City Council Highlights
June was a busy month for the City of Saskatoon with many different issues that will impact citizens now and into the future. Below are a few of those highlights.
Changes to Residential Waste Services
City Council has been going through a careful process of evaluating options to transform our waste and recycling system to make it easier to divert more materials from going to the landfill, and to provide incentives for people to throw away less garbage.
During June’s City Council meeting the focus was on two key areas – what option should we use for providing incentives to throw away less waste under a new utility model, and what model of an organics collection system should we move forward with developing.
City Council chose to move forward with detailed development options for waste collection using different sized bins, where people can pay less for a smaller bin, and an organics collection program that would mix yard waste and kitchen waste together in one bin.
By giving this direction, it enables city Administration to do a more thorough cost analysis of these options. This cost analysis will come forward in the fall, and will include options for how organic materials are processed and collected and how the different sized bins would be implemented that will determine the overall price for residents.
This is a complicated set of decisions that requires patience to make a really informed decision. City Council has given clear direction that we want to be transparent and not have double dipping – so that any transfer of costs into a new waste utility will have a corresponding reduction in what is paid in taxes. The decision of what would be part of a new utility also need to be determined, including how to structure a model so that it doesn’t hit those who have lower incomes the hardest. This will all be part of the discussion at a City Council meeting in the fall.
A composting program—also known as an organics collection program—can divert roughly 60% of the waste that currently goes into the black bins of single-family homes, making a large impact on our waste diversion rates and helping to extend the life of the landfill. There are only two cities in Canada over 150,000 that don’t have a universal organics collection program, so we can learn from many other cities on this.
There will be additional costs involved in moving to an organics collection system. The choice we have as a community is whether we pay more on the short term to reduce what is going to the landfill, or pass on huge costs to future City Councils if the landfill fills up. The costs of closing this landfill and finding a new one are well over $100m.
Information here includes:
- Illegal dumping
- Logistics of a pay-as-you-throw system
Taxis and Ridesharing
This month the transportation committee of City Council held a special meeting just to deal with taxis and ridesharing. This is a complex matter with competing opinions and different elements, and many people showed up to this meeting to speak about these issues. Because of the long list of speakers, the transportation committee did not have adequate time to debate the issue and decide what to recommend to City Council, so this item will only be coming to City Council in July.
This conversation is very important, especially with the progress that the Government of Saskatchewan has made in allowing ridesharing service—such as Lyft, Uber, and TappCar—to enter the province. The province is now working on regulations, and the legislation is expected to come into effect in the fall.
The Transportation Committee has made a series of recommendations for a set of local regulations for Ridesharing that will go to City Council in July. These include:
- That the minimum fare for taxis and TNC’s be the same
- That City Council advocate to the Provincial Government to ensure that vulnerable persons record checks are included for TNC drivers as they are for Taxi Drivers
- That Administration provide a further report on the overall projected costs and revenues from the proposed ridesharing fee structure for a proper comparison, and to ensure that the fees charged cover the costs of administering regulations for ridesharing.
- That TNC’s would not be required to have in-car cameras
- That further options be brought forward to City Council for how to ensure accessible service can be supported in the industry
- That there be further consultation and evaluation of data from taxi industry rides to determine the potential for the Taxi Industry to provide more cars on the road in the future, in response to two proposals from taxi companies and taxi drivers.
Ever since becoming Mayor, I have consistently said that creating a connected community where people can get around safely and conveniently is important for creating a high quality of life. This can happen and needs to happen in a number of different ways, and services such as taxis and ridesharing form a piece of this puzzle. All cities that have talked about ridesharing have faced the same issues that we are facing now – how to best balance and deal with issues such as cost, safety, accessibility, the quality of service, and the treatment of employees.
There won’t be Provincial Regulations in place until at least October for Ridesharing to operate in Saskatchewan. We are working to have a clear set of regulations in place by then.
This month City Council was presented with an update on the Imagine Idylwyld project, a redesign of the stretch of Idylwyld Drive between 20th and 25th Streets.
