City Council Highlights
Below are some of the highlights from the August Council and Committee meetings. Full reporting can always be viewed at saskatoon.ca/meeting.
Low Emissions Community Plan
This month City Council took positive steps forward with the Low Emissions Community Plan—the City’s strategy for reducing emissions, saving costs, modernizing our infrastructure, and preparing our community and economy for the future.
At the Council meeting we had key stakeholders and economic anchors in our community such as Nutrien, Federated Co-op, Siemens AG, and the Homebuilders’ Association who told us that addressing climate change and finding energy efficiencies fundamental to how they plan for the future and how they operate. They also told us that they want work alongside the City in these efforts and be involved in consultations and problem-solving. We also heard from many community residents from seniors to high school students to researchers to alternative energy providers about their support for the plan.
Council decided to continue community and stakeholder engagement on the preliminary initiatives included in the Low Emissions Community Plan and to work with the community to develop implementation strategies. We’ll also do this work with our partners in the region and throughout the province, so that we can all work towards our shared goals.
Council also requested more information on some initial projects—financial return on investment, emission reductions, and timeline for implementation—to have this information for budget decisions. Finally, we requested some information on creating a reserve for these projects, with the possibility of it being funded through savings or revenues from other projects in sustainability.
I understand that there has been a lot of public debate about this plan, but unfortunately there has also been a lot of misinformation as well. I want to be clear that the City will not move forward on anything without thoroughly doing our research first and working with different stakeholders to find common interests and further cost savings. It would be irresponsible to not do our due diligence, but it is also irresponsible to not show leadership on this file, prepare our city for the future, and to work to find all of these efficiencies.
This is an important issue for the future of our community. If we don’t take this seriously, we run the risk of being the city left behind and not able to adapt to where the global economy is going. Moreover, if we don’t build the infrastructure and prepare to adapt to new energy sources, we will become a have-not city in a have-not province.
This month’s meeting is a big step forward for our community in addressing these risks and threats as the rest of the world moves forward with this work. I want us to secure our position as leaders in both addressing climate change as well as in the global economy, not to be in a position of playing catch-up.
There is tremendous potential in Saskatoon to be a leader in our province and an economic hub as the world makes this green shift. When the world turns to electric vehicles, I want us to be the place where they test batteries for cold weather climates. When the national building code changes, I want the industry here to be prepared. When funding opportunities and grants come out, I want us to have shovel-ready projects that will reduce emissions, save money, renew infrastructure, and improve quality of life.
This is good business. Here are some of the projects that have either been implemented or are in the works that will provide over $4.2 million per year in benefit back to residents and help offset pressure on your taxes. They also result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 58,721 tonnes, the equivalent of taking over 12,000 cars off the road.
- Landfill Gas Project: We have put a clay liner on the landfill to capture methane and burn it as energy, providing $1.3 million in revenue every year to the City to offset the costs of running our operations and reducing GHG emissions significantly.
- LEDs in Leisure Centers: By converting fluorescent lighting in our pools and Leisure Centers to LED lights, we are saving $134K in utility costs and avoiding $45K of maintenance costs every 2 to 3 years.
- LEDs in street lights: We are using federal dollars to help convert street lights to LEDs. After 5 years, the reduced costs of LED lights will result in $849K of savings every year to residents.
- GPS on City road maintenance equipment: We are implementing GPS systems to help build more efficient routes for our roadway maintenance fleet, projecting a savings of 20% in time and fuel consumption and resulting in $646K in fuel savings and $1.1 million saved a year in maintenance costs.
- Paul’s Hospital combined heat and power plant: We’re partnering with the Health Authority to build a new efficient heat and power plant that will provide heat to the hospital and power to the grid, generating $225K of revenue per year to the City.
These are just a few examples, but the impacts on our finances and our GHG emissions are real.
In many ways, this plan is about improving our infrastructure, reducing costs, and setting our economy up for success in the future, with the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is not about spending money to reduce emissions, but it is investing money in new infrastructure or renewed buildings that will decrease our operating costs and reduce emissions at the same time.
With what Council has approved, I want to see our city:
- Work with stakeholders in the business community and throughout the province to identify how we can make bold longer-term changes to keep up with where the global economy is going.
- Identify and prioritize what initiatives in the plan have the greatest return on investment and environmental impact, and then make sure we put money in our next budget to get them done.
- Make sure we are putting aside money as we continue looking for ways that will build the resilience of our city and our economy in rapidly changing times.
The bottom line is—we won’t get there alone. The City needs to work with the community to bring this plan to life. We need to be courageous about bringing different points of view together and finding the best solutions from diverse opinions.
