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Expect some fireworks at tonight's council meeting, the final one before summer

GSU dividends, replacing economic development board top a busy and controversial agenda

Grab your popcorn, city hall watchers.

Tonight's meeting of Greater Sudbury city council – the last before summer begins, when meetings switch to once a month in July and August – is sure to be fiery with some controversial topics up for discussion.

Topping the list is a staff report on a dividend policy for Greater Sudbury Utilities. The GSU is wholly owned by the city, and when it was created in 19 years ago, a policy describing when and under what circumstances the utility was supposed to pay the city a share of profits (a dividend) was supposed to be created.

That didn't happen, and last year council directed staff to work with the GSU to create a policy. But the GSU argues the city received $5.52 million in 2018 alone, through discounts on services and interest payments on a nominal loan all locally-owned utilities pay to their municipalities. 

They argue that's the equivalent of a dividend, and that the GSU returns the 11th highest amount of cash to its municipality among the 37 city-owned utilities in Ontario.

Forcing them to pay a dividend on top of that would starve them of money needed for capital work and employee benefits, the GSU argues, and would lead to higher rates for customers.

In response, a city staff report said it was recommending a policy that includes all of those costs before the dividend is calculated, and says specifically the new dividend policy should not cause higher rates.

It also points out the GSU is the largest utility in Ontario that doesn't pay a dividend to its shareholder, the municipality. The report estimates even with all those considerations factored in, the city could expect to receive a dividend to average about $1.75 million a year.

Another hot topic is a motion from Mayor Brian Bigger to replace the board at the Greater Sudbury Development Corp. with a “select cabinet” to be appointed by city council. Bigger says the move is part of his campaign promise to focus on economic development, and follows moves to reduce development charges and appoint a liaison to act as a go-between for developers and city staff.

The current board, however, say they were blindsided by the motion, and that it goes in the opposite direction of a consultant's report that concluded the board needed independence from city council to be more effective.

Other items on the agenda tonight:

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. tonight and will carry the Livestream of the meeting on our website.