Among the most significant projects to receive approval during tonight’s City of Greater Sudbury 2022 budget talks was the long-talked-about Valley East Twin Pad Multipurpose Sports Complex.
That is, pending the City of Greater Sudbury receives $20 million in funding from senior levels of government, which would reduce the municipal share to $9.2 million.
This proviso was introduced by Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre to get the ball rolling on the project despite a tight budget year in which it was anticipated that few business cases would get approved.
However, the majority of business cases to come up for debate during the four days of budget meetings and counting have been approved thus far.
Although these approvals increased the tax levy increase to 3.4 per cent by the end of tonight’s meeting, numerous approvals sought alternative funding sources that didn’t affect the levy, including withdrawals from city reserves.
With city council approving the Valley East Twin Pad Multipurpose Sports Complex in principle, Lapierre said it’ll be considered “shovel-ready,” which makes it more likely to receive funding from the provincial and federal governments.
Nickel Belt Liberal MP Marc Serré is already on the case, he said, and encouraged council to get their foot in the door with tonight’s approval.
With his ward bordering the proposed construction site at the Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre property, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan praised Lapierre’s approach in pushing the project forward.
“It’ll be good for the entire community, and all ages and abilities,” Kirwan said, adding that it ties into the community’s vision for the area established a few decades ago when the Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre was built.
“I think this is going to be transformational for Valley East, and by doing it this way it’s ready, it’s basically ready to go as soon as we get that extra funding,” he said. “This has been a vision of the Valley for an awfully long time.”
Also attached to Lapierre’s motion is that approval be subject to the closure of four area ice pads once construction is complete, including Raymond Plourde Arena, Centennial Arena, Capreol Community Centre and Arena pad No. 1 and one additional pad recommended by staff.
With the named facilities alone requiring $9.3 million in capital projects in the next 10 years alone, Lapierre said the plan “does a lot of renewal with very little to no impact to the taxpayer.”
It was later clarified that the pads would not necessarily “close,” but might be repurposed pending a future decision of city council.
Making this project contingent upon outside funding was the same approach that city council took to approving a business case for a bikeway from Wilma Street to Van Horne Street along Notre Dame Avenue.
This $5.5-million project ties into a much larger multi-year cycle track and would include $2.2 million from reserves and the balance of the cost coming via federal funding they’ve yet to secure.
The following are some of the other notable decisions to come out of tonight’s budget talks. None of the decisions related to the city’s 2022 budget have been ratified by city council as a whole:
Downtown security pilot program made permanent
The city’s downtown security pilot program was made permanent at a net levy impact of $192,803 per year, which city council unanimously supported.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyn Landry-Altmann told her colleagues, adding that it’s difficult to imagine how much worse things would have been if not for this program.
The team consists of six security enforcement officers who work in teams of two seven days per week between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.
City director of transit services Brendan Adair credited the officers with making conditions safer for transit bus operators and users, and they were also cited as making a significant impact on the city’s encampments.
In addition to the ability to levy fines, the officers bolster the city’s downtown security presence.
New garage at the Lionel E Lalonde Centre
A quonset garage structure will be constructed at the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre to relocate some vehicles from the main ambulance garage space.
“Right now, we have too many vehicles because we’re expanding and we need to keep those (vehicles) indoors,” said Lapierre, who moved the motion.
“It sounds like there’s really a problem,” Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland said, noting that the fact the city is idling emergency vehicles outside all night because they don’t have enough room inside is troublesome. “This is clearly needed.”
Lower-frequency vehicles will be shifted into the new building and the main garage would house more ambulances. This project will be funded from reserves.
Converting park lighting to LED
Municipal park lighting will be converted to LED at a cost of $177,000 funded from reserves and replenished over the course of the next few years via savings from the energy-efficient lights.
Once they’re paid off in 2026, they will result in a projected savings of approximately $40,000 per year.
This motion received unanimous support, with Mayor Brian Bigger calling it an easy cost-recovered decision that ties into the city’s environmental goals.
Reinstatement of part-time bylaw enforcement hours
The 2021 budget decision to remove 6,057 part-time hours from the city’s bylaw enforcement division at a savings of $281,000 was reversed tonight.
It was a cost-saving experiment the city tried, and these hours “need to be reinstated,” Landry-Altmann said to unanimous agreement from her colleagues.
“We’ve reduced the service level in a way that doesn’t provide what residents expected or needed,” McCausland said.
This $287,540 expense was added to the tax levy.
Enhanced catchbasin cleaning
A business case to increase the frequency of cleaning the Ramsey Lake watershed catchbasins from once every five years to annual was approved at an estimated cost of $198,000 in 2022 and $99,000 in subsequent years.
Half of this year’s expense was drawn from reserves and the other half comes via the tax levy.
“Stuff like this has, unfortunately, fallen into the backseat,” said McCausland, who moved the motion.
Although this is a tough budget, McCausland said approving this is “the right thing to do” not only for the environment, but also for the 52,000 people whose drinking water comes from Ramsey Lake and those who might experience overland flooding.