Idylwyld is a key roadway in Saskatoon, and in 2014 it was identified as an important street for redevelopment and re-engineering. As it exists right now, this stretch of Idylwyld connects with many other major roadways, it has narrow sidewalks, it isn’t very accessible to those with mobility concerns, and it involves a lot of lane switching when driving. With the opening of the Circle Drive South and a significant reduction in truck and highway traffic through downtown, there is an opportunity to create a street environment that is much less of a divide between Riversdale and Downtown, and that invites new development opportunities for a more active and vibrant downtown corridor. Midtown Plaza, the Downtown Business Improvement District, and the Riversdale Business Improvement District were heavily involved in these conversations.
The public provided clear direction that Idylwyld should be redesigned to have traffic flow as smoothly and safely for the highest number of vehicles possible, and this is what the proposed changes will do. Because of coordinating traffic signals and creating greater consistency from intersection to intersection, the morning commute will decrease along these five blocks by 37 seconds and will decrease the afternoon commute by 23 seconds.
Additionally, these changes can occur in a way to drastically improve safety for all modes of transport. For vehicles, there will be much less of a need for constant lane switching and a safer way to make turns. For pedestrians and for those using mobility aids, the sidewalks will become wider and will be fully accessible. And for cyclists, there will be raised bike lanes along this stretch from 20th to 25th that connects into a greater cycling network.
These changes to the function and safety are to go alongside changes to zoning and building design, so there will also be increased density and an enhanced street presence.
The next major step for this project is to figure out a source of funding. City Council did not approve these changes this month, but merely got an update on the progress. In late 2018 or early 2019 City Council will be discussing the financing of this project and other large transportation projects.
Cannabis Retailers in Saskatoon
With the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis, there are certain decisions that City Council is responsible for making on this matter, such as zoning regulations and business licence requirements.
This month, City Council finalized the zoning requirements for cannabis retailers that was discussed last month (refer to last month’s highlights for an overview of these changes) and also decided on a business licence fee for cannabis retailers. After a vigorous debate City Council, on a 6-5 vote City Council approved that business licenses be $20,000 for cannabis retailers.
I spoke against the $20,000 license fee. There is little question that the costs to the City have been significant in developing these regulations, and that there will be further costs to implement them. This is similar to what we have faced with Taxis, Food Trucks, Sidewalk patios and other areas. Many of the costs associated with the legalization of Cannabis are as a result of the Federal legalization, and associated with the overall changes in society and not tied directly to these individual stores.
For that reason my preferred option for this has always been and remains that the excise taxes get shared with municipalities to help to cover these costs. The federal government has shared 75% of these taxes with the provinces because the province has costs associated with legalization, but no province has yet to agree to share the revenues from this tax with municipalities despite the fact that municipalities have costs associated with legalization.
All that said, now we have a set of rules in place to start with, and we can continue to monitor and adapt the system as we see how it works in our City.
BRT and Bike Lanes Downtown
This month there was a special meeting to consider all of the proposed transportation changes happening in Saskatoon. Although the Bus Rapid Transit system will affect all of Saskatoon, the largest changes are happening in and around the downtown core.
For years now the City has been looking at an integrated approach to growth, transportation, and land use, and the special meeting was a continuation of this conversation.
This sort of work is necessary because we simply cannot afford to continue to grow as we have. A ‘business as usual’ approach means using more land, extending city services over a greater area, building new infrastructure, investing more into overpasses and interchanges, creating more room for parking, and lessening our ability to create vibrant public spaces. Smart growth is really about creating and maintaining a high quality of life for citizens.
The key outstanding questions that City Council has asked for further information about have to do with how to best serve the Broadway area with Transit, and the implications of using 1st Avenue or 3rd Avenue as the key Bus Rapid Transit corridor for downtown. The recommendations from the technical analysis are to use 3rd Avenue as the corridor, and to have a dedicated bus lane on Broadway, and there are a number of concerns and issues that have arisen about the impacts on those streets that require a deeper analysis to ensure that whatever direction we take we keep our key commercial corridors vibrant and successful while at the same time providing an efficient and convenient Transit service that will successfully move more people.
