Boy, time really flies once the Christmas holidays are over! After a relative lull in meetings, events and receptions, I have been inundated this past week. Consequently, my New Year’s Resolution to get my Council Report out within a couple days of the meeting has already been broken. But at least I’m still on track (sort of) with my “exercise and diet” resolutions.
So, a little late, but hopefully still relevant, here’s some reflections on my top Ten picks for Council items for January 17th, 2011:
1. Recycling (at a turtle’s pace): Council received a report from Administration recommending a strategy to try to get a better handle on costs for a city-wide curb-side recycling system for single family homes. They proposed to ask the private sector for their best estimates to pick up and process everyone’s paper, plastic and glass. The problem was that the report was so restrictive and prescriptive that it almost seemed doomed to failure right from the get-go. And then Council got bogged down in a debate about how much paper should go to Cosmopolitan Industries, and who should be responsible for the subsidy this amounts to- the city or the private sector. Add in arguments over costs (is it likely to be $5.30 per month as this latest report tells us, or is the cost closer to the $7-$11 figure the Administration used during the public Open Houses on recycling options?) and you can see what a schmozzle the whole debate turned out to be.
After almost two hours, we finally resolved to remove references to specific target numbers in the Request for Proposal for curb-side recycling, and also to acknowledge the important and historical role that Cosmopolitan Industries has played in recycling in Saskatoon. So….. perhaps this spring, we will get more definitive numbers and proposals and we will finally be able to move forward on a service that more and more citizens are demanding. Maybe we’ll even beat Regina in implementation, which would be nice since Saskatoon and Regina are the last two medium-sized cities in Canada without a curb-side program.
2. Swings and Slides for Kids: We got a pleasant surprise when a couple of people representing multi-faith groups came forward with a cheque for $62,500 for playground equipment in the Kate Waygood Park just south of the apartments in Meadowgreen. They have been working with various community groups and civic staff offering recreational programming for the immigrant children living there. They had noted that the park development plans didn’t include equipment for recreational needs for younger children. The park is designated as a District Park, which means, in the usual scheme of things, that it only provides baseball or soccer fields for teens and adults. With help from their parishioners and the provincial government, they raised the money to pay for playground equipment to be installed near the apartments. This is a good example of people recognizing changing needs and stepping up with a solution. Saskatoon is home to an increasing number of people from other countries. In 2005, Saskatoon welcomed 3183 immigrants, and by 2009, that number more than doubled to 6590. Many of these newcomers live in the Meadowgreen area, and thanks to the church groups, their children will have easy access to a playground.
3. Fire Pits and Fire Works: You would probably be more interested in this issue in the summer, but we got the report in the winter so here it is. A couple years ago, Council received some complaints about troublesome backyard fire pits, so the Fire Chief reported on Saskatoon’s general air quality (very good, although I do have some concerns, such as the diesel fumes around the bus barns) and compliance with the bylaw (also good, though one woman used the bylaw as a sledge-hammer in a neighbourhood dispute and called out the Fire Department 12 times this summer). The Fire Chief noted that they handled 11,849 incidents last year and only 112 were related to fire pit use. That’s 0.95% of the calls. He also noted that air quality is affected by smoke from indoor fireplaces and wood stoves as well as backyard fire pits. Finally, he recommended that as long as the current bylaw is being followed, there is no need to add a specific time for the fire to be extinguished. Just so you know, the current bylaw states that where the smoke from an outdoor fire causes an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of another person’s property, the fire shall be extinguished immediately.
As well, we received a letter from the Francophone community asking us to add St. Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24th) to the holidays when fireworks are allowed. Currently, only Canada Day, New Year’s Eve, Victoria Day and Labour Day are on the list. We’ve also had letters from other people, such as the Sikh community, wanting to be able to have fireworks on their special holiday, so the Administration was asked to look into this.
Finally in the wake of the tragic death of the young girl in the apartment fire last week which was caused by children playing with fire, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Fire Department’s advice:
Matches and lighters are tools for adults and not toys for children. Always keep your matches and lighters on a high shelf or locked in a cupboard. Remember to watch young children- some of them are fascinated with fire and like to do the same things as adults. They also remind us all to regularly test our smoke alarms, and to develop and practice a home escape plan in the event of a fire. For more information, or to get their brochure on Ten Tips for Fire Safety, please call the Fire Department’s Community Relations Division at 975-7715.
4. Benchmarking and Budgeting: As you know, City Council has already passed the Operating and Capital Budgets for the year, with a 3.99% property tax increase. That amounts to about five dollars per month for the average home. It will help to pay for over $650 million dollars of services and projects in the city (42% of the budget comes from property taxes). The budget increase is somewhat higher than inflation, but this is because the Consumer Price Index doesn’t actually reflect the costs of municipal services. That index measures the changes in price of common household items, but it doesn’t track the cost of labour, or the typical construction materials or contractual services that a city spends money on. To help get a more accurate idea of those costs, Saskatoon will develop its own Municipal Price Index, comparing our costs with other cities so we can make sure that our expenditures aren’t way out of line with the average costs of providing municipal services. That doesn’t mean anyone will be happy about tax increases, but at least you’ll know it’s based on real data and reasons we can justify!