Cleanup of the Flour Mill silos site
The Flour Mill silos property will be cleaned up and made safer with a $110,000 investment from city reserves.
Landry-Altmann moved the motion, noting that although it will ready the site for a proposed lights display, it would have to be done anyway since the area has fallen into disrepair.
Although the top of the structures is crumbling and falling off, city director of assets and fleet services Shawn Turner clarified to council that the “remaining concrete structure is sound.”
Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program
A $96,182 withdrawal from the tax rate stabilization reserve will fund help fund the third year of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program.
The project is gaining momentum, city director of economic development Meredith Armstrong said, noting that 80 candidates are expected to be approved this year.
The program strives to attract newcomers who would normally stay in larger cities, and “so far been doing a really good job,” Armstrong said.
“I think it’s very important and I think that’s the signal -- that we want to see this as a permanent program to attract talented people to our community,” Bigger said.
Film officer position to be created
A film officer position will be created at an annual cost of $78,535, which staff “conservatively” estimate will bring in an additional three to six productions per year and generate an additional $4.2 to $8.4 million in local spending.
“I think this is a great thing, I think this is where we lack,” Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier said, adding that Greater Sudbury is losing its footing as a filming location because the city “has been known to move too slow.”
This film officer will be a “fixer” and is expected to help film crews navigate bureaucracy more quickly.
Although the city has staff who spend some time working with film crews, city director of economic development Meredith Armstrong clarified that this staff member would be solely dedicated to the file.
“This is the right fit, it is a competitive wage for what we’re asking -- this is a go-getter on the ground answering the call,” she said, adding that if a crew needs a car blown up at 2 a.m. they’ll be the one to help make it happen.
City council was unanimous in approving this business case.
Urban forest master plan and electric buses
A motion approving the creation of an urban forest master plan and transit electric bus system assessments need and implementation plan were both approved at an $82,000 cost funded from reserves.
The majority of emails Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh said she has received from taxpayers thus far in budget deliberations has been about motions related to climate change, which this will help address.
Tonight’s budget meeting also saw the approval of a private lead water services program, the Minnow Lake boardwalk’s renovation and an extra hour of free downtown parking beginning at 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Throughout the debates related to these approvals, Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer repeatedly argued against making withdrawals from the city’s reserves, noting they lag far behind the average for Ontario municipalities.
Approximately $3.1 million was approved to be pulled from reserves by the end of tonight’s meeting, including the $2.2 million for the Notre Dame bicycle lane which will only be withdrawn in the event the city receives federal funding.
The degree to which reserves are funded is up to city council, city CAO Ed Archer said during a virtual media scrum that followed tonight’s meeting.
“There’s no right number with respect to what the balance should be,” he said.
Reserves are there to be spent for specific purposes, to fund major projects and help the city weather times of economic uncertainty, Bigger said, adding that the withdrawals made thus far are in keeping with the reserves’ respective purposes.
“It’s always a very tough balancing act,” he said, adding that they’re only ever used for one-time expenses and not annual costs.
Although 2022 budget deliberations almost reached a conclusion during tonight’s six-hour meeting, a debate about funding to Place des Arts bogged things down at the end.
On the table was an increase in the organization’s annual operating expenses of $110,787, which would bring their annual operational request up to approximately $260,000 per year.
City council was divided on the request, with McIntosh raising the fact that the city is already contributing $384,000 per year toward the organization through their existing $149,000 operational contribution plus $235,000 per year in debt servicing for construction costs.
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti shared in this concern, noting that he was struggling with the prospect of bumping the tax increase even higher than the 3.4 per cent they’d already hit.
Adding to the conversation is the fact that Place des Arts is about to open and although the increased municipal funding was never guaranteed, it was expected and city council has been long aware of this expectation.
“This is a very important project for our community that deserves the attention and the recognition of the work that’s been done by all the groups involved,” Landry-Altmann said, moving a successful motion to bring the night’s meeting come to a close.
“Going into any given meeting it’s hard to predict where you’ll end up, and even as the meeting progresses it’s all up in the air,” Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo told Sudbury.com after tonight’s meeting, adding that before Place des Arts came up he expected to finalize the budget tonight.
“It is my sincere hope that at the next meeting we can get through everything.”
The next budget meeting will take place on Dec. 14 beginning at 4 p.m. A livestream of proceedings can be found by clicking here.
A handful of business cases, including Place des Arts, still need to be debated alongside a motion calling for a 1.5 per cent special capital levy increase to fund infrastructure needs.
As it stood at the close of tonight’s meeting, the city would need to shave $1,332,543 from the 2022 budget in order to reduce the tax increase from its current 3.4 per cent to the three per cent increase they’d initially hoped to hit.
Prior to tonight, the city’s elected officials engaged in three additional nights of budget deliberations last week, which found them approve external agency requests, a 4.8 per cent water/wastewater levy increase and funds for a transitional housing project.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.