This is the first of a series looking at our city council’s strategic planning sessions and the resulting document. At the time of this writing, neither the final draft nor the final strategic plan have been presented or approved by council. The information below is based on observations and drafts made available at the time of it’s writing and is subject to change.
On April 27th and 28th, city council convened at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre to begin a three-part workshop which would result in the creation of the city’s strategic plan: a document that would help shape and define the priorities and direction for council through it’s term ending in 2014. These first two sessions were full of discussion, debate and large index cards full of ideas and coloured voting dots. The result of those evenings was a draft of six priorities for the following three and a half years. They were:
- Maintain and enhance infrastructure
- Enable economic development
- Rejuvenate brown fields
- Facilitate affordable housing
- Create and protect green spaces
- Develop proactive community plans
On May 31st, council again met for a planning session, this time to discuss tax changes and prioritizing the capital infrastructure projects that fall below item number 1 above. The discussion and debate was civil (much of the time), but ran far longer than expected, leaving little time for tax discussion. In the end, nine projects were on the list and were placed in the following (not finalized: Councillor Reitzel was absent) order:
- Expansion of John Counter Boulevard to four lanes: This much-needed expansion and overpass walked away with the votes, putting it clearly on top of the priority list. The project is expected to cost a total $70 million, but is “shovel-ready” according to the CAO’s comments.
- Tie Invest $5 million in affordable housing; Complete phase 2 of the 701 Division Street project: The affordable housing priority is mostly self-explanatory, with a reminder that an ‘investment’ doesn’t always mean a buy-or-build project. This money could be used to subsidize projects, used as attractions to developers and so on. The project at 701 Division Street is the city’s offices and consists of buildings for maintenance and storage. It has a $30M-$40M price tag.
- Expansion and re-construction of Wellington St: This task has a #35 Million price tag on it and was, interestingly, divided in two. Priority was placed on the secion north of Montreal St.
- Tie Action Plan for the Third Crossing; Expand the airport: I probably don’t have to speak much to the Third Crossing, it has been ongoing and will continue. It also has the heftiest price tag: $120M. The airport expansion weighs in at $10M and is on the list in an attempt to turn it into a viable transportation hub and attract more (and international?) airlines.
- Capital Investments in Transit: The transit plans would include things like new garages, shelters, priority lanes and such. The price? $25 – $35 million.
- New Aquatic Centre: The people have spoken on this one: They want a pool. It’s second-last on the list, though, and holds a price of $32 million.
- Received No Votes Expand downtown parking: This ranked REALLY low, despite it’s $10-$25 million dollar tag, because the CAO commented that it could be funded entirely from a change in parking fees. To quote the Mayor: “Let’s start it tomorrow!”.
As discussion shifted from spending to financing, council was asked to put a number to what they’d like to see tax increases at annually over the next few years. The consensus was at 3.5% – with many commenting that this was an upper limit for them. A few were willing to budge to 4% though for an improved transit system and we had a suggestion of a (recognizably ambitious) 3.0% added to the mix.
The final draft of the planning document will be presented before council in chambers at the meeting on June 7th. The next in this series will publish on June 16th and will look at the first three priorities as approved by council.
Thanks to kvanhorn for the photo accompanying today’s post.