What Odds City Hall: 19 September 2022

National Tree Day is coming, heritage homes get a financial boost, and The City is going to review guaranteed basic income – but not before there’s a lot more discussion. And I mean a lot.
St. John's City Hall on New Gower Street.
St. John’s City Hall. Photo by Elizabeth Whitten.

Municipal Matters over Monarchy Matters

I am glad the regular City Hall meeting went ahead today. I was worried the massive funeral going on across the pond would disrupt municipal politics but thankfully not! For nearly two weeks now, we’ve been made to drink from the media firehouse with regards to monarchy content.  If I have to hear one more word about the matter my face might transform into this

Why the long face? Because the monarchy. Fire hydrant graffiti on King’s Road. Photo By: Elizabeth Whitten.

Anyway, the less said about the monarchy, the better. Maybe now the news can cover things that actually matter.

St. John’s Arbor Appreciation

Today, deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary was sitting in the mayoral chair, explaining that mayor Danny Breen was at the remembrance ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II – I’m guessing it’s the one at the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Instead, O’Leary proclaimed September 21st National Tree Day, a move I can get behind.

She was joined by Tree Canada’s Bruce Roberts and municipal arborist Keith Bessey.

Deputy mayor O’Leary read the proclamation as follows: “National Tree Day is now observed throughout the country; and whereas trees can reduce the erosion of our precious topsoil by wind, lower our heating and cooling costs, moderate the temperature, clean the air, produce oxygen, and provide habitat for wildlife.” 

“And whereas trees are a renewable resource giving us paper, wood for our homes, fuel for our fires and countless other wood products; and whereas trees in our city increase property values, enhance the economic vitality of business areas, and beautify our community,” she continued.

“And whereas trees, wherever they are planted, are a source of joy and spiritual renewal.”

On Wednesday, the City, Tree Canada, the Bowring Park Foundation, Clean St. John’s, Newfoundland Power, and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, plus students from Larkhall Academy will host a tree planting ceremony and BBQ at the Kenmount Terrace Community Centre. It starts at 11am and anyone can join in.

New Business

While mayor Breen was absent, all other councillors were present though Cllrs Debbie Hanlon and Jamie Korab were attending virtually. Cllr Korab mentioned he was home with two kids because school was cancelled–again, because of an expensive funeral.

Council voted unanimously to grant a one-year extension to the approval in principle at 168-170 Military Road for a proposed emergency shelter. It will now expire on December 14, 2023.

168-170 Military Road. (Source: City Agenda, 19 September, 2022).

“The proposed shelter is a Permitted Use in an Institutional Zone, and the proposed redevelopment included 43 shelter beds, 29 transition beds, and 24 supported housing bedrooms. A parking agreement with the Basilica will be provided for 4 required parking spaces, while the overall parking requirement for the Use was set at 10 parking spaces,” said Cllr Korab.

“The applicant has requested a 1-year extension and advised that the project continues to be active but due to COVID-19 and arrangements of construction funding, the design and construction have been delayed. So the proposed reconstruction period is anticipated to be from late autumn 2022 to late 2023 or early 2024.”

Council then approved a revised Special Events Policy to replace the existing one  and rescind two following policies for booking of a City-owned outdoor concert venue.

They are also expanding the eligibility for building development and permit-fee exemptions for affordable housing projects that have confirmed Rapid Housing Initiative funding and for projects that are led by other levels of government.

Heritage Homes Get Reno Boost

53 Rennies Mill Road. (Source: City Agenda, 19 September, 2022).

Council approved 23 grant applications–subject to compliance with the requirements of the Heritage Financial Incentives Grant Program and the City’s heritage/building requirements.

For this year, the Heritage Maintenance Grants total is a little under the City’s $60,000 budget and you can check out the full list in the agenda, starting on page 43.

17 Monkstown Road. (Source: City Agenda, 19 September, 2022).

Some places are getting things like a new front step, paint clapboard and a new door, or new shingles. For instance, 53 Rennie’s Mill Road is getting funding for a new front step and 17 Monkstown Road is getting painting and clapboard repaired. While great for heritage, I am not sure how to  feel exactly about people who live in literal mansions being able to tap into City money.

58 Circular Road. (Source: City Agenda, 19 September, 2022).

Still, it’s also a nice reminder that we have a lot of beautiful homes in St. John’s and I have  a weakness for the Gothic revival style.

