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City Council Columns - February 2019
Hi Ward 1. We are in early February as I write this, and your new City Council has just recently passed our first budget. It addresses or begins to address a number of issues in our community, and once again does so within the inflationary target as mandated by Kitchener citizens. The final tax increase is 2.25% versus 2018 inflation at 2.35% but unfortunately, our water rates have increased by 6.5%. As I have said in past columns, the latter is not a nice figure, but a necessary one for the continued safety of our drinking water. The good news is that this will be the last increase of this magnitude. If all goes as planned, the increase will drop by 2% next year and onward. While it will still take many years to catch up with the replacement of deteriorating water pipes, we have finally caught up financially, ensuring the problem will be addressed.
There are other progressive items in the budget as well. We will begin some environmental initiatives to reduce our impact on the environment, and we will better maintain and enhance our tree canopy. We will start to address affordable issues by initiating planning on how we can make better use of zoning and other tools. We have put some funding towards slowing traffic and making things a little safer both for pedestrians, and for cyclists. In addition, we will fix Carl Zehr Square, in front of city hall, including replacement of the well-used fountain/rink, and the necessary repairs to the parking garage underneath. If you have any questions, please contact me using the above information.
The 2019 budget was finalized on Thursday January 31. It reflects citizen priorities of looking after infrastructure needs, cycling and road safety, environmental sustainability, addressing affordable housing and improving customer service.
The tax impact for our capital and operating budget is an annual increase of 25 dollars or 2.25% over last year. For your utilities, the storm water increase is 13 dollars or 7.20%. The water increase is 21 dollars or 4.50%. The sanitary increase is 44 dollars or 8.00%. For the Gas Utility there is a 7-dollar decrease or 0.93%. Combined, the rate increase for our taxes and utilities is 96 dollars or 3.15%.
I have received some calls and emails and had some informative discussions about our pilot project for proactive bylaw enforcement of sidewalk snow clearing. I would appreciate hearing your comments, ideas and suggestions or you can visit engagekitchener.ca to share your feedback. You can also comment there on our indoor and outdoor recreational facilities and bike share stations. Your opinions and input help guide our staff and council’s decisions.
I encourage you to visit our Community Centre websites: cccakitchener.com and spcakitchener.ca they have great programs, activities and events to enjoy.
If I can be of assistance to you, please contact me or call our Corporate Contact Centre anytime at 519-741-2345. I update my city and community activities often on social media. Follow me on Twitter at @DaveSchniderKW or friend me on Facebook. My website is daveschnider.com.
Budgets and Property Taxes – Council recently passed the 2019 Operating and Capital Budgets. I did not support them for a number of reasons. Most Councillors were satisfied with a 2.3% increase in the Tax portion. However, they failed to consider all the services our customers need and can get only from the city. Considering all the services to our constituents the increase for 2019 is 4.5%; much higher than the inflation increase. This is the second year in a row that the impact on our customers has risen at a rate double the inflation increase.
I appreciate that it would be imprudent to decrease the required Utility rates. However, it was possible to decrease the tax rate accounts which would reduce the total burden on our customers. To this end I tried repeatedly to reduce our expenditures in all areas which could be accomplished without affecting services. There are about 30 different divisions in the City. In 24 of those divisions expenses increased beyond the inflation rate.
The Budgets are totally a product of staff and simply rubber stamped by Council. Very little scrutiny is given to Departmental estimates. In fact after about 30 hours of Council meeting there were only four minor changes increasing the revenue estimates. NOT ONE expenditure estimate was reduced. That must indicate that the staff prepared budget was perfect and there was no room for improvement. I totally disagree. Like it or not the “the buck stops with Council” and we are accountable and responsible for the Budgets.
We may have one of the lowest tax rates in the Province. We are indeed fortunate as a result of previous Councils and Staff to own our own Natural gas system. We receive dividends annually that are used to reduce our tax levy by over 10%. As the only municipality in the Province in this position we should have the lowest tax rate.
The results that are widely broadcast are for “average properties and utility consumption”. However, there are often many factors over and above the ‘average”. For example constituents are advised to review their assessment to see if changes have been made. That could seriously affect your 2019 costs.
