Here are the thoughts that I shared at tonight’s Council meeting. I plan to follow up with more posts in the coming week, so please continue to check back for more notes on the budget.
The easiest time to budget is in a boom when money is pouring in. This budget is the opposite: many home assessments have fallen and there’s no avoiding tough choices. We will continue to maximize efficiency, leverage partnerships, and invest in services. I hope we will continue to build engagement levels, especially within youth demographics, which are underrepresented in current engagement processes. I hope residents of St. John’s continue to reach out and become more involved at the local political level. Thanks to Councillor Lane and Mayor Breen and City staff for leading the engagement process for this budget.
In the what we heard document for Budget 2019, it is clear that the City expects of Council to budget to benefit the whole community using evidence-based decision-making, while improving opportunities for youth to engage and considering the impact of decisions on different demographics in the City.
Given this, my biggest takeaway was that residents, while they may all want something different, want to know that the City is planning for the future of St. John’s, not just the present.
What does it mean to create a progressive city where people want to live and work, shaped by its geography and history?
It means a continuous, open dialogue about what the challenges are and how we are going to meet them as a community. It means we have to balance the needs of every individual while ensuring we work towards making the City more inclusive and equitable by breaking down barriers to important needs such as transportation and housing. It means we have to create new partnerships with community and government and private sector organizations in order to maximize the potential of every great idea that we hear from residents and businesses alike. This comprehensive engagement process this year is a first for us. It addresses one of my key concerns from the last budget cycle, which was a key reason why I voted against Budget 2018. This level of engagement is a real step forward and I think it’s going to lead to long-run benefits.
Another topic that was common around the Engagement sessions and on the 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey was snowclearing on our city sidewalks. Improving services around walkability, for example, depends in part on increasing density in key areas of the City. To that effect, I support the initiative of waiving development fees in the intensification areas identified in the Envision St. John’s Municipal Plan. This means you can build a residential or commercial project in an area the City has targeted for increased density and with more density comes the potential for improved or increased services. Throughout the remainder of my term, I look forward to furthering the conversation around how we can begin to truly measure the price of urban sprawl and define the impact that new development has on the City. My vision for St. John’s is a sustainable, growing City where residents have a sense of belonging and connectivity is more than following each other on social media. In the long run, this initiative can significantly improve the efficiency of city services, allowing the city to offer residents more value for money.
I also support an investment of 150K to further improve sidewalk snowclearing. We have to continue to improve how all residents get around the City, regardless of age, ability or income level, during all seasons. I believe clearer sidewalks will also help St. John’s be a more welcoming city and a more desirable location for businesses to set up. Sidewalks are a crucial part of the concept of integrated mobility that the City, in partnership with Happy City St. John’s, heard from residents on during the Smart Cities Challenge from Infrastructure Canada engagement process in April of this year.
We hear a lot about transit in St. John’s. I am happy to continue to support our subsidy of Metrobus and GoBus at this time while we continue to review the efficiency and function of both transit and paratransit in the City. I look forward to hearing the results of the process, which also includes a lot of ongoing public engagement. I believe this process has the potential to significantly increase ridership and make Metrobus a more viable option for many people. The 3% increase in ridership this year is a good first step.
Transparency has been a big topic throughout my first year on Council. To that effect, I’m glad to see a more straightforward accounting of the costs of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment. We budgeted to reflect the actual costs of Mile One over the last few years, which means less corporate sponsorship is likely in 2019. We budgeted to invest in the Convention Centre, to help draw more lucrative events and conventions to the city. We need to rethink our approach to Mile One, which is why we have an ongoing review of its operations. In the meantime, being honest with its cost is a first step.
Please continue to follow along with subsequent posts and thoughts about the budget and the City’s plans and strategic priorities over the next 3 years.