Tender Talks

Carew Services Ltd., secured a bid for $402,201.47 (HST included) to undertake necessary rehabilitation works for several retaining walls. That work included Hamilton Avenue, John Street at Dunford Street, Livingstone Street, Murray Street adjacent civic #8, and Water Street at Harvey Marine.

Moreover, a substantial amount of work has to be completed by next October, said Cllr Sandy Hickman.

The other bidders were Talon Energy Services Incorporated ($580,270.35), Weirs Construction Limited ($582,586.26), and Pyramid Construction Limited ($988,822.90).

Cllr Ravenrcoft pointed out that over the last few months the issue with Livingstone Street – where the steps have been barricaded – has gotten a lot of attention over social media and in the community, so she was happy to see it on the list.

RV Anderson Limited will provide consulting services for the investigation and conceptual designs required for the future separation of all combined sewer systems along Empire Avenue to the tune of $183,972.98.

The contract is for seven months.

Other bids came from Dillon Consulting, Pinnacle Engineering ULC, and Stantec Consulting Limited.

Guaranteed Livable Basic Income – No Quick Fix

This next item is a journey, so buckle up and get hydrated.

Before she went on to address Guaranteed Livable Basic Income, Deputy mayor O’Leary said she checked ahead of time with Legal and the City Clerk to ensure  it was alright for her to bring up the notice.

“Therefore Be It Resolved that the City of St. John’s supports the establishment of a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income by the Provincial and Federal Governments,” she read out loud. “And Be It Further Resolved that a letter from Mayor Danny Breen be sent on behalf of Council, to the Prime Minister, Federal Ministers, and the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador calling for their support and implementation of a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income.”

This did not pass and the bulk of the remainder of the  council meeting was devoted to talking about what should be done about this idea and how best  to proceed.

A number of councillors raised issues about this subject.

Cllr Burton was the first to voice some reservations over this plan, saying, “While I think it’s really crucial we consider poverty as one of the social determinants of health and alleviating poverty as one of the main goals our municipality should have…and that we all need to work together to ensure that everyone has a liveable and predictable income, I do have some concerns on the resolution itself.”

For one thing, the harsh reality is that the federal and provincial governments only listen to a certain extent to Council when they write to them. So she wants them to use their voice effectively in areas where the City has comparative expertise advantage, like in public transportation or affordable housing. As they don’t have staff with expertise in this particular area, she advised they should be careful when they weigh in on this issue.

She also pointed out this paperwork only came to Council on Friday, which isn’t enough time to really make an informed  decision.

The main issue she has with the motion though, is that she finds it difficult to endorse a basic income plan without knowing the full details of what’s being proposed.

In the end, Cllr Burton said she wouldn’t be supporting this but that she would like it to go to the Committee of the Whole.

Cllr Carl Ridgeley thanked his colleague for her comments and also said he wouldn’t be supporting it today. He’d also like it to be deferred.

Cllr Froude also said he wouldn’t support it right now, adding that they only got this file on Friday.

Cllr Ravencroft said, while she supports this, she is hearing what the other councillors are saying and said she’d bring up deferring the motion, which was seconded by Cllr Hanlon.

There was some chatter between  the City Clerk and deputy mayor O’Leary about how to go about the next move, and if they could defer. They decided to move on to the next item on the agenda and circle back to this issue in a few minutes.

Restaurants Make Inroads

On a lighter note, restaurants have been added as a permitted use in the Commercial Highway Zone! Council agreed to adopt Envision St. John’s Development Regulations Amendment Number 18, 2022 to make the change.

Back on August 23, Council agreed to consider the amendment and to advertise it for public review and comment – to which they got no comments.

Funding will be available through the Windsor Lake Equipment Reserve Fund to support the purchase of two membrane module filter racks for the Windsor Lake Water Treatment Plant.

It costs approximately $50,000, said Cllr Hickman.

And then it was back to the issue around Guaranteed Livable Basic Income.

Back to Guaranteed Livable Basic Income

Deputy mayor O’Leary opened the topic  up for more comments and Cllr Hickman said that it was concerning that there wasn’t unanimous consent on this and voiced his support for a deferral.