If you have any concerns or questions on these or other issues please always feel free to contact me at your convenience (519-744-0807 / 519-498-2389 / email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org )
Dear Ward 4 Residents,
It has been a very busy January on Council. The 2019 budget passed on January 31, and I am pleased that city staff and Council were able to keep taxes under the rate of inflation while continuing to serve the needs of Kitchener citizens.
Shortly after the budget was approved, Council had the opportunity to participate in a strategic planning session and provide input on areas of focus for the City of Kitchener’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. I attended Compass Kitchener’s All Advisory Committees meeting and was inspired by the citizens who shared their vision of Kitchener for the next 4 years. As city staff continue with the development of the Strategic Plan, you will be welcome to participate in upcoming community engagement opportunities beginning in April. You can register on Engage Kitchener at: www.engagewr.ca/kitchener and be notified of the engagement opportunities.
We are fortunate to have so many engaged citizens in Ward 4, which is what makes our community so strong. For example, Shelly Millson posted Snow Shoveling offers on the Pioneer Park Brigadoon Facebook page. I am sure she has been swamped since that post! Terry Boutilier initiated an Earth Day Clean-up on the Doon South Facebook page. If you want to organize a clean-up in your neighbourhood you can register your group anytime in April and the city will offer supplies and support. For more information contact 519-741-2200, ext 4177. Great community projects will build stronger neighbourhoods and I look forward to hearing about more in the coming months!
Kitchener’s New Cycling and Trails Master Plan
The City’s goal is to build a community where people choose to use active transportation to get around. Over the next year, city staff will be reaching out across the city, looking to hear from you and about how we can make Kitchener a great place to walk and bike.
Do you want to contribute to a better future for walking and cycling in Kitchener? Do you have ideas and experience related to cycling and trails? Be a part of an inspiring team of community residents and staff who are passionate about cycling and trails, who will help guide the creation of our master plan. Apply before Monday February 25, 2019 if you would like to be a part of the Community Working Group and visit: www.kitchener.ca, keyword search: “Cycling and Trails”. Be sure to sign up for email updates from BikeKitchener at subscribe.kitchener.ca.
Placemaking Challenge Grant
The Neighbourhood Placemaking Challenge is an opportunity to create an exciting new space in your neighbourhood that will encourage people to want to gather and socialize. Some examples of creative placemaking include, murals on retaining walls, accessible community gardens or art in a park. Applications for small grants of $1000-$2,000 will be available in March 2019. For more information visit lovemyhood.ca. You may also wish to connect with a neighbourhood liaison for some assistance with navigating the city’s processes before submitting your application by contacting the Neighbourhood Development Office at 519-741-2200 ext 7078.
Don’t forget the Williamsburg Winter Fun Family Day is happening on Monday, February 18 from 1-3:30 pm at Freedom in Christ Church, 1643 Bleams Rd, Kitchener. Bring the family and enjoy the free inside and outside activities, snacks and hot chocolate!
Dear Ward 6 Residents,
My commitment on Kitchener Council has always been to help build a stronger, more vibrant and economically prosperous community. As council considered the 2019 budget, the primary objective was to balance the various priorities with our community’s focus on growth while meeting our responsibility to maintain the standard of care for investment into our infrastructure.
We need to compare ourselves not just with our Regional peers but with cities across North America to ensure that we are envisioning a future for our city that is environmentally sustainable, which takes into account our residents safety, and most importantly―affordability.
In a perfect world, it would be great to have a zero increase to property taxes, even after taking into account cost and wage increases due to inflation. But, with that approach, it would be near to impossible to grow our city, broaden services and invest in our aging infrastructure. I feel council has struck an excellent balance with this 2019 budget, arriving at an increase of only 2.25% which is below the rate of inflation.
Significant investments within our community will be delivered through this budget, including provisions for road safety and cycling (improvements to the Iron Horse Trail, more protected bike lanes, provisional increase for resident-led traffic calming); environmental sustainability (clearing the tree planting backlog, create energy retrofit reserve to fund positive payback projects, meet our GHG commitments); improved customer service (online customer service experience, resources to support community growth); and maintenance and investments in our infrastructure (water/sewer/gas infrastructure, rehab of city hall outdoor space, addition of Huron Brigadoon Community Centre.) These four priorities were identified by residents and key stakeholders during the 2019 budget process. For full budget information visit Kitchener.ca/budget.
