In brief, here are seven items of public interest that were discussed during the June 2020 City Council meetings. The full agenda for June 11, 2020 can be accessed here and the full agenda for June 29, 2020 can be accessed here.
Please note that in line with the City of Saskatoon’s request for citizens to assist with controlling the spread of COVID-19 we encourage you to email a letter at saskatoon.ca providing comments or requesting to speak as an alternative to attending the meeting. This meeting of City Council took place through teleconference and was recorded, as per any other City Council meeting.
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The Official Community Plan
Saskatoon’s current OCP was initially approved in 1998 and updated in 2009. Over the last ten years, the City has undertaken a number of significant initiatives which have helped shape a new vision for the city. Consolidating these initiatives in the OCP provides a clear, consistent long-term vision for Saskatoon to help guide how the city develops and changes. Once approved, the redesigned OCP will work in conjunction with the City’s Strategic Plan and Multi-Year Business Plan and Budgeting process to create a strategic framework for how priorities are set and how the City achieves its goals.
Infrastructure Funding (MEEP)
As a response to the COVID-19 recovery, the Government of Saskatchewan created a new, conditional municipal grant program called the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program (MEEP). MEEP is allocating approximately $35.53 million to the City of Saskatoon to be directed to capital infrastructure projects. The following projects have been approved by City Council for capital infrastructure projects:
- Neighbourhood Traffic Reviews and Traffic Safety - Permanent Installations ($3.325M)
- Sidewalk Rehabilitation (Existing Sidewalks) ($0.575M)
- Downtown Festival Site ($2.0M)
- Roadside Safety Improvements ($2.5M)
- Paved Roadways Preservation ($27.13M)
Through this infrastructure funding, the City was able to reallocate $15.0M towards any year end deficit accrued as a result of COVID-19. All infrastructure projects, plus more are now able to proceed as a result of this funding. Furthermore, $12.13M will be prioritized at the July 2020 City Council meeting. Fifteen projects have been initially prioritized by Council, including intersection improvements, active transportation projects, vehicle noise study and a public WiFi pilot project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges for the City of Saskatoon and the services it provides, which has resulted in a forecasted operating deficit for 2020. This report provides an updated high-level estimate of the potential financial impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the strategy to address this deficit. As previously presented, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Administration to make numerous strategic decisions and service level adjustments to many amenities and services provided by the City.
The estimated year-end forecast is a deficit just slightly under $14 million. City Council approved adjustments at its April 27, 2020 meeting to mitigate a portion of the deficit with expenditure controls and service level adjustments which have been incorporated into the forecast. As part of the strategy to offset the remaining deficit, a recommended contingency of $15 million is being held from reallocated City reserves (as shown under the MEEP funding) to offset the potential capital reductions in 2021 that would be required to balance the 2020 year-end results. Further details of the forecast are available here.
Requests for Financial Support
As a result of the impacts from COVID-19, multiple requests were submitted before City Council for financial assistance. By way of background, the City has implemented various financial relief measures to support businesses and other organizations through the pandemic. Although these measures were not exclusively targeted to businesses and organizations, they do benefit as the approaches are largely universal. The City is also investing almost $400 million in capital projects to improve infrastructure and help the economy recover.
The following areas received financial support, as per their requests of City Council:
- Parking Patios:
- That parking patio fees be waived and current permit holders' fees be adjusted to reflect this discount for 2020 and 2021;
- Two more discretionary parking spaces were added per block face (subject to administrative review);
- That a trial be engaged for the 2020/2021 winter season whereby patio owners be permitted to leave patios in place if they are to be used at least periodically through the fall and winter; and
- That Administration work with any interested Business Improvement Districts, to allow permanent asphalt parking patios for all store front businesses that request it, until September 15, 2020, subject to administrative guidelines.
- That the Temporary Reserve Parking Program fees be waived for businesses as requested in the administrative report.
- That the Temporary Reserve Parking Program fees be waived for non-profits as requested and outlined in the administrative report to an upset limit of $15,000.
- That City Council approve the request from Tourism Saskatoon to provide them with a one-time, additional grant payment in the amount of $145,000 towards their COVID recovery integrated marketing and innovation plan.
- Taxis (note: I recused myself for these items, as per my declared conflict of interest regarding taxis and TNCs):
- The City of Saskatoon waive the fees for the Enterprise Taxi License holders for 2020
- That the minimum 40 hours per week, and maximum of eight weeks of vacation be suspended during the COVID pandemic, as referenced in the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw.
Roadmap to Recovery
When the impact of COVID 19 hit Saskatoon, many adjustments needed to be made to the delivery of City Services to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff. The vast majority of services were able to continue uninterrupted, although some services were more broadly impacted. The City of Saskatoon (the City) has begun the process of re-opening facilities and resuming in-person public services aligning with the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan; ensuring the safety of residents and staff.
The City of Saskatoon Phases of this plan are aligned with the Phases of the provincial plan. A detailed appendix highlighted the phase-in of services, including outdoor pools, spray pads and leisure centres.
Cannabis Business License Fee Changes
The existing business license fees for cannabis retail stores were established to recover the costs associated with developing and enforcing cannabis zoning and licensing regulations. In determining a licensing fee, consideration was given for the provincial limits on the number of stores allowed to operate in Saskatoon. With the removal of these provincial limits coming in September 2020, the City of Saskatoon must now make amendments to the fee schedule in The Cannabis Business License Bylaw. An initial license fee of $20,000 was adopted by City Council, in addition to a resolution that a report be brought forward to evaluate renewal fees associated with cannabis related businesses.
On August 26, 2019, City Council resolved to adopt amendments to the Cannabis Business License Bylaw to establish a renewal fee of $85 for cannabis related businesses. The unrecovered costs, plus estimated future costs of licensing and enforcing additional cannabis related businesses through to 2023, is $64,700. Administration recommended recovering these expenses by amending the initial licensing fee for cannabis related businesses to $4,500, to ensure all expenses will be recovered without generating excess revenue. City Council supported this recommendation.
At this time amendments to the separation distance between stores or the adoption of a cap on the number of stores is not being recommended. The separation distance continues to be appropriate regulation to address land use impact and effectively limits clustering and the total number of stores which could be established in the city.
2020 Property Tax Updates - Library Tax Amendment
The 2020 SPL tax rate was calculated using the combined budgets for the property levy and supplemental property levy when only the property levy was to be billed. The supplemental property levy amount is realized and collected throughout the year from separate billings as new construction is completed and is therefore excluded from the regular tax billing process. This resulted in an over levy of $270,914.25.