Cllr Korab said he agreed with the idea of a guaranteed livable income – “I mean how could you not?” He did say though that  it was out of Council’s purview. He also said he wouldn’t be comfortable supporting something he didn’t completely understand and would like to see it deferred as well.

Cllr Burton suggested that this be deferred to a Committee of the Whole for discussion at a future date so they can review more  presentations and do their own research.

Cllr Hanlon thanked O’Leary for bringing this issue up and said she’s also looking for more information.

Deputy mayor O’Leary then said she wasn’t comfortable with this being kicked down to some day down the road and would like to see it come up at the next Committee of the Whole.

Cllr Ravencroft then addressed that issue, asking if she could amend that deferral to make it so it comes up at the Committee of the Whole on October 5.

City Manager Kevin Breen asked for some direction for staff, pointing out they don’t have expertise in this issue, so he raised the idea that they could find experts to talk to the Council.

Cllr Burton responded, saying staff and the deputy mayor could work to find suitable people with which to  speak.In the meantime, there’s a lot of information out there for council to draw on.

Cllr Ron Ellsworth said this was simple; “are staff being tasked with going away, finding resources, and bringing them back to us? If that’s the case then the motion needs to be changed so that they have time to go do that work.”

“Or it’s a political decision and we’re going to be in two weeks as Council, with us educating ourselves on the issue. And making our political decision based on our own information. That’s what needs to be clarified.”

He added that from his view, he thinks it’s a political decision that Council will debate and they need to educate themselves and then bring it to the Committee of the Whole. And if need be, if they need more information or discussion, they can direct staff then. So he said at this point, he doesn’t think Mr. Breen and staff need to do anything.

Deputy mayor O’Leary said she concurred with his comments.

Cllr Ridgeley then spoke out, “me personally, I’ve got enough on my plate now with Ward 5. I can guarantee you, I’m not one bit interested in going away here, and I’ll say it straight up, and studying this in the next two weeks to learn about it. So if it comes to a vote in two weeks I can tell you I will not have been reading up on it ‘cause there’s way more pressing issues in Ward 5 right now for me, dealing with the flooding.”

He added he wasn’t interested in giving his political opinion in this chamber where he said there should be no politics and rather they should be dealing with the City and the residents.

Deputy mayor O’Leary said this is an impact of residents and basic living income is an issue for every resident of the City. While she understands there are physical issues in Ward 5, political discussions have been made on many occasions in the chamber over the years.

“Advocacy is a particular point where you can advocate to other levels of government. But that is within the purview of our Council members,” she said.

Cllr Ellsworth then spoke up to bring the discussion back on track, pointing out they had gotten away from what they were supposed to be debating and they were not following their own procedures.

Cllr Burton said she’d initially thought Committee of the Whole was the place to examine this, but suggested it come up at the next regular council meeting. Cllr Ravencroft agreed to it.

Ultimately, they unanimously voted to defer the discussion on this resolution to the next regular council meeting.

The Go Round

Cllr Ridgeley reminded us people are still dealing  with the flooding from the previous  week, particularly in Ward 5. He said he’d reached out to various higher levels of government but is basically getting nowhere. He reminded people that residents  have lost their homes and City infrastructure was decimated.

The total cost of the damage hasn’t been tallied but he said it will be in the millions.

Cllr Ridgeley said he wants to see more help coming from the province and federal government for the residents. Moreover, he pointed out that on Thursday and Friday we’re expecting more rain.

Cllr Ellsworth said he’s seen people walking around signs and barriers on trails that are meant to be off limits due to flooding damage. He called on people to respect these signs for safety’s sake.

As trails are repaired, updates are made to the St. John’s website.

Cllr Hickam also voiced his support for Cllr Ridgeley’s comments.

“I think the City should be making a formal request for Emergency assistance,” he said, adding that there might be as much damage as the Badger flooding back in the 1980s.

Cllr Burton encouraged people to prepare for severe wind and rain storms, as well as have emergency supplies in case of a power outage.

Cllr Korab echoed Cllr Burton and said people shouldn’t panic and don’t clear off the shelves when shopping for supplies.

Cllr Hanlon then touted Seniors’ Week happening October 3-7 and information can be found on the City’s website.

Deputy mayor O’Leary brought up a project that just launched today with Business & Arts NL

More information can soon be found at theartofgoingout.com.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter.

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