I am happy to report that the motion I brought forward to allow parking on the boulevard – the paved area of your driveway between the sidewalk and the curb/road edge – from now until March 31, as part of a one-year pilot project, for Wards 1-4 and Wards 6-10, was approved by Council on January 7.
I brought this motion forward after continuing to hear from Ward 7 residents requesting permission to park on their boulevards. Now that we have approval, I would like to take this opportunity to go over some criteria to ensure compliance with this new regulation. Vehicles, when parked parallel to the road, must face the direction of travel; vehicles must not park on the landscaped or hardscaped portion of the boulevard or access the paved portion of the boulevard by driving over landscaped or hardscaped portions of the boulevard; the vehicle must be fully encompassed on the paved portion of the boulevard; all tires must be fully on the hard surface; no part of the vehicle can overhang the sidewalk or the curb/road edge; residents with abutting driveways must not overhang the projection of the property line; no boulevard parking will be permitted within 15 metres of an intersection and only driveways providing access to single family, semi-detached and street fronting townhouses are applicable.
During this pilot project, if residents follow these simple boulevard parking rules and there are few complaints and tickets issued, council may decide to allow boulevard parking to continue. For more information on parking in Kitchener, please visit: www.kitchener.ca, keyword search, “parking regulations”.
Hello Ward 8 Residents! January was a very busy month! I was pleased to see four Ward 8 delegations speak to Council during our budget consultations. Our residents are engaged and informed and I really appreciated hearing from them and other neighbours who connected with me to share their thoughts on the 2019 Budget, which we passed on January 31.
A Public Information Consultation was held for Westwood Drive. Information was shared regarding Resident-led Traffic Calming and parking, as well as, discussion around Westwood Park, flooding and infrastructure. Staff left with many take-aways and there will be updates to follow.
I attended Compass Kitchener’s strategic planning session, which was a wonderful opportunity to hear from citizens where they envisioned the next 3 years City of Kitchener. I was thrilled to see the level of engagement and care for our City from all in attendance. Council also held their discussions on the Strategic Plan and I am excited to watch this unfold over the next few years.
Recently, I have been contacted by many of you with concerns about sidewalk snow clearing. The previous Council defeated a motion for a pilot project to investigate options for municipal sidewalk snow clearing. The data from the pilot project could have provided us the information to conclude whether or not it makes sense for the city to clear sidewalks, and at what level of service. Judging by your comments, pro or con, I don’t believe you feel there is a one-size fits all solution for our entire city – and neither do I. Over the coming months, I believe we can work together to come up with solutions that make sense to everyone.
The new council finalized its first budget on Thursday January 31st. I was very pleased to see the unanimous acceptance of an Affordable Housing study. This is the first step needed in order to adopt Inclusionary Zoning requiring developers to include a stipulated percentage of affordable housing in every new residential development.
I was also pleased to see environmental sustainability initiatives and a start to segregated bike lanes. In the future, I would like to see an even greater increase in the value of the Leisure Access Card and more thought put into supporting the Arts and Culture community.
The cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls in January revived people’s interest in snow removal. This is clearly a divisive issue. Some argue it is the homeowner’s, others the City’s, responsibility. Once the current pilot project has run its course, Council will have to revisit the topic and determine if there is a better approach than enhanced enforcement. What is most important for me is that nobody be housebound during the winter months due to inaccessibility. People with strollers, walkers, wheelchairs or otherwise compromised mobility have a right to travel safely throughout the city during all seasons.
There are a variety of opportunities for people to drop off winter clothing at community centres and KPL. If you are aware of other drop-off locations, please let me know.
Wiarton Willy predicts an early Spring! Let’s hold him to it.
Happy Black History Month. I hope to see you at the City Hall Rotunda for the Bring on the Sunshine Festival on Sunday, February 17 from 12 - 6pm to celebrate the rich and vibrant cultures and communities of African-Canadians. Delicious food, activities and workshops for all ages will be on offer.
