City Council Highlights
Here are five issues discussed in Council Chambers over the past month that will impact Saskatoon and the citizens of this city.
Property Taxes Lowered
City Council has decided to lower property taxes by 0.91%, and this reduces the 2018 property tax increase from 4.7% to 3.79%.
When the 2017/2018 provincial budget was released last March, it put Saskatoon and many other cities into a very difficult financial situation. Most significantly, the provincial government cut the revenue that SaskPower, SaskEnergy, and TransGas were paying to the City of Saskatoon. This meant that these Crown corporations were doing business in the city without paying property tax and that Saskatoon was not getting the money that we had always been getting from the province. These cuts alone cost the city $11.4 million. Saskatoon, like other cities in Saskatchewan, was then forced to re-open the budget and to make certain program cuts and even had to raise property taxes to make up for the financial shortfall.
When the City of Saskatoon’s 2018 budget was being prepared and debated, it was done so assuming that these cuts would persist. However, the most recent 2018/2019 provincial budget partially reinstated that funding as the payments from SaskEnergy were brought back.
I thought that lowering the property tax by the amount that could be attributed to this funding being originally cut was the best option for a few reasons. First, it is a decision that shows the transparency of our budgeting process and that we were true to our word about the impact that the province’s decisions were having on our own financial realities. Second, it is a way of keeping the priorities that we had for the 2018 budget and the services that we had committed to providing. Finally, it is a prudent decision for the citizens of the city who trust us to invest their tax dollars wisely.
However, the most recent provincial budget does not solve all of our city’s financial woes. We are still facing reduced revenues from a number of sources, including provincial revenue sharing and City-run services. Creating stable funding for the years to come remains a top priority for me.
Climate Change Plan
A changing climate is one of the largest issues facing our world today, and we all have a role to play in addressing it. Saskatchewan has the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rate per person when compared with any other province in Canada and with any other country in the world. Even though the impacts of carbon emissions have a global reach, the impacts are felt right here at home as well. You can watch this video made by the Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee to learn about how a changing climate is directly affecting our community.
This last summer, City Council unanimously approved some ambitious GHG emission targets. Council committed to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of the City of Saskatoon as an organization by 40% below 2014 levels by 2023, community emissions by 15% below 2014 levels by 2023, and all emissions by 80% below 2014 levels by 2050. In order to achieve this, we have to create and implement a plan that will reduce our carbon emissions considerably. This plan will be a long-term strategy that addresses building standards, transportation, waste management, energy creation, and land usage to create changes to policies, regulations, programs, and new partnerships.
To help create this plan, the City began engaging with the community—businesses, non-profits, community experts, the general public, and City staff—to help create a plan that is tailored to the needs, goals, and realities of Saskatoon. The results of the engagement and conversations will enable the plan to be shaped by the ideas and interests of the community, and a summary of it can be found online.
Some common themes that arose throughout the engagement process were:
- the important role the City can play in creating appropriate waste management opportunities, renewal energy, and energy efficiency;
- the most common barriers that arose were related to finances; and
- the most common benefits all sectors brought up were improvements to lifestyle, health, environment, and the economy.
There is lots that can be done to address climate change in Saskatoon, and this is a huge step for Saskatoon to really get involved in this work.
Storm Water Pond Safety
In September 2017, the City of Saskatoon undertook a comprehensive review of all storm water ponds. This review had a particular emphasis on the ponds in Dundonald and Lakeview because of their proximity to schools. This review involved conversations with residents, community associations, and the students, teachers, and administrators of the nearby schools.
As a result of these reviews it was recommended to install a partial fence around the Dundonald pond as a way to make the pond safer while still allowing for recreational usage. City Council agreed with these recommendations, and Slso opted for no fence around the Lakeview pond, which is consistent with the public engagement with the residents and the community association of the area.
City Council also moved forward with an education campaign on pond safety, enhanced signage, improved maintenance, and design principles with the development of new ponds. A more fulsome description of safety measures can be found online.
North Downtown Development
The City of Saskatoon was approached by a developer to transform the City Yards in the Central Industrial Area (the area that is north of 25th Street, east of Idylwyld Drive, south of 33rd Street, and west of 1st Avenue), commonly known as the North Downtown, into a residential neighbourhood complete with a grocery store.
This proposal is a very good sign of renewed interest in downtown development. There is some important due diligence required to ensure a fair and transparent process of selling this strategic land, and a process for moving some or all of the City Yards to accommodate this. The City is working on sorting out these details as we also proceed with the approved recommendations for the Downtown Development cut the red tape initiative.
Honouring Joni Mitchell
City Council unanimously endorsed a proposal to name a walkway between Second and Third Avenues in River Landing the Joni Mitchell Promenade. Joni Mitchell is the recipient of the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, nine Grammy Awards, and has been called one of the greatest songwriters ever by Rolling Stone magazine.
Councillor Iwanchuk brought forward the notice of motion, and my office has been working with a group of community members in developing a plan for honouring Joni Mitchell, and we have been pleased to have her input and approval throughout this process. We could not think of a more fitting way to honour Joni Mitchell and her inspiring legacy of music than to dedicate in her name an area along the river that so inspired her.
So many of Joni Mitchell’s powerful songs that have influenced the world are rooted in the places and lives of our community. She wrote honestly and prophetically. She was ahead of her time in writing about reconciling relations with each other and the land we live on.
Along with the naming of this walkway, the University of Saskatchewan will also be bestowing her with an honorary doctorate degree and there will be a plaque on Broadway Avenue acknowledging the Louis Riel Coffee House where she used to play. Special nod goes to Ken Achs for his financial support for the plaque on Broadway.