Where the Transit route ends up downtown will also affect the location of the bike lanes downtown. The initial recommendation is to keep the bike lane on 4th Avenue, but if the Bus Rapid Transit line moves from 3rd to 1st, there are merits to moving the bike lane to 3rd Ave where it could connect directly onto the Traffic Bridge.
The meeting on June 20 was a productive forum for concerns to be heard so problem solving can occur. The best community building is the result of different groups with different opinions coming together to achieve a common goal. This process is complex and at times chaotic, but it is also necessary if we are going to be the city that gets it right. The conversations that occurred at this meeting will be instrumental in my decision making on these matters in the coming months.
I would like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who came to this special meeting and submitted comments—business leaders and owners, cyclists, a representative from the university, heritage advocates, and concerned citizens—to be a part of this process.
Changes to City Advisory Committees
This month at City Council we approved several changes to the advisory committees in Saskatoon to help them be more effective and to be more inclusive of the voices in our community.
Moving forward, the City will have six citizen advisory committees on: accessibility, environmental issues, diversity and inclusion, community safety and wellbeing, municipal heritage, and public art. These changes involve creating the committee on safety and wellbeing and expanding the scope of the Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee to be more comprehensive and renaming it as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
City Council also added a space for a youth representative on each of these committees to ensure that our younger generation of citizens have a seat at the table. Additionally, with these changes City Councillors will no longer have a vote at these committees. While I believe there is value in having a councillor create a connection between the advisory committee and Council, we want to ensure that the citizen advisory committees are controlled by citizens, not politicians.
Perhaps most importantly, the changes to the mandates of the committees will help to empower them to make sure that they are effective and connected to the work of City Council. These advisory committees always have such a wide breadth of talented people on them, and we want to ensure that their voices are being heard and their experiences and knowledge are being valued.
Saskatoon Forestry Farm and Zoo Playground Replacement
The Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo will be getting a new playground!
The replacement cost is budgeted to be $400,000, and only $125,000 is being paid for by the City of Saskatoon with the remaining $275,000 being funded by the Saskatoon Zoo Foundation. The new playground will replace the old wooden structures to a more accessible format so that all children and families can better enjoy the Zoo.
A big thank you to the Saskatoon Zoo Foundation and all of their donors for helping to make this possible.
Tax Abatement for Midtown Plaza Renovations
This month City Council approved a five-year tax abatement for the planned renovations to Midtown Plaza. Midtown Plaza is currently investing $80 million in their location, including redeveloping the former Sears location and improving the presence of Midtown that faces Idylwyld Drive.
Tax abatements are a bit confusing, but here is a summary of how this works:
- The City of Saskatoon will continue to collect taxes from Midtown Plaza and the amount of taxes that it currently collects from Midtown will not decrease over this five-year period.
- If the property tax rate increases, Midtown Plaza will be subject to the increase, just like any other property owner.
- The planned renovations to Midtown Plaza will increase the value of their property, so the tax abatement is to not pay taxes for five years on the added value of their property that is a result of the renovations. After this five-year period of the abatement, the full value of taxes will be collected.
The downtown is the heart of any community, and it is important to ensure that it is a vibrant and dynamic area that serves a wide range of users and uses. There has been a lot of investment in Saskatoon’s downtown, but this is still something where we could see some improvement. Midtown Plaza is a major employer within Saskatoon’s downtown and it is a hub of retail for the entire city. The renovations show a tremendous confidence in our downtown, and this makes the tax abatement a strategic one for the City of Saskatoon.
Strategic Infill Plan on U of S Lands
City Council received a very preliminary update on collaborative work between the City of Saskatoon and the University of Saskatchewan on the future of the endowment lands and how these may be developed in the future.
The U of S lands under consideration are substantial, and are located both inside and outside Circle Drive, a map of which can be found online. These lands have huge potential to allow Saskatoon’s growth to be more sustainable with potential new neighbourhoods located on land that is now largely agricultural and used for research. This would help to transform the growth of Saskatoon by creating new infill opportunities and helping to curb our urban sprawl and decrease the need for new sorts of infrastructure.
This work to develop and implement these plans will be slow, but it is so important for the future of the community. This collaborative approach with the U of S will be very helpful as we plan for the future land use, transportation, and natural spaces of these lands.