Not enough is being done at the provincial level to address the mental health and homelessness crises, believes Mayor Cam Guthrie.
“I believe it is the inaction from the provincial government that is causing major problems within our city,” Guthrie said. “I believe we need to act now.”
That’s why he’s calling on council to pick up some of the local slack with new spending aimed at helping residents in need. It would also add to the draft 2023 property tax increase of 4.96 per cent, though by how much remains up in the air.
“We need to act now with something,” Guthrie said. “We can’t ignore these issues any longer.”
While homelessness and mental health issues are nothing new to the city, they have gotten noticeably worse since the start of the pandemic. They are especially visible in the downtown core where business owners have reported a variety of concerns – from the open use of illegal drugs and erratic behavior, to violent incidents and general safety concerns.
Drop-in and food programs offered by Royal City Mission have experienced a large rise in demand, with plans in the works that would see the mission increase its drop-in hours.
The mayor doesn’t have a firm dollar figure in mind – that’s something he’d like to speak with council and the community about – but he uses the example of $1.175 million in new spending as a starting point for conversations.
That’s how much new money would be included in Guthrie’s proposal for a 'provincial impact local levy (PILL)' of 1.5 per cent. Doing so would break out the cost of what he calls provincial “action and inaction” for property taxpayers to clearly see on their bill.
Also included in that levy would be $750,000 going toward capital and expansion costs at Guelph General Hospital (set to be pulled from reserves for a second straight year), as well as the impacts of implementing Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, and Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act.
City staff estimate the financial hit from Bill 23 at about $1 million, though Guthrie thinks $2 million is more likely, along with $275,000 from Bill 109.
Both pieces of legislation have the stated goal of helping to increase the supply of new homes in Ontario by offering a variety of fee reductions for developers, lessening city coffers in the process.
“I believe we must truthfully and transparently show you what that costs,” Guthrie said of the impact provincial decisions have on municipal budgets. “It’s important to pull them out (for people to see separately.)
“Anything that’s more transparent is always a positive.”
Asked if he thinks highlighting provincial impacts could influence voters in the future, he said, “I can’t tell what a voter will do with that information.”
City officials already provide a similar breakdown to the public. In a news release announcing the draft budget, it was noted the proposed 4.96 per cent residential property tax increase is as follows:
- A 2.97 per cent increase stems from matters under the city’s control
- 0.28 per cent increase flows from the impacts of bills 109 and 23
- 1.71 per cent increase is from local boards and shared services.
City council is slated to approve the 2023 budget update on Jan. 25.
“Next Wednesday is our only shot at this,” Guthrie said of establishing the PILL and allocating new money to address issues of homelessness and mental health. “If we don’t act now … we don’t have another shot to actually do something until January, 2024.)”
That’s when the next city budget will come into action, with approval anticipated this coming December.
The deadline to register as a delegate for the Jan. 25 meeting or to make a written submission is Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. To register, visit guelph.ca/delegation, call 519-837-5603 or email [email protected].