Council Preview

Analysis By John Swartz

Monday’s 1 p.m. Orillia council meeting won’t be at the Opera House as it has been since June. Council returns to the renovated council chambers. The project was scheduled to be completed in the New Year, so it obviously was completed ahead of schedule.

The first order of business is to take money out of your chequing account when they pass the 2024 budget. There are 315 separate items in the budget committee report. Those will all likely pass with one vote, except if something needs to be amended because circumstance changed. It is unusual for any item to be pulled and reconsidered, especially if it increases the amount of the tax levy.

What you really want to know is, how much property taxes increasing. Council approved a 1.77% increase over the 2023 budget. This is below the 1.97% increase staff presented. What it means is your property tax bill will go up $22 for every $100,000 of your property’s assessed value. The average tax bill is going up $67.

In dollars the City’s tax levy went from $ 70,285,601 to $ 72,500,065. Because the City treasurer, John Henry, expects there to be $1 million of assessed growth (new properties to tax) you only get to pay for $1.2 million of that increase.

Of the $2.2 million more the City needs to run itself, the bill the County of Simcoe and the OPP sends to the City accounts for $1.38 million of the increase budget, or !.6% of the amount added to your tax bill.

Part of the budgeting process is approving capital spending (bricks, asphalt, lug nuts) and the total for 2024 is $68.6 million. Don’t have a heart attack, on average only $2 million is part of the amount affecting your current year tax bill. The rest comes from a variety of sources (one of which you were charged previously in the form of reserve account allocations). The table below shows the various sources of funding (more about debt part below).

On With The Rest Of The Meeting

When council gets done approving the budget, the first thing on the list is a presentation from Councillor Dillon Bickell from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

He will recite the land acknowledgment and do a smudging ceremony to mark the reopening of council chambers.

A side journey: I note the first of many instances of the use of the word fully in the agenda. It appears many times as in ‘fully accessible’, ‘fully complete’, ‘fully engaged’, or ‘fully fund’. Not seen yet is ‘fully full’. It a useless word, unless used by itself.

They might be able to save one page of the agenda by not using that word. At least the use of fulsome appears to be out of fashion. I recommend reading Stephen King’s On Writing as a guide to not wasting space for words that mean or add nothing to what is written or said. He said one should remove all words ending in ‘ly’ because they mean nothing to any properly constructed sentence or phrase. The only time I think an exception could be made is for ‘completely ridiculous’, translation for younger people and those who don’t know what they are saying, ridiculous means ludicrous.

On With The Show

After the next item, the public forum, council will bring things to a stop, for observers, by going into closed session. They have four items on that schedule. They will make Order of Orillia selections, a request to repurchase land in the Horne Business Park, discuss options for land the City owns on Front Street, and discuss a property offer on some land somewhere in the City. Of course there isn’t a hint what any of that means in the agenda documents.

Back in the public part of the agenda, they have 10 agenda items. The first is right out of a Douglas Adams novel. A Monarch Drive resident complained about parking on Monarch in the area of Vanessa Drive saying parked cars made visibility impossible to get out of their driveway. With the advice of councillor Jay Fallis the resident petitioned neighbours and got overwhelming support to ban parking on the street and staff took the petition, looked into it and recommended parking be banned, which council did. Except, of course, for the one spot on the street in front of the resident’s house.

So now we have a report from Councillors Jeff Czetwerzuk and Fallis, plus staff time on this all over again. Staff recommend extending the ban to include that one spot on the street.

Next is a report from councillor Dave Campbell to have a shade structure installed at the skateboard park at the waterfront. Council had this on their budget agenda at a cost of $25,000 but rejected spending the money. The Kiwanis Club of Orillia offered to cover the cost, but somehow, it is not explained, the cost shrank to $15,500.

