Budget input and Kitchener Centre voting day!
I’m landing in your inboxes early this week with a reminder about two important events this week.
Tonight, starting at 6:00pm, Regional Council is hosting a public input session on the 2024 budget. You can find the draft budget here. Watch the meeting online here or in-person at Regional Headquarters. If you want to share your thoughts on the budget, you can message regional councillors here. I have made it a bit of a tradition to delegate at these budget meetings every year and this year is no different. If you’re interested in some of my thoughts on this year’s Regional budget, you can find my delegation below. Likely to no one’s surprise, I have many more thoughts on the budget than what I could squeeze into a five minute delegation (I mean, I didn’t even get into housing in my delegation!). On that note, upcoming Citified posts will focus on some of the main budget areas such as transit, housing, safe streets, and the police budget.
Tomorrow, November 30th, is voting day for Kitchener Centre residents. You can read more about the byelection here and here. Find out where to vote. It seems to be a tight race between Debbie Chapman (NDP) and Aislinn Clancy (Greens). You may recall that both are current Kitchener city councillors so a victory for either one of them will result in a city council seat needing to be filled in the new year - so stay tuned!
Delegation to Regional Council - November 29th, 2023
Councillors often say that the number one issue they hear about from residents is related to safe streets. Residents want drivers to slow down, they want traffic calming measures installed, they want to know they and their children can walk in their neighbourhoods safe from harm. Fortunately, there are a number of proposals in the draft budget to help make that a reality. There are also some areas where I think we could improve.
Let’s start with the fact that slower streets are safer streets. We know survival rates increase dramatically as speeds are lowered. Comfort is also improved. With that in mind, staff have proposed some important recommendations. First, they want to see school zones have consistent, year-round speed limits. Staff state that benefits of this proposal include: eliminating confusion about different speeds at different times; allowing schools to operate as community hubs even outside regular school hours; and reducing speeds leading to a safer and more comfortable walking environment thereby encouraging more people to use active transportation which is a key goal in the Region’s new Strategic Plan. Static speeds in school zones also align with what our local municipalities are doing, which strengthens consistency.
Staff, following council’s push for a faster rollout of the Automated Speed Enforcement program (ASE), have proposed to hire more staff and install ASE cameras at 60 schools by the end of next year. Staff note that compliance to speed limits increases and is more consistent in areas with ASE. Given this program is to be revenue-neutral, and it results in slowing down our streets, this seems like a smart investment that I support and hope council will as well. I’ve heard some councillors call for a balanced approach to ASE and school zone speeds, saying that higher speeds outside of school hours provide ‘balance’. I disagree. Our roads heavily favour those inside vehicles. However, consistent messaging and static speed limits, enforced by ASE, is a small step towards bringing more balance and safety to our streets.
In addition to slower streets, it’s important to provide options for people to move through the region without relying on a personal vehicle. Transit, of course, is an important way to do exactly that. And the Region should be proud of the many investments it has made into our transit system in recent years. Because of improved transit, along with municipal investments in trails and cycling infrastructure, our household was able to sell our vehicle earlier this year and become car-free. In a time when affordability is on everyone’s minds, being able to sell our car and free ourselves from the high costs of car ownership has helped our household’s budget immensely. By investing well in transit, we are providing our residents with a solid alternative to the car, one that is more affordable and environmentally sustainable too. And people are seeing that. We broke ridership records this year and are seeing high demand for transit in our region. This is the time to invest deeply in transit, to keep those riders, and to continue to welcome more. And, while I appreciate the proposed increase in day-time ion frequency, it must not come at the expense of reduced evening service. When our region needs a new road, we don’t say that we must close down a different road in order to fund the development of the new one. So, why would we do essentially that with our transit? One person on social media reminds us, “Part of the deal was that ION would be better than bus service along the central transit corridor in KW. Let’s not allow ION frequencies to ever drop below the bus service it replaced.”
In a similar vein, staff have proposed expanding the transit ad program. This is not something we consider with other public investments such as roads, libraries, or social housing - why are we considering it for transit? Let us continue the important investments in transit and the LRT that have led to increased ridership and pride in our transit system. Please, don’t sell out our showcase transit system to advertisers. One staff report referred to ads on the transit fleet as ‘moving billboards’ and I have to ask who wants to travel through the region on a moving billboard? We should do what we can to keep our public realm free of advertising. If ad wraps must be pursued, I recommend wrapping the Region’s vehicle fleet in ads before expanding exterior ads on transit.
There is much to like in the transit budget including: 2 hour transfers, the pilot of a corporate U-Pass program, the removal of a minimum load requirement, and improved snow-clearing times for transit stops (though I’d like to see them shortened further).
I don’t have time to dig into it now, but I’d be remiss to not mention my disappointment with the continued increases to our police budget when so many organizations working on prevention and compassionate care are struggling or even closing their doors. Given that speed enforcement falls under police services, my hope is we can see reductions in police costs as we expand ASE. Until then, it seems prudent to put a pause on the funds dedicated to hiring more police officers until they have at least caught up to this year’s hiring goals. We could then use that money to re-fund the community.