Here’s a few budget highlights, FYI. If you want more detail, please call or email me: – Mayfair Pool will be re-built this year so it will be closed for the season. -The Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is going ahead, and all federal and provincial money has been fully committed. A study of options for re-use of the Mendel will begin this spring. -Unfortunately, it’s back to the drawing board for Gordie Howe Bowl redevelopment. -Avenue P and 11th Street intersection will not be fixed this year, so we will be spared yet another detour. It is now scheduled for 2012 and should be ready before the new bridge opens. -We will study how to deal with an aging workforce. -We will be holding community workshops on multiculturalism and building bridges with Aboriginal and immigrant communities. -Video-streaming of City Council meetings should finally happen. -101.2 Full-time Equivalent staff added to the payroll. -The new and much-needed Police Headquarters will be designed and construction will start this year. -Plans are in the works for relocating the bus barns and City Yards to south of Montgomery. Expect to see this in 2013 or 2014. -Almost 1000 new residential lots will be available for sale this year. -A Landfill gas collection system is planned to be constructed. -25th Street will be street-scaped from 1st Avenue to Idylwyld drive. -We have an Affordable housing target of 500 units, distributed city-wide. -Work on a Flood control strategy will mean additional “super-pipes” will be installed around the city. -The city will design (2011) and construct (2012) a new facility to divert and re-use residential construction and demolition waste from the landfill. -I expect a report on a Residential Parking Permit system for Caswell and Mayfair residents. We will finally have some way to deal with overflow student parking at Kelsey SIAST- perhaps as early as this spring or summer. 5. Would you believe a Grease Inspector?: We approved the process for a couple of major changes that will have an effect on your life and life-style in the city. The first, innocuously entitled “Wastewater Sewer Use Policy” will result in information sessions and a report with feedback to Council in March. If adopted for implementation in 2013, it will be the first major overhaul since 1971 to regulate what can be discharged into the sewer system. The days of cavalierly tossing grease and oil down the drain will come to an end, and this will help to contain sewage treatment costs as well as maintain the health of the river. Where most people will probably notice the policy change the most is in the restaurant industry, which will now have regulations instead of just guidelines about how to handle waste grease and food. We will even hire a Grease Inspector, which is pretty revolutionary considering that right now we only have one Bylaw Inspector for the whole city!
6. Good Neighbours: Another big policy change adopted for advertising and public feed-back is the review of Residential Care Homes (note- this is residential homes, not custodial care). Currently we have about 200 Type 1 homes (fewer than 10 residents) in the city. These homes provide a place to live and hopefully thrive for a wide-range of people, including youth taken into care, the elderly, and people with mental health problems. The number of care homes is expected to increase so the city studied the issues of the number of residents in a home, the concentration of these homes, development standards for them (that is, site width, parking and landscaping, etc.) as well as the impact of property values and neighbours’ concerns. We were presented with a review of studies from all across the continent that show fairly conclusively that property values are not affected, crime doesn’t go up and these homes tend to fit in so well in the neighbourhood that after a short while, most people don’t even realize they are there. Nevertheless, we are going to develop a “good neighbour agreement” for new Residential Care Homes and their neighbours so everyone knows what to expect and so issues can be discussed and resolved. We will also be increasing the number of parking spaces required for each home. The necessary changes to the Zoning Bylaw will be advertised, and you are most welcome to come to the Council meeting when we deal with it, and have your say. You can also phone me if you have any questions or concerns.
7. Council Procedures: Do you remember that old British comedy series “Yes Minister”? It dealt with the stubbornness and oft-times stupidity of government bureaucracy. Well, we have had a number of complaints recently about the Council procedures, and Councillor Paulsen also had a formal enquiry about how Letters to Council are answered. As a result, we have scrapped the Council Procedure Bylaw, and will be able to be more flexible (and hopefully more sensitive to citizen’s needs, such as not having to wait until almost 11:00 pm on a cold winter night before they can speak to Council). Public hearings will now happen once a month, at 6:00 pm. We also decided that each and every letter or email to Council would be answered by the appropriate department, rather than just being “received as information” (code words for doing nothing). City Councillors, as the people elected to the level of government closest to the people, and dealing with important day-today concerns such as water, sewer, road clearing and construction, etc., need to be both responsive to the citizens, and to be seen as responsive. The old procedures had some people questioning that basic premise, so hopefully we’ve responded appropriately. But there will still be some questions and hiccups along the way.
