City of Guelph Budget Delegation
Nov 26, 2020
City of Guelph Budget Delegation – November 25, 2020
Good evening Mayor Guthrie, City Councillors and staff. I am pleased to be delegating to you on behalf the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and our members, regarding the 2021 budget.
As the business community struggles to navigate their way through this unprecedented public health and economic crisis, we look to all levels of Government to be nimble and responsive to the ever-evolving realities that confront us on a daily basis.
The extraordinary pressures on business in our community requires me to elevate our efforts at the Guelph Chamber in order to be an impactful, relevant advocate for our members. I cannot pretend it is “business as usual” and only pivot to a virtual platform for our programs. The decisions I make have to take our members’ current needs inside this crisis into account.
The community, including business, is looking to City hall and to council, to elevate their efforts as well. We all need you to be more entrepreneurial and be open to doing things differently.
Every decision that is made must consider business imperatives: how will it impact the cost of doing business and how will it impact the ease of doing business.
Many business owners feel like there is a disconnect between government decisions and their lived experiences of running a business.
Too many local businesses don’t know how they are going to survive the next 3-6 months. We all know of organizations who are struggling to make lease and rent payments, pay utilities and pay property taxes when they are barely generating revenues. The idea of having to absorb additional costs, such as increased taxes from any level of government, seems unfathomable.
It is imperative that the City makes investments for the greatest return. Embracing the role you play in creating a competitive environment in which local businesses can grow and succeed is crucial. More than ever, council needs to be less risk averse so as to move more quickly and with agility to ensure our community remains competitive.
The budget dashboards are an excellent visualization tool and I applaud the efforts of staff. The information and the process however, have not fundamentally changed to reflect the current situation.
For example, have you changed your budget process to consider how the city will plan to build back better? Have you thought about investments you can make now that will address known or anticipated risks on the horizon? Can you make investments now that will protect or accelerate the economic health of this community? Do you have a process to ensure the city is nimble and responsive as this situation continues to evolve?
If there is a universal message from the business community it’s that the world has changed, significantly, and permanently. I believe that you must acknowledge and account for profound permanent change. Not a single business is assuming a return to pre-March normal, so it follows that your post-March 2020 budgeting process shouldn’t be normal either. Our collective management and crisis response models must change, and as such, the municipal budget must be a reliable, and nimble plan to foster the safe and sustainable growth strategy we need.
Do I have recommendations to provide if I have to stay within the current confines of the budget process? Certainly:
- The City should administer newly announced provincial measures allowing the municipality to reduce (commercial) property taxes.
- The City should conduct effective service reviews for pertinent programs and services
- Council should Heed the advice of the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph and consider alternative transit models and pilot microtransit utilization,
- And lastly, I do respect the advice of Ms. Baker, to not depend on reserves as a sustainable measure, but if there is ever a time to dip into rainy day reserves, is it not this year? Please do spend them wisely and strategically. Use reserves to invest in the revenue gaps the City is facing due to the pandemic; perhaps proactively cushioning areas of the budget that need to move forward regardless of what phase or coloured zone we’re in.
If there is one thing you remember from my presentation it’s this – business in Guelph is not on one side or another of this deliberation. We are contributing members of the community. A strong business network fosters a strong community, a thriving community fosters a strong business network. So, I ask that we not be managed as a stakeholder and instead engaged as valued partners. Together, we can build back a better Guelph.
Thank you for your time.