City Council Highlights
Below are some of the highlights from City Council in June.
City Council has instructed City staff to look for ways that the Administration’s proposed tax increases for 2020 and 2021 could be made lower. Their initial projections to maintain civic services involved raises of 3.94% and 4.17% for 2020 and 2021, and the admin has been asked to come up with options for how these numbers can be lowered.
This is the first year that the City of Saskatoon is looking at passing a multi-year budget, which is a way to increase the efficiencies of the City and the predictability of our planning and budgeting. However, one thing that isn’t changing is that our budget will still be set and debated in November, so this is important preliminary work to set some parameters for our budget.
One of the most common questions that I get to my office is about how the City is making sure we are investing citizen’s tax dollars as efficiently as possible. This is something that’s very important to me, and it’s something that’s important to the City of Saskatoon as a whole. In 2018 we found over $1.8 million in savings for taxpayers, and you can read more about it in the Service, Savings & Sustainability Report.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Proposed review of the Report and Calls to Justice
During the June City Council meeting I put forward a Notice of Motion for the City of Saskatoon to review the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report and Calls to Justice, and to identify how the City can respond. This Motion will be debated and voted on during the July City Council meeting. Passing this motion would have Saskatoon join with Winnipeg and hopefully other cities in taking on this review.
Prairie cities like ours are on the front lines of this issue. We have had families and friends of MMIWG from Saskatoon showing national leadership on this issue for many years now. I had a chance to meet with the Chief Commissioner of the MMIWG Inquiry Marion Buller and her main request was that people take time to read the report, and then see what each of us can do in response.
We have undertaken a similar review of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and it has been a valuable process for the City and community. Many initiatives have emerged from this process. These reports and the Calls to Justice provide a way forward for us to grapple with tough issues and uncomfortable truths together, and step by step build the path towards being a city where we live in right relationship with one another.
Thank you to the Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together) group for leading the way on this work in Saskatoon.
Proposed New Suburban Development
This month City Council decided against accelerating a request from a developer for a new suburban development east of Rosewood.
This new development, called Solair, has many exciting and sustainable features, such as solar panels on all homes and rain gardens instead of storm water pipes. I’m happy to see that the boundaries on sustainable development are being pushed in Saskatoon.
This is a case of a good idea but a very difficult location. The City of Saskatoon has worked over the past several years to build a predictable plan for growth that identifies where future neighbourhoods should be. The plan is intended to ensure the best use of existing services and to have a coordinated effort.
There are thousands of acres of land in this identified growth area that are ripe for innovative ideas for sustainable design. We will work with any developers who bring forward viable transformative approaches to design.
The challenge with the Arbutus proposal is that they tied their plans and innovation to a specific parcel of land that was not in this growth plan. This would require the City to take on a variety of financial, reputational, and planning risks in order to give them special treatment.
The City has offered various options to Arbutus to work with their ideas on land that Arbutus already owns elsewhere and is in the growth path, even to do a land swap. These options provide a way forward that could facilitate innovation but do not undermine our existing planning processes or create financial risk with building millions of dollars in unplanned services.
I hear from developers that they want the planning principles of the City to be fair, equitable, and create certainty and a level playing field. Completely revamping our Official Community Plan and prioritizing this development over others who are currently in the growth path, accomplishes none of these goals. To allow this development to happen, we would create the precedent for other unplanned, ad hoc development to occur. This would create many difficulties involved in extending utilities, managing traffic flows, picking up waste, and providing transit, to name just a few.
This is a complex issue, and there was a lot at stake with the decision. It affected our values for future growth, our relationship with our regional partners, and the financial sustainability with growth. More information on the proposed development can be found online, including a breakdown of the financial implications for the City.
Enterprise Resource Planning
This month City Council moved forward with providing the funding to our Enterprise Resource Planning program—an initiative that will completely overhaul existing internal administrative processes and ultimately enable us to serve citizens better.
The ERP will overhaul the 279 legacy software systems that exist at the City and create one unified system, making us a leaner and more efficient organization. Although there are significant one-time costs associated with implementing the ERP ($27.9M), there are even more significant savings associated with it once it is in place. There are over $40M in savings and efficiencies in the first 6 years following implementation, and ongoing savings of $9.7M per year after that, over today’s realities.
Not only are there savings to taxpayers, but an ERP creates the foundation for the City to have an improved way to interact with citizens who have contacted the City with a work request, question, or concern. This will help citizens get timely and accurate information no matter how they contact the City.
The City is working hard on all fronts to prepare our organization for this transformation, and I’m very grateful to all of the staff who have worked so diligently on this project.
Merlis Belsher Place Update
A committee of Council heard an update from the University of Saskatchewan about the investment the City made into Merlis Belsher Place.
Merlis Belsher Place is a multi-sport facility that is a great example of USask working with the community to achieve something special. The two ice pads provide over 1,600 hours of ice time to minor hockey teams, including being accessible for sledge hockey. The main arena has seating for 2,700 and it has already hosted many different sports and community events with more in the works.
The positive benefits of this facility have helped build on the productive relationship between the City and the university, collaboration that was confirmed in the memorandum of understanding that the city and university signed in 2018. Rinks are important gathering places for our city, and this facility is an important investment in our entire community.
Frozen Water Connection
This month City Council received an update on steps being taken to manage frozen water connections. This past winter the frost depth reached up to 8 feet, and there were the second highest number of frozen water connections that we’ve ever had due to the extreme cold and minimal snow cover.
The City is increasing the number of machines to thaw connections and will be doubling the number of contractors on standby to assist if the demand gets high. If demand gets too high to restore in a timely manner, the City has an arrangement to provide bottled water. The City is also increasing its communications to notify residents that have previously had frozen connections and to provide helpful tips to protect their pipes before winter.
Additionally, all addresses with frozen connections from 2019 will be compared to the list of frozen connections from past years. These addresses will be investigated to try and determine the cause of the freezing. The Administration is also developing a computer model using historical data to predict when high instances of frozen connections are likely to occur.
For more information on what is being done about this issue, you can read the full report online.