The newly approved 2019 budget will result in a tax increase under the rate of inflation, and at the same time will fund some important initiatives, including moving forward our urban forestry initiatives and investing in cycling infrastructure. Of particular note is that Council will move ahead with developing a made-in-Kitchener plan for increasing affordable housing options, which was an additional budget item that I was pleased to bring forward. It’s very encouraging to see all of Council’s whole-hearted endorsement of this much needed staff role to ensure we are optimizing our partnerships with non-profits, developers, and the other municipalities including the Region of Waterloo.
Earlier this month I attended three meetings held by the Region to receive public input about Consumption and Treatment Services. At each meeting, the facilitator collected feedback about benefits and concerns for all three locations proposed (only one will be selected). To be sure there is not a consensus about which site is best, but all who expressed their opinion recognize the need to save lives by offering an option that reduces harm for users. We can all be proud of the level of respectful, thoughtful dialogue expressed by Kitchener residents at each session.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve already got one month behind us in 2019! And while the weather as of late has got us wondering about the groundhog’s weather prognostication skills, there certainly has not been a shortage of things to do around town during these cold, winter months!
FAMILY DAY WEEKEND
This coming weekend is Family Day weekend and there will be lots of things to do around town with those nearest and dearest to you! I encourage you to visit THEMUSEUM, go skiing or snowtubing at Chicopee, come down for the Bring On The Sunshine African festival at Kitchener City Hall on Sunday from 10am to 5pm or just spend some quality time together! For more information about things to do, visit: www.kitchener.ca/familyday
Last month, the Ontario government announced details surrounding its review of regional municipalities across Ontario. Last week, I met with the special advisors overseeing the review, Mr. Michael Fenn and Mr. Ken Seiling, to offer our Kitchener perspective.
As a region, we have a strong history of collaborating on priorities that are shared amongst our individual communities. Our instinct to collaborate across municipal boundaries has positioned the region as one of Ontario’s strongest economic engines, while also providing residents with high quality and affordable public services. I truly believe that our region’s model of governance is amongst the best of examples of two-tier government in Ontario.
I took the opportunity in my meeting to reiterate this message, and express my hope that in the coming years Kitchener and Waterloo region will become even more widely regarded for its global economic competitiveness, transportation connectivity, excellence in service delivery, taxpayer affordability and sense of community. The path forward requires Kitchener and Waterloo region to balance continued growth and world-class innovation, while maintaining a small town feel and promoting a caring community. Our shared history, respect for urban and rural priorities, and diverse communities of interest all provide insights on how this vision can be achieved.
I emphasized that Kitchener is open to exploring opportunities that would help to improve municipal service delivery; avoid duplication of activities; reduce costs; optimize infrastructure investments; and position the communities of Waterloo region to compete effectively on the global stage – now, and well into the future. These points are all fundamental to ensuring that we remain responsive and accountable to the needs of our community.
On the matter of cost savings, it is worth noting that Kitchener already systematically reviews its municipal services to eliminate waste and create value for its customers. This is why we are able to enhance services at tax rate increases below the rate of inflation and maintain a residential tax burden well below the average of other large cities. This is also reflected in the high levels of citizen satisfaction consistently identified through independent citizen surveys. But we do recognize that there is always room for improvement.
I underscored our willingness to work with the Region and other local municipalities to improve how services are delivered to the community, highlighting potential opportunities in the area of development approvals, by-law enforcement, road maintenance and road design for pedestrians and cyclists as examples. Carefully examining these, and other opportunities, could result in positive benefits for Kitchener residents, both in terms of cost and customer service.
Through this review, the province has also posed questions around municipal structure and, by extension, the sizes of our local and regional councils. If the province decides that reform in any of these areas needs to occur, I remain steadfast in my view that the province should clearly identify their desired end goal but not dictate the exact route for municipalities to get there. Kitchener, and all municipalities in Waterloo region, need to have ownership in that process to shape any future structures in a way that best serves the needs of our community.
It remains our understanding that the special advisors will conclude their review early this summer and make any recommendations to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing at that time. I have stated to them that it is my hope that today was the beginning of a dialogue that will include other key parties in our community as this process goes forward. As I have stated previously, residents and businesses can be assured that while this review is underway Kitchener City Council and staff will maintain our positive momentum in support of building an innovative, caring and vibrant community.