After a pause for the holidays, city council will be back on January 9 for two weeks of budget talks. Staff have presented a $457.8 million draft budget for 2023, which includes a four percent tax increase. Here are eight key things to know about the spending plan:
Shelter funding in question
The future of the Wolfe Street overflow shelter is gearing up to be a key point of debate during budget talks. The shelter has operated for the last two years with special provincial funding to keep critical services running during the COVID-19 pandemic. That funding, called the Social Services Relief Fund, dries up at the end of December. For the shelter to stay open, the city will now have to pay for it. City staff are recommending that the new council fund the shelter permanently, at a cost of $771,000 for 2023 (the previous council already pledged part of that amount to run the shelter until the end of March 2023).
The funding would allow the shelter to run 24/7 during the winter but drop to overnight only from April to October. That’s a lower level of service than what five councillors – Matt Crowley, Alex Bierk, Joy Lachica, Keith Riel and Gary Baldwin – committed to during the election campaign. They all said in a United Way candidate survey that they supported funding the shelter to run 24/7. That would bump up the cost to $1.04 million next year, according to city staff. Councillors Dave Haacke and Kevin Duguay said they opposed continued funding for the shelter and the remaining councillors did not respond to the survey question. Mayor Jeff Leal did not directly answer when asked the same question during a mayoral debate.
Meanwhile, there is a push for the province to extend the Social Services Relief Fund, to help cities like Peterborough address pressing issues like homelessness. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has called for the province to continue the funding and Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe brought it up in a meeting with Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark last month.
The budget sets aside $25 million for the controversial arena and aquatics complex under construction in Morrow Park. It’s the biggest item on a long list of capital projects – which means things like roads, infrastructure and new buildings – that the city will undertake next year.
Other big-ticket projects
In total, there’s $131.2 million for capital projects next year. Some of them include:
- Launch of the city’s composting program ($7.6 million, with a 40 percent federal contribution)
- Site preparation and designs for Peterborough’s new transit garage at the former site of the Canadian Canoe Museum ($6.1 million, the majority coming from federal and provincial grants)
- Reconstruction of Lansdowne Street West, between Spillsbury Drive and Clonsilla Avenue, to add a centre-turn lane and pedestrian and cyclist paths ($6 million, including $840,000 in federal grants the city has applied for to cover the cost of the multi-use paths)
- Flood-proofing Curtis Creek in East City ($4.9 million, with $1.5 million from the feds)
- Healthy Planet Arena roof and HVAC replacement ($3.3 million)
$1.5 million toward implementing cycling master plan
The budget allocates $1.5 million toward cycling infrastructure next year, as Peterborough’s new cycling master plan calls for. It will be used to build multi-use paths along two sections of Lansdowne Street – from Spillsbury Drive to Clonsilla Avenue and Park Street to George Street. The City has applied for $840,000 in federal funding to help cover the cost. There’s also $100,000 to create a new cyclist and pedestrian crossing where the Rotary Trail intersects with Hunter Street in East City. However, the budget pushes the long-planned extension of the Crawford Trail, which would provide a direct cycling route from downtown to Lansdowne Place, ahead to future years.
Police budget rises 4 percent
Peterborough police are asking for their biggest budget increase in years. The draft budget includes $29.1 million for policing, an increase of 4 percent over 2022. That amounts to an extra $1.1 million for police operations. The city is also setting aside an additional $3 million in 2023 toward buying land and completing designs for a $68-million new police station.
Derecho storm recovery
The budget includes $1 million to help the city’s urban forest recover from the devastating May 2022 derecho storm – but it won’t be enough to meet targets the city has set to expand its tree cover, according to budget documents. The Urban Forestry Strategic Plan calls for the urban forest canopy to be expanded to cover 35 percent of the city’s area by 2041 (up from 27.9 percent in 2018). Budget documents explain that despite the proposed spending for 2023, the city will fall behind its tree cover target, due to the setback caused by the derecho storm. The documents cite “budget pressures” for not investing more to meet the forest cover goal.
Safety boost for school zones
The city proposes to spend $300,000 to boost safety in school zones next year, as part of a new traffic safety program that will see speed limits dropped to 40 km/h near schools. In 2021, a high school student was critically injured after being struck by a vehicle outside Adam Scott Collegiate, adding to concerns about pedestrian safety near schools.
Peterborough Public Health faces funding crunch
Peterborough Public Health is asking for a 22 percent funding increase from the city, to help make up for a $608,000 budget shortfall caused by a provincial funding freeze. Local municipalities, First Nations and the province share the cost of the health unit, but in recent years the Ford government has capped the amount it kicks in for PPH’s core services. Ontario did provide special cash injections for the pandemic response, but with PPH now shifting back to its core services, it faces a growing budget hole. The city’s budget includes $1.36 million for PPH next year, a one percent increase over 2022. But the health unit is asking for $1.64 million, a 22 percent increase, to help close the gap.
PPH is already struggling to meet provincial standards because of the shortfall, according to a summary of the Board of Health’s November meeting. If the city doesn’t increase funding, the health unit will have few options. It legally cannot run a deficit, and cutting services would mean falling below provincial public health standards.