Delegation to Council: January 25

Jan 25, 2023

Good morning, Mayor Guthrie, City Councillors and staff. I am here to speak on behalf of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and our members regarding the updated 2023 budget.  

Businesses are essential for a thriving community, so we stay focused on fostering the conditions that enable business and community success. These conditions are often framed in terms of ‘the cost and ease of doing business’. Over the past year, we have heard from the local business community about the financial challenges they are facing due to the high rate of inflation, the escalating cost of goods, housing inadequacies, along with difficulties they face navigating local bureaucracy. 

In addition to weathering the additional expenses of tax increases, local businesses must bear the burden of the affordability crisis we’re in. For example, workforce attraction and retention continue to be challenging as people struggle to find affordable housing in our community.   

A common sentiment from the business community is that their tax contributions don’t align with the quality or quantity of services they receive or expect to receive. During these challenging times where businesses are still struggling to financially recover from the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly important that they see and understand what is different and better on their investments in the form of municipal tax spending.   

While we appreciate that the 2023 Budget’s tax raise of 4.96% is lower than the anticipated 5.17%, we are worried about how the trajectory of Guelph’s increasing fee and tax rates continues to risk our competitive advantage. We encourage the City to continue to prioritize the visibility, value, and return that businesses see from their taxpayer dollars.  

So, for example, if our taxes are high because staff have included funds to meet new housing targets and pressures – I encourage you to ask questions about whether these funds will simply manage our local housing crisis, and maintain a status quo experience; or is there enough investment to enable a more effective process and ensure affordability across the housing continuum? 

And so, if we can’t keep taxes lower because of necessary investments for growth as an example, are we also investing enough into the business climate? Your approved Economic Development & Tourism Strategy has yet to be resourced, so I ask that Council give this serious consideration. 

I am also here to reiterate that “community issues” are business issues. This is why I agreed to co-chair the Strategic Advisory Group on Downtown Guelph. And although we have been having to prioritize attention to our downtown core, the tactics and activities that are necessary to address mental health, addictions and housing challenges are in fact solutions for everyone in our community. I believe that our systems-wide, outcomes focused approach will undoubtedly be looked to and scaled across the province. I’ll point your attention to the table that was provided in your package that identifies the evidence-based activity areas of the group. Leaders in social and health services including Helen Fishburn and Sarah Haanstra, will speak to some of the specifics and details inside the plan, but I’d like to focus your attention on the fact that we are building a plan that is “whole”.  

It is a plan where any program you might hear about is situated inside of and is in service to a collective vision of a safe and thriving community. Regardless of which order of government’s oversight or financial responsibility it is or isn’t, we continue to paint a clear picture that people, your constituents are in dire need of attention and investment. The municipality has an important role to play, in addition to being advocates of the plan, you will need to seriously consider where, why and when you ought to invest in the outlined objectives. And think about what it means if you don’t. I believe there will be a motion on the floor in regard to a $150,000 contribution to assist in coordinating and facilitating the plan – I argue that amount isn’t enough to meet what I can personally attest to the complexity of the work. Considering the savings, the City would see should this plan be successfully implemented, I strongly recommend a greater investment.  

I recognize that it is no small feat to have to strike a balance between my request for fiscal prudence and to show leadership into the prioritization of the wellbeing of people. Economic and social recovery requires intentional and strategic investment, and I encourage your decisions to carve a nimble sustainable path forward for us all. As always, I remind you that you have a significant network of community leaders and assets at your disposal to help meet these objectives.  

Thank you.