But these things won’t happen by accident—they will only happen because of planning and thinking differently. There is a real opportunity to make changes that will benefit residents, businesses, and future generations if we take a practical, problem-solving approach and work together. This is where the future is headed, and it is up to all of us to make the decisions that will see us succeed tomorrow.
For more information on this, please check out the City’s Low Emissions Community Plan or information on current ways the City is addressing climate change.
St. Paul’s Combined Heat & Power and LED Streetlights
City Council funded two different projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver savings or revenue to the City. With the funding assistance of the federal government for 40% of the project costs, these returns will be realized even sooner.
The first project is a combined heat and power plant at St. Paul’s Hospital. This project has a payback period of 8.5 years, annual savings of $225K, and will result in the reduction of 2,361 tonnes of greenhouse gases, or the equivalent of taking 723 cars off the road for the life of the project.
The second project is converting streetlights to LEDs. The cost of the replacement of 17,836 fixtures is estimated at $6.1M with federal funding for the project of approximately $2.4M. The payback period for this project is only 5 years. By reducing the electrical energy consumed by these streetlights, GHG emissions are reduced by nearly 4,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is the equivalent of removing more than 1,200 cars from the roadways.
Both of these projects will have no mill rate impact as they will both be paid for through operational savings and revenue. More information on the combined heat and power plant and the LED streetlight conversion can be found online.
Commercial Building Permits
A committee of Council was presented with a report that gave an update on how the City is working toward becoming a national leader in building and development permit turnaround times.
Many business leaders have said how the permitting and development processes are critical to how they invest in our city, either in starting or growing a business. This is why we are taking a hard look at these processes to ensure that we are creating a supportive environment for companies to grow and prosper.
The City of Saskatoon already has the lowest fees and the fastest turnaround times for residential building permits in the country, but in recent years our turnaround times on commercial permits have lagged, raising concerns for businesses trying to invest. Unnecessary red tape doesn’t help anyone. We have learned from the Mayor’s Roundtable on Infill that through dialogue and flexibility we can make huge improvements in our processes. We can continue to ensure fairness, safety, and accountability but also free up bottlenecks and uncertainty in the permit process.
Over the past year, our Administration has been working with the Saskatoon and Region Home Builders’ Association and the Saskatoon Construction Association to understand where the roadblocks in our processes are, and find ways to free them up. There are important improvements being made to improve our efficiency and turnaround time, including:
- The assignment of a single point of contact—a one-stop shop—for the large, more complex projects
- The introduction of online permit applications
- Moving from a linear to a parallel permitting and approval process, so businesses don’t have to wait for one approval before applying for another.
These changes will put us on the path to becoming a national leader in the commercial building permit process, and more information can be found online.
Accessibility Curb Ramps on Sidewalks
City Council approved a change to the process of adding accessibility curb ramps onto sidewalks, which will accelerate this process by 30 years.
Because of a change in practice, roadways receiving treatments such a resurfacing or reconstruction will have adjacent sidewalks fitted with accessibility curb ramps. This means that this work is being done more efficiently and it means that it will be done faster. About 5% of our roadways receive some sort of treatment every year, so it is anticipated that with this change all sidewalks will be modified in 17 years, as opposed to 47.
More information on this can be found in the City’s administrative report.
Development at 880 Broadway Avenue
City Council approved a five-year property tax abatement for a new apartment development happening at Broadway and Main.
The project is a 10-storey mixed-use development that will include 8 storeys of residential development with 68 rental units, 2 storeys of commercial space, and 2 levels of underground structured parking.
The City’s Vacant Lot and Adaptive Reuse Incentive Program is a way to encourage new developments happening in established areas of the city. When these types of requests for property tax abatements there can be some confusion about why this sort of policy exists. Here is a quick overview:
- Any property tax reduction is temporary (up to five years).
- The policy is only set up to reduce the additional value created by the new development, not all of the total property taxes associated with a lot. Therefore the City is not losing any existing revenue.
- The amount of the abatement is determined by an evaluation system that assigns points for different elements that align with the goals of the City, such as density, sustainability, energy efficiency, and the ability of the development to contribute to the public realm.
- All of these abatements are approved in a public meeting, creating transparency in the process.
Landmark Outdoor Basketball Project
A Council committee was given a presentation by ‘Hoist the Hoops,’ a community group that is looking to build a state-of-the-art basketball court in the centre of our City.
These conversations are in their early stages yet, but this is an exciting opportunity for our community. Similar to Gordie Howe Bowl, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, or a proposed river park near the weir, this is another example of a community collaboration to enhance public space and add to the quality of life. Committee referred this to administration for follow up and to report back to the committee after a business plan has been received.