Councillor Tim Lauer has a report requesting a grant to the Simcoe County Elementary Athletic Council to cover the cost of using Rotary Place for a wrestling tournament happening in April. In order to do so council needs to waive the guidelines of the grants committee:

  • Excluding other government agencies and crown corporations for getting grants, and
  • excluding sports groups

Council has done this before for this group (since 2016).  In the past it’s been $1,200 (rental fees) involved and the report asks for $1,500 this time to be taken from the grants budget.  It is worth noting the grants budget was created specifically to handle requests from arts and culture groups in Orillia and this year staff proposed expanding those eligible to include sports. There is nothing wrong with providing grants to sports groups, until of course the arts groups start to complain there isn’t the usual amount of grants available to them, at which time council will likely set up a separate sports grant fund like they should do in the first place.

Next, staff have a new accessibility plan to present and for council to adopt. In Ontario any organization with 50 or more employees has to have an accessibility plan. This affects anything the City touches. The plan amounts to a set of considerations to be observed and accounted for as they apply to planning for new developments or upgrading existing ones. Accompanying the report is a shopping list of everything City has done to date and reading through it is illuminating for how much the City has done. There is still a lot to do, but seeing what is on one pages long list is remarkable.

Next is a report from the grants committee. There are several groups approved for grants from the 2024 budget. They are:

Canadian Federation of University Women Orillia $1,500

Orillia Terry Fox Run $1,205

Champlain Seniors Service Club $1,500

Hospice Orillia $1,500

Orillia and District Arts Council $1,500

Orillia Concert Band $1,500

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 34 Pipes and Drums $1,000

A few years ago council created a second grants program meant for primarily festivals of a larger and ongoing nature. It was a result of debate on how to accommodate grant requests from the Mariposa Folk Festival without upsetting the intent of the existing grants program because their annual requests were more than the amount budgeted for the grants program. Under the header, Partnership Program for Cultural Festivals and Events the grants committee recommended the following:

Shivers and Sizzles $2,500

Port of Orillia Pirate Party $2,500

Orillia Scottish Festival $2,500

Gathering: Festival of First Nations Stories and Jazz Festival $5,000

Roots North Music Festival $2,500

Arts for Peace $2,500

What’s The Emergency

A report for fire chief Michael Clark recommends some changes to the City’s emergency response plan.

Orillia Fire Department

There are three recommendations. One is to reduce the number of people on the emergency committee from 15 to just 6 – the mayor, CAO, fire chief and three department heads.

The report also recommends formalizing City staff training, which was already being done, as a part of the emergency plan. It also changes the emergency levels from one, an all hands on deck level, to three:

  • Notification to those involved something is happening and be ready to respond
  • Notifying only those people required to respond instead of everyone
  • Requiring all members of the main control group (not additional support members) to respond to the control center at the City’s main fire station.

It is not stated, but may be likely the last invocation of an emergency, the pandemic, revealed some changes were in order.

Next, enacting Ontario’s Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act means the City has to change some policies relating to the site plan control area have to change.

Bill 23 reduced municipality’s ability to impose regulations to allow site plan control on land with fewer than 10 residential units. Bill 97 put back ability for land 120m of a shoreline or wetland, or 300m of a railway line.

Because the two bills were effective at different times the City changed it’s site plan control by-law, and now has to do it again.

Orillia Transit

Council approved buying two buses in the 2023 budget. However when the price was relieved it was higher than estimated, so staff went ahead with ordering one bus. The quote was only received November 6, so wasn’t included in the 2024 budget, but staff are now asking to approve an addition $177,000 to buy the second bus.

A grant from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program covers 73% of the cost. The new total cost, including grants, for two buses is $1,497,000.

Next, a report from staff recommends council hand over the Athlete of the Year Award to the Orillia Sport Council. The award was created in 1952. The award was handled by the sport council last year under a trial arrangement.

Moving control to the sport council comes with some conditions:

  •  a member of the City’s recreation advisory committee sits on the committee with a vote
  • The director of recreation be include in all communications regarding the award
  • A member of council be included in the presentation
  • The City’s policy regarding the award be adopted by the sport council (with an amendment to allow and individual to receive the award more than once).
Boards And Committee Revamp

Following from council’s special meeting on boards, agencies and committees in November, staff have some changes to Orillia’s municipal code.

They recommend disbanding the economic development committee, the Farmers’ Market advisory committee, the Orillia Sunshine Youth Senate and the Town and Gown committee.

