By John Swartz
Orillia council meets Monday and has two kinds of meetings on the schedule. The first is a budget committee meeting at 10 a.m. Yes, we just went through a cycle, it it followed a fall election and the previous council could not set the 2023 budget for the new council. This set the process back, so instead of wrapping up just at the end of the year, the new council wasn’t able to set one until early February.
Now they’ve had some time the cycle returns to normal for the next three years and deliberations will happen in November. This meeting provides council with some information about what to expect different form the previous round. Staff also have some items – some ordered by council, some because of external factors and circumstance, which they need council to decide on a direction.
One of the new items is about staff asking for direction about the costs and revenues expected to implement automated speed enforcement and red light cameras in the city and bring it to the 2024 budget. The report is not clear about where this came from. We have no recollection of a councillor asking for this, and there has been no previous discussion initiated by staff to council either.
So who is driving this item is not clear. A company called Redflex Traffic Systems got a monopoly in Ontario to sell these systems. The City of Toronto managed a bid for all Ontario cities and are the choke point for any City wishing to use the systems. That also means the City of Toronto gets a cut of a municipality’s tax dollars every time a city, like Orillia decides to install them.
The report indicates four school and seven community safety zones will be targeted. It also says a trial will take place on Coldwater Road this year.
The supplier and other makers tout reductions of collisions, deaths and injuries. However, a Toronto Star story, and one from Scientific American say studies show, while deaths do decrease, injuries and collisions do not. They show collisions (rear enders) go up as do injuries.
One of the key issues is over the last decade or two the duration of yellow lights has been decreased and is not consistent at various intersections. With inconsistent durations this leaves drivers unable to judge whether the speed limit of the road and the timing of the yellow light leaves enough time to go through, or jam on the brakes.
Staff gives examples of effectiveness, but of the four (Quebec, Saskatchewan, New York City and Edmonton) none are from Ontario. Chicago Tribune investigations found Redflex Traffic Systems used there were used to generate revenue implying safety was a by-product – and unsavory business practices were involved.
The speeding issue is separate from red lights and staff are asking council whether to go ahead with their investigation on both, or just the speeding component.
Staff are reporting to budget committee the requests for proposal to build a transit terminal/parking garage on Colborne Street closed on June 7 and all received exceed the $39 million budget estimate by $2.4 to $5.4 million.
Staff are asking council to either, scrap all the work and expense so far ($600,000 in design work) and redo the project minus the parking garage, or redo the project without the parking garage, but instead find a partner to create some affordable housing. A third option is to just walk away from the project.
Other items staff need direction on are, who to proceed with changing blue box recycling (both options show reduced expenditure), how to proceed with adjusting the 10 year capital plan and the road and sidewalk programs, and permission to include fee increases to the solid waste management system for inclusion in the 2024 budget. Staff also have a report saying Bell’s snowplow tracker app the City made a lot of hay about a couple years ins’t working properly. While Bell provided the City with the system as part of a program to run fiber to every house in town, they are now asking for fees to continue providing the service. Staff are looking into alternatives to make use of the software and hardware with other companies.
Part two of Council Preview and the regular meeting at 2 p.m. details will be in a separate story. Read part two here.
You can watch the budget meeting live on the City’s Youtube channel.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)