Here’s an example- we received a letter from someone complaining that she found it irritating to watch Council meetings on TV. What really sent her into a tail-spin was the way some of us say “uh, uh” when we’re speaking. The recommendation before we changed the Council procedure would have been to receive the letter as information. The new recommendation was to refer it to the Administration for the appropriate action. I questioned what appropriate action the Administration could possibly take over a complaint about Councillors’ oratorical skills. I pointed out that we were hardly likely to spend public money for all of us to take a Dale Carnegie public speaking course. Besides, as irritating as she might find it, we are all still human beings who thankfully tend to ignore the TV cameras in Council Chambers, rather than grandstanding. That means that most of the time what you’re seeing is genuine reality TV, with all its warts and wrinkles. If you want some hilarious proof of that, go to www.youtube.com and do a search on my last name- some clever soul did a little computer doctoring of a debate between Councillor Neault and myself over how wide the lanes should be on the to-be-rebuilt Traffic Bridge. It is very funny. 8. City Hall Bursting at the Seams: I mentioned that the number of people employed by the city will be increasing. This is in direct response to increased requests for increased and improved municipal services. However, the upshot of it means that the good old City Hall, last renovated in the mid-80′s, is no longer big enough for all the people working there. We have been renting space around the downtown, and recently bought the building at 325 3rd Avenue North. We approved a recommendation to buy office equipment for the Assessors’ staff who will now move over there. As well, we reviewed the plans to take away some meeting hall space at Cosmo Civic Centre and convert it into office space for some Parks employees. Several people who take exercise classes in that space were understandably upset, so we had a special committee meeting to review the plans and to hear from community members. The upshot is that from now on, any plans to convert existing recreational space will have to come to Council for public debate, and in the meantime, there are solid commitments to keep the existing Gymnasium, Combatives Room and Meeting Rooms A&B at Cosmo for recreational purposes. The larger question of City Hall bursting at the seams will also be studied.
9. Bylaw changes: We agreed to minor changes to a couple of bylaws. From now on, panhandling will be prohibited while someone is intoxicated by alcohol or under the influence of illegal drugs. This was a request from the Police, though it isn’t clear how they will determine the sobriety factor. We are also still awaiting a further report on Councillor Heidt’s suggestion that panhandling be totally banned in all commercial areas of the city. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that people have a right to panhandle, that suggestion is probably not going to fly. The larger issues of why people panhandle, how others respond to it, and what treatment services and poverty prevention programs are in place still need to be considered. This debate started out innocently enough, after I received several complaints about aggressive panhandling around certain liquor stores. I wanted to get that, and only that, prohibited, but the matter has now taken on a life of its own, and mushroomed almost beyond recognition. At the end of the day, I am sure that common-sense and compassion will prevail, but for now, please be assured that I do recognize the complex and disturbing factors at play here. Also be aware I believe that people in need should be helped- but panhandling is an indication that the social safety net has failed and something needs to change.
Another bylaw change was about snow clearing. We added a few more areas of commercial sidewalks to the bylaw. Right now, once an area is designated, the merchants are supposed to clear their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowfall. For residential sidewalks, the time limit is 48 hours. This is enforced on a complaint-driven basis (remember, we only have one Bylaw Inspector for the whole city!). If a report is received about snow on a sidewalk, the City will check the site and if necessary, the owner/occupant will be required to clear the sidewalk.
This winter, the City will not fine residents for uncleared sidewalks. But, if the City has to clear the sidewalk, the cost will be charged to the owner’s property tax. The cost to clear a lot that has frontage only will be $100.00; and for a lot with frontage and flankage the cost will be $150.00. If you want to report your neighbours , or if your street is becoming rutted and impassable, the Snow Hot-line number is 975-2491.
10. Saskatoon Transit on Google: You will soon be able to figure out your transit trips using Google. We’ll still keep the Click and Go or Phone and Go services, but most people will probably find that googling the route and times will be easier. Since there will be a time-lag in communicating with Google whenever a route is changed, we also decided that from now on, route changes will only be made once a year, likely in July, to give people time to adjust and to iron out the wrinkles. Hopefully that will prevent the problems that happened last fall when the routes changed.
That’s it for now. As usual, you are receiving this e-newsletter because you have provided me with your email address at some point. All e-newsletters are sent on a “bcc” basis so your email address is never distributed, and it remains confidential with me. If you no longer wish to receive these e-newsletters, simply send me an email with the word “unsubscribe” in the subject line. If you have friends who might want to receive them, whether or not they live in Ward Two, just ask them to email me with their request.
Finally, any and all feedback about this e-newsletter or any other issue is welcome but I warn you that I respond better to constructive criticism rather than inchoate anger! Today is my birthday, and I guess I’m getting crankier with age.
Take care and I hope you’re able to take in Winter Shines at River Landing. It’s one fun way of dealing with the inevitable snow and ice in Saskatoon.
Pat Pat Lorje