Another recommendation is to impose a generic agenda format which is less restrictive, and to change appointments from staggered three year terms to 4 year terms for all members ending with the term of council. Staff say staggered terms were meant to provide overlap and continuity and they don’t see that as an issue. From the perspective of this writer as a former Orillia Public Library Board member and of the transit committee (and above average familiarity of several other committees) that’s nonsense. There is often project work that overlaps council terms and a board with all new membership could see projects abandoned, or the work starting over again.

Staff recommend a radical change to committees. None of the changes apply to the –

o Downtown Orillia / Business Improvement Area Board

o Orillia Police Services Board

o Orillia Public Library Board

o Committee of Adjustment

o Compliance Audit Committee

o Accessibility Advisory Committee

o Municipal Heritage Committee

o Waste Management Advisory Committee

Those committees and boards are necessary under various provincial acts.

However, all the rest are proposed to be rolled into 4 Engagement Teams.

One is to be called the Community First Engagement Team, having (all teams) 7 to 9 members plus two councillors to do the work of the following former committees charged with work in these areas: environment, sustainability and climate change, recreation, transportation, active transportation, transit and parking and it will also serve as a  planning advisory committee.

A Community Wellness Engagement Team will do the work of those formerly involved with affordable housing, food accessibility matters and take on poverty reduction, warming centers and community gardens.

A Stronger Community Engagement Team will take over the work on Truth and Reconciliation,  equity, diversity and inclusivity, the accessibility advisory committee, and the Hall of Fame inductions, awarding the Order of Orillia, and selecting the Citizen of the Year.

The Business Retention and Culture Engagement Team will replace the economic development committee, to include areas of the business development office (tourism, the innovation collective, tourism related partnerships – Mariposa Folk Festival, Lightfoot Museum proposal and Ontario’s Lake Country liaison – the grants committee the municipal accommodation tax and the downtown tomorrow community improvement plan.

It will also include culture, which can (and likely will be) viewed as a further devaluation of culture and related issues in City Hall.

As second option is to change all committees to working groups. One of the notable things is committee members currently get an annual stipend of $300 (plus $300 more to committee chairs) and there is no reference this will be continued. In fact:

“Staff are not recommending that a new Engagement Team Structure or Working Group Structure provide for an annual honorarium,” and say the budget will be reduced by $15,000. “Council may wish to consider alternative direction for an annual volunteer appreciation event to be held in place of an honorarium”

Something about, ‘you get what you pay for,” comes to mind.

Correspondence And Motions

A letter for the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce reports revenue from operation of the Port of Orillia. It was not a good year. Net income for 2023 was $41,062.07, down from $122,142 in 2022. The chamber paid the City $93,167 representing slip rental fees passed through to the City and other fees for events.

The City also got a cheque from the Local Authority Services Natural Gas Program for $4,421.67, which is the surplus from the City’s share of the reserve fund. Municipalities get an annual set price and pay according to average historical consumption. This means the City’s actual gas consumption went down, or the price went down during the contract term.

A motion held over from the November 20 meeting relates to Orillia Power Generation Corporation. Since then council had a closed session item which was likely about this motion.  The motion limits acquisitions and dispositions by OPGC to 25% of the book value of shareholder’s equity. The City is the only shareholder.

Staff are recommending council approve a draft plan of subdivision to Landon Homes for a condo development at 388 West Street North.

Councillors Ralph Cipolla and Fallis have an enquiry motion for staff to report on, “An assessment and evaluation of potential grant opportunities that are offered through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund in order to partner with industry to undertake a feasibility study with respect to reusing waste material to create construction products”

In by-laws and related to the capital funding debt component mentioned above, there is a by-law authorizing borrowing $6.8 million for the next phase of the Laclie Street reconstruction project, and $2.4 million for Centennial Drive.

Another by-law changes the fares for Orillia Transit. Those ages 13 to 19 can ride for free for a one-year trial period and seniors fares drop to $2.

Council meetings are open to the public or can be watched on the City’s Youtube channel.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


Support Independent Journalism