Newsletter: Transit funding frozen, homeless shelter to stay open — key takeaways from 2023 budget talks

Four key storylines to watch as council prepares to vote on 2023 city budget on Monday.
Fuel and labour costs are rising this year, but Peterborough Transit’s budget will remain frozen at 2022 levels. (Photo: Brett Throop)

You’re reading the January 26, 2023 edition of the Peterborough Currents email newsletter. To receive our email newsletters straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning,

Peterborough Transit riders are bracing for service cuts, after city council voted last week to freeze transit funding in a bid to rein in the city’s 2023 budget. During budget talks this month, council also agreed to keep the Wolfe Street homeless shelter open for the rest of the year, putting to bed fears that it could close its doors at the end of March.

This week’s newsletter has more on those decisions, and other budget storylines to watch, as council prepares to approve its 2023 spending plan on Monday night.

Plus, the story of one tiny shop’s big impact on Peterborough’s downtown.

Less money for transit, more for homelessness: 2023 budget talks wrap up

City councillors went through every line of the proposed 2023 municipal budget in a series of meetings this month, making additions in some places and cutting funding in others. It’s not over yet — council meets to finalize the budget on Monday, January 30. At that meeting, they can still change their minds on any budget line they wish.

Here are four storylines to watch as the final vote approaches.

HOMELESSNESS: The Wolfe Street shelter is now slated to stay open. The shelter’s future came into question last year as it drew complaints from neighbours and its provincial funding was set to expire. But councillors voted last week to fund the shelter for all of 2023. The city will spend $771,000 on the service this year, but that is not enough to keep the doors open 24/7 all year, as has been the case since it opened in 2020. Instead, the shelter will operate around the clock during the coldest months of the year, but overnight only from April 1 to October 31. The vote was 7-4, with councillors Dave Haacke, Kevin Duguay, Lesley Parnell and Don Vassiliadis voting against the shelter funding.

TRANSIT: City staff are warning that there will be cuts to Peterborough Transit service this year, after councillors voted to freeze transit spending at 2022 levels. The move shaves $951,000 off this year’s budget, helping bring the 2023 property tax increase from 4 percent down to 3.15 percent. But transit funding needs a boost this year to keep up with rising fuel prices and staffing costs, according to staff. Without more money for the service, some buses that currently run every 30 minutes during peak periods could see service dropped to once an hour, transit manager Laurie Stratton said.

Other cities like Toronto and Montreal are also cutting transit service in response to budget woes caused by ridership levels that remain below pre-pandemic levels. But critics say worse service will only drive more people away from transit, creating a downward spiral where reduced revenue leads to more and more service cuts. “This spiral will also push people into their cars, and lead to a less equitable and more carbon-intensive future,” writes Nate Wallace, with the group Environmental Defence, in the Globe and Mail.

PETERBOROUGH PUBLIC HEALTH says it faces a $608,000 budget shortfall in 2023 because of a provincial funding freeze, but it won’t get any extra help from the city this year, councillors decided. The health unit asked city council for $1.64 million in funding for 2023 — a 22 percent increase over 2022. But council voted down that request last week. PPH will instead receive $1.36 million this year, a one percent increase from 2022.

The health unit says it needs a funding boost to maintain its services – which include school lunch programs, sexual health testing and restaurant safety inspections. PPH says cutting services to close the funding gap would mean breaching public health standards set by the province. Councillor Joy Lachica, who sits on the Board of Health, said the city could be fined if PPH ends up running a deficit to balance the books, but city staff said the health unit could dig into its own reserves to fill the budget hole.

POLICE: As city council prepares to approve the 2023 budget next Monday night, one big unknown remains: how much will police get? Peterborough police are asking for $29.1 million this year, an increase of 4 percent from 2022. The amount includes money to hire five new officers and six civilian personnel. But budget talks wrapped up without council voting on a final figure for police spending – that will come when council meets to approve the budget on Monday, January 30.

The curious history of Peterborough’s itsy bitsy storefront

Illustration: Brazil Gaffney-Knox

Have you ever visited 219½ Hunter Street? It’s a little retail unit downtown in between Black Honey and Karma’s Café. Today, the space is occupied by a bath and gift shop called Cheek. But over the years, it’s been home to a number of creative businesses and other initiatives.

This store is small. Really small. As a result, it’s also cheap to rent. The eccentricities of this space — and its affordability — have inspired one creative person after another to put their name on the lease and set up shop there.

It’s been everything from a private supper club (circa 2015) to a hangout for leftist activists that drew the attention of police interrogators in the 1980s.

Currents co-publisher Will Pearson loves this anomalous little shop, and the way it has incubated local businesses that would never have gotten off the ground elsewhere. So he decided to trace the history of all the different ways the space has been used through the years.

As he worked, he started asking a different question: Why is this unit so small in the first place? It’s totally impractical for most uses, so when and why was it created this way?

To solve this mystery, Will visited two local archives and consulted dozens of historical documents. He didn’t arrive at a definitive answer, but he did narrow the mystery down considerably, and learned a lot in the process. Read his story here.

Currents consulted historical city directories, fire insurance plans, archival photos and other documents in an effort to learn: Why is 219½ Hunter Street so small?

Other stories to watch

  • The City has released new details about an affordable housing project proposed for 681 Monaghan Road. If it goes ahead as planned, the development will be financed by the federal government and will have 53 units of affordable housing.

    This building could be the first in a series of developments that would boost the supply of affordable housing in the city. Right now, there is a plan in the works to demolish several city-owned social housing complexes in order to redevelop those properties with more housing units. If built, the Monaghan Road project could help by providing a home for current residents while the other buildings are replaced. Learn more about the City’s plan for 681 Monaghan here.
  • Also in affordable housing news, the City will purchase one of the 50 rent-geared-to-income houses that the Peterborough Housing Corporation is in the midst of selling. While the other 49 houses are being sold to the private market, this one will remain publicly owned, with geared-to-income rent.

    Read more about the sale of the houses here.
  • Long-rumoured and now finally confirmed, the Pig’s Ear Tavern is reopening. (Via KawarthaNOW)

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