City Council Highlights
Below are five areas of discussion and debate in City Council Chambers over this past month that can have an impact on the residents of Saskatoon.
TCU Place and SaskTel Centre
City Council received a report that came from the Boards of Directors of TCU Place and SaskTel Centre on the future of these two important facilities. This report gives a detailed and thorough examination of whether renovation or reconstruction makes more sense and what can be learned from the experiences of other similarly-sized cities.
I have said consistently that the next time we build an arena it should be downtown. Arenas and convention facilities can play a key role in bringing investment and vitality into a downtown, if done right, and in a way that brings activity to an area throughout the week and not just on event nights.
However, the largest impediment to this becoming a reality is cost. The projections in the study are for the arena alone cost between $172 to $178 million, not including the cost of buying land or relocating from the suburban location. These costs rise to $330 to $375 million when a new convention centre is also considered. That said, I take these numbers even with caution given that Roger’s Center in Edmonton cost $480M. My experience is that these numbers go up as a project progresses.
In my opinion, this is not something that can be funded simply by the taxpayers of Saskatoon. There would need to be significant partnership money in order to make this project feasible. The City’s administration is now preparing its response to this report, and a large part of this response will be focused on the financial component of this. The consultant’s report was the first in many stages to make the best possible decision for our community.
The issue of fire pits has long been discussed and debated in City Council Chambers, and it has always been a contentious and divisive one. City Council decided to move forward with creating a burning window from 2 to 11pm, a decision that will be finalized at the April Council meeting. The 2pm start time was created to allow for more family time with afternoon fires and roasts and the 11pm end time was created to give those who suffer from asthma or COPD some degree of certainty and relief as to when fires could be burned. Creating a time frame was in response to community demands and the expectation that City Council will make decisions in the best interests of everyone.
It should be noted that these restrictions do not apply to propane or natural gas fire pits or to the barbeque pits in parks or at the Forestry Farm and Zoo.
This time limit has been established as a way of finding some balance and provide some relief and predictability for people living in Saskatoon with respiratory challenges. I absolutely appreciate that summer is short and having a backyard fire has been a way that people have enjoyed the summer for many years. The challenge in a neighbourhood is ensuring that everyone can enjoy the summer, including people with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory challenges that can be affected by smoke.
This is something that other cities have had to deal with as well, and Saskatoon was a bit of an anomaly with no time limitations or permitting requirements. Calgary, Regina, Kitchener and Mississauga all have time restrictions on wood-burning fires, whereas Vancouver, Kelowna, Surrey, Burnaby, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and others have opted for bans.
City Council’s main goal is to work create a community where all people can enjoy a high quality of life. We want everyone to enjoy their summers and ensure it is happening in a way that the enjoyment of one isn’t diminishing the ability of others to also enjoy these times. Sometimes as City Council we have the responsibility to ensure that this is the case and to make tough decisions and to find compromises that serve everyone.
Funding Recreation Facilities
Back in September, there was a special meeting of the Governance and Priorities Committee (the committee of Council that comprises all City Councillors and the Mayor) about potential new recreation facilities in Saskatoon. The Council Chambers that day were full of people, full of enthusiasm, and full of energy. Different groups were looking to collaborate with the City of Saskatoon to create new amenities for our community. In each case, the groups were bringing more to the table than they were asking of the City.
That day was a prime example of the community spirit and passion that helps define Saskatoon. It set in motion some work by the City’s administration to figure out a plan for how these projects could be brought to fruition. At this past Council meeting, we unanimously approved a tentative funding plan for many of these community-led projects to improve the quality of life in our city. There is now a funding plan in place for the City’s contributions to Merlis Belsher Place, the improvements to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, and the Children’s Discovery Museum, and conversations are continuing with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan to improve their space and with the group hoping to establish a water park on the river.
Although the funding plan would have to be formally approved in the City’s budget next November, this is a huge step forward on this file. My largest thanks to all of those who are involved in it, especially to the countless volunteers who are looking to improve Saskatoon through this work.
Railways through Saskatoon
Back in May of 2017, City Council commissioned a study to look at how the traffic and transit delays caused by railways could be lessened or eliminated. There are two different ways that this could be done: moving the railways outside of city limits or to create a series of overpasses and underpasses at key intersections.
The study has shown that a series of overpasses and underpasses is not financially feasible and that it would have many other detrimental effects to Saskatoon, such as large construction times, large impacts on surrounding properties, decreased neighbourhood connectivity, and the fact that minor roadways that are intersected by railways. This means that the only remaining option is to move one or both of the railways outside of city limits.
There are two different railways that run through our city: the main line of CP that runs west to east and a branch line of the CN that runs from Montgomery north to Warman. There have been no estimates to relocate the CN line, and there is one very preliminary to move the CP lines south of the city. However, the current estimate that we have for this—$590 million—is to move the tracks along a path that the City is not interested in pursuing.
City Council has unanimously approved a two-pronged approach moving forward on this file:
- Use technology to mitigate train delays for drivers, with signage and indicators that advise drivers to take a different route due to an impending train. This has worked successfully in other municipalities and it is a much quicker and less expensive solution than any other options.
- To work with CP to discuss the possibility of relocating their line south of the City so that it runs parallel to the existing CN lines.
The City’s administration is pursuing these options and will be reporting back on this in the future.
You can access the full report online.
Employee Engagement Action Plan
This past June there was a comprehensive employee engagement survey as a part of the Mayor and City Council’s Healthy City Hall Initiative. By figuring out what the City is doing well and where some improvements can be made we can improve the working environment of City employees, increase the effectiveness of our operations, and become more responsive to the changing needs of the community.
Work has begun to address these areas for improvements with plans being created across the organization. These plans are being made with and by employees to make their working experience more enjoyable and positive.
Becoming a healthier organization internally helps to improve the external services that the City provides. Empowering employees and encouraging innovation will allow the City to become a more nimble, responsive organization that is set up for success in the modern world. A more engaged workforce helps us get more from the money that taxpayers invest and helps to improve the experience of civic employees, a win-win scenario.