City Council Highlights
These are some highlights from City Council and its committees for the month of August.
Climate Change Mitigation
In June of 2017, City Council approved greenhouse gas reduction targets for the City’s operations and for the community as a whole. These targets put Saskatoon in line with international commitments and allow us to play our part in the global effort to help create a greener, more sustainable community and world, both now and into the future.
We received an audit report on where we are now and how we can best move forward on this issue so we can avoid the risks of inaction. The audit helped to learn about the gaps and opportunities that exist and how we can address them in the best and most productive way. We have been inundated with information from the scientific community on the need to move forward on greenhouse gas reduction, but many governments have not taken up the charge as fully as we need to. For the City of Saskatoon, there are many important decisions that lay ahead of us, and this audit helps us to paint a clearer picture of where we are and what the path forward may look like.
Later this year City Council will be presented with even more pieces of the puzzle when the City’s administration presents its climate change mitigation business plan, a roadmap for helping us to transition to a greener future. This business plan will figure out where we can get the greatest amount of impact for what we are investing. Many municipalities or corporations that have moved forward with this work have actually found that the retrofits and other changes are paying for themselves and resulting in huge savings, and right here in Saskatoon the new police headquarters building is saving $650,000 a year in reduced power and heating needs.
The City of Saskatoon has also recently received grants from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to help with this work, with $125,000 for climate change mitigation and $125,000 for climate change adaptation (how we can make sure that our city is set up well to deal with the effects of a changing climate). This grant money will help us to do this work and it also reminds us that we are not alone in facing this challenge.
2019 Budget Update
The City of Saskatoon is in the process of changing the way that we do budgeting, with the goals of making it more strategic, more transparent, and with a longer-term vision in mind. Part of this transition involves having budgeting brought up throughout the year, as opposed to being so heavily concentrated in the deliberations in November. By having City Council more easily able to provide feedback and recommendations on budgeting and the City’s spending priorities, it can become a more transparent and democratic process. Additionally, by ensuring that this topic is always top of mind for City Council, our budgeting can be more strategic so that we are best thinking about the long-term strength of our community and making sure that we are being deliberate about how we invest in the city. Put simply, our budgeting is stronger if it is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event.
Although nothing has been firmly decided yet and the final decision on the budget is still in November, City Council did move forward with setting some priorities for the budget. Budgeting is always a bit of a balancing act, trying to manage many different competing priorities and important issues with limited resources. Additionally, the expectations that citizens have for services and programs are rising, and across the world the role of cities is increasing and cities are assuming more and more responsibilities.
In our preliminary prioritization process, City Council has identified a number of projects to move forward on that will move the City along in many important areas. You can read more about this in the full report, but here are some highlights that address both the nuts of bolts of the City and some items that serve us in the longer term:
- $1.23 million for make sure that the City’s growth can be smart and sustainable,
- $350,000 of additional funding for snow and ice management,
- $250,000 to fund the City’s Game Plan, a strategy for funding recreation and sport amenities in partnership with different community groups,
- $300,000 of additional funding to support the maintenance of bridges and overpasses,
- $250,000 to support the work that is helping us to embrace being a winter city,
- $66,700 for the City’s portion to support our regional growth plan to make sure that the growth of our region is respecting our natural prairie environment,
- $450,000 of additional funding to better support the maintenance of pathways, infrastructure, and playgrounds in parks,
- $423,000 to replace almost 1,000 infected ash trees that had to be removed,
- $100,000 of additional funding for sidewalk replacement and maintenance, and
- $175,000 for funding active transportation.
These investments help to support the assets that we already have and also to create a strong and vibrant community into the future. These specific dollar figures within the report are not yet final, but we’re beginning to create a clearer picture of what the 2019 budget may look like.
Name the North Commuter Parkway Update
A name has been chosen for the new north bridge: the Chief Mistawasis Bridge. This name was chosen after an unprecedented amount of community engagement for naming in Saskatoon.
Back in 2015, City Council unanimously committed that the City adopt and seek to implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that were relevant to our work, and to do so collaboratively with community groups and partners to promote reconciliation in our community. One way that the City tried to do this was to have a naming process for the new north bridge that was driven by community and that sought to address call to action #79: “Participate in a strategy to commemorate Aboriginal peoples’ history and contributions to Canada.”
By engaging with Métis and First Nations Elders, Indian residential school survivors, Sixties Scoop survivors, and the community as a whole, over 400 names were gathered that acknowledged an Indigenous person or event or a concept that embodies community. A committee with representatives from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, the Central Urban Métis Federation, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations then narrowed this list down to four names. Educational videos were made for each of these—Chief Mistawasis, Louis Riel, Wîcîhitowin, and Waniskâ—to explain their significance, and then members of the public got to provide feedback. The naming committee came with their final suggestion of Chief Mistawasis for the new bridge, with the other names being referred to the master list of names for the City of Saskatoon.
Throughout this process—and with the help and guidance of Elders and the naming committee—we did so much more than just name a bridge. It was an exercise in community building, in public education, and in continuing down the path of reconciliation. It is so fitting that this was done for a bridge, because the process itself helped to bridge and bring together our community.
I would like to thank all of those who suggested names and who provided feedback on the shortlist. A special thanks to those who were involved on the naming committee itself. This was not a simple or short process, but your work has given us so much.
Property Tax Assessment in the Downtown
City Council has been working to create a more vibrant downtown where more people can live, work, and play. We want to encourage more shops, restaurants, and amenities while also attracting more residential and commercial development. We’re making progress in this area, but it is also important to make sure that all of the City of Saskatoon’s regulations are in line with this goal. We don’t want City processes to be counterproductive to us creating the sort of downtown that our community needs.
Recently, a Downtown property owner presented to a Council committee about the way that properties in the Downtown—especially older properties—were being assessed, and it was identified that this wasn’t in line with the City’s goals for the Downtown. The presenter said that reassessments were creating huge and unsustainable increases to property taxes that were not in line with market realities.
Because of this, the committee made a commitment to have the City’s administration look at how the impacts of property tax assessments can be better aligned with the City’s objectives. The goal is to make sure that all parts of the City of Saskatoon are rowing in the same direction and with a common goal in mind. With an aligned vision, there can be lots of creative problem solving and this is the sort of approach that our community needs.
Speed Limit Changes
City Council unanimously agreed to several speed limit changes in different parts of the City to better and more safely manage traffic flows in a growing and changing city.
There was one stretch of roadway, however, that City Council decided to defer until next month: the new stretch of McOrmond Drive that will run from Central Avenue in the east and that will connect with Marquis Drive in the West.
Over the coming months, the opening of this new roadway and bridge will alter traffic flows in our city quite significantly and it is important that we do our due diligence in getting this right. This stretch is running through an ecologically sensitive and important area with lots of wildlife. We have to ensure that safety is considered—including the safety of animals—similar to how a provincial or national park must take this into consideration. The new parts of McOrmond Drive go through the Northeast Swale and the Small Swale, and there is a lot of work being done to balance development with conservation, to create growth that works with and compliments the natural environment.