however, the federal funding applied for requires that at least 28 units be created and the team of 12 full-time and four part-time staff members described in the initial report is expected to serve between 40 and 60 clients.
Although various property owners and residents of the Lorraine Street neighbourhood have spoken out against the location city council selected for the project, Jacques clarified a two-thirds vote of city council would be required to change the location and that doing so might kill the federal grant, which is contingent on the location.
Central to city council’s debate on this project is the idea that health care and its associated funding is and should continue to be provincial jurisdiction.
“We have no choice but to support this motion, but in the hope of not burning any bridges with our provincial counterparts, I will just say that they have left us in the lurch,” Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer said.
Last week, Mayor Brian Bigger penned an open letter to Premier Doug Ford urging the province to fund municipal efforts aimed at dealing with the homelessness and opioid crises, including the transitional housing effort and a supervised consumption site expected to open in March.
“The pressure is on council to take care of our citizens, do what’s right, but it’s difficult because the province is forcing an additional burden directly on the citizens of our city,” Bigger said, later affirming that he’s “frustrated” by the situation.
By the end of tonight’s budget meeting, the city’s tax levy increase remained at 3.2 per cent, however, there’s still much to discuss, with several business cases and budget-related motions still needing to be dealt with before the city’s 2022 budget is finalized.
At this point in proceedings, Jakubo said it’ll be difficult to drop the 2022 tax levy increase below the 3.2 per cent they’ve already hit. While tonight’s five-hour meeting saw the city’s elected official shave $73,058 from the city’s 2022 budget, another $639,895 would need to be cut in order to achieve the three per cent tax levy increase that city council is seeking.
“I can’t really foresee some kind of a bombshell that’s going to drop us down to three or even below three per cent,” Jakubo said.
Alternative funding sources and reprioritizing municipal projects might help lessen the 2022 tax burden, Mayor Brian Bigger said, but it’ll be up to the 13 votes around council chambers to determine how things pan out.
The following are some of the other key topics of discussion to come out of tonight’s budget talks.
Proposed wage freeze shot down
A motion by Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti to have non-union staff members and city council remuneration frozen in 2022, at a cost avoidance of $470,000, was defeated.
“We’re going through unprecedented times so this is not something I want to be presenting year after year or debating year after year,” Signoretti said, adding that other organizations both public and private have already established wage freezes.
The motion he presented tonight is similar to another unsuccessful motion he also proposed for the 2021 budget, which was similarly shot down despite receiving support from Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc.
As a result of the motion arising last time, Bigger said a few members of council received threats from members of the public that were serious enough to cause police investigations.
Tonight’s repeated attempt to freeze wages was complicated when Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan clarified that it would be a reconsideration of a 2019 motion of city council, which guaranteed non-union staff the same general wage increase as unionized staff.
As such, it required both a two-thirds majority vote for city council to suspend procedure to bring it onto the table during tonight’s committee meeting, which they did, and a two-thirds majority for reconsideration, which only Signoretti, Montpellier, Vagnini and Sizer supported so was defeated.
The city’s elected officials are still expected to consider a motion seeking the review of mayor and council remuneration in January.
Tipping fees to increase $9 per tonne
A successful motion by Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh will see tipping fees increase from $81 to $90 per tonne next year, resulting in an expected increase in revenue of $400,000.
The current rate does not represent a full cost recovery, which is estimated at $110 per tonne, which McIntosh said she hopes to see come forward during 2023 budget talks.
A divided city council approved this motion, which Kirwan warned would “create a lot of anger, and to me, it’s not worth the $400,000 in savings.”
“Enough is enough,” Montpellier said, Signoretti described the increase as “poking the bear” and Leduc and Vagnini also opposed the motion.
The counterargument supported by the majority of city council, including Bigger, is that the city needs to be moving toward full cost-recovery.
MR 55 / Lorne Street infrastructure renewal delayed
City council decided against moving forward with the Municipal Road 55 / Lorne Street infrastructure renewal project until such time as they’ve received some degree of funding from senior levels of government.
An emergency storm sewer replacement effort related to the project, however, may proceed.
This direction to city staff is a far cry from Signoretti’s motion, which would have seen the city increase their annual allocation toward the project by $480,000 from within its existing capital budget and proceed on a section of the project next year.
It’s been on the books for “many, many years,” Signoretti said, urging city council to move on improving this major arterial road in 2022 rather than wait any longer.
McCausland introduced the successful sub-amendment pushing for federal or provincial funding, noting, “I don’t think we can continue to go it alone on major infrastructure projects, we simply can’t afford it.”
The total projected cost is $69 million and would consist of the renewal and rehabilitation of MR 55 / Lorne Street from Elm Street to Power Street, with the exception of the recently improved section between Logan Avenue and Martindale Road.
Vagnini motion for HVAC systems denied
In a motion presented by Vagnini, $1 million in funding toward HVAC systems at Finlandia Retirement Village and Maison McCullogh Hospice was requested at $500,000 each.
“This is a no-brainer,” Vagnini said, later encouraging his colleagues to support the motion because it’s “about people’s lives.”
This is the first city council had heard about the request, and Bigger said requests of this nature are typically accompanied by a presentation by the proponent.
Further, Cormier recommended these organizations pursue provincial funding sources, as health care is a provincial jurisdiction.
“I do hope the community will step up and participate in their fundraising efforts,” McIntosh said.
With only Leduc, Vagnini and Montpellier supporting the motion, it was defeated.
YES Theatre support for The Refettorio
A downtown outdoor theatre called The Refettorio proposed by YES Theatre received a $50,000 boost as the result of a grant from the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation.
Last month, city council also granted the project $115,000 from the city’s Façade Improvement Grant and $30,000 toward building permit fees and a feasibility study.
What’s next for budget talks?
Several motions of council and business cases were dealt with tonight, however, much still needs to be debated, including 24 more business cases and an additional 1.5 per cent special capital levy for use toward the city’s aging infrastructure.
Budget deliberations will resume during a finance and administration committee meeting scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. on Dec. 7.
A livestream of this meeting will be available by clicking here.
Click here for a story about the first night of budget deliberations on Monday, which found city council deal mainly with external agency requests. Click here for a story about the second night of budget deliberations on Tuesday, in which city council approved a 4.8 per cent water/wastewater levy increase.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.