Notes from the Rafters: This Week’s City Council Meeting Recap

Every week, we give Emily a pen, a pad of paper, and a mission to recap this week’s city council meeting. Here are her notes on this week’s meeting.

Proclamations: Planning and Walking

The room was packed as a delegation of graduate students from the Urban Planning Program at Dalhousie University was on hand to usher in National Planning month. But the biggest crowds were there snapping photos of their kids who gathered around Mayor O’keefe for International Walk to School Month.

O’Keefe asked a little girl if she wanted to be mayor some day. She shrugged. “You’d get to sit in this big fancy chair,” he wheedled. She shrugged again. A boy in the back in a white collared shirt and tie piped up that he wanted to be mayor more than anyone else in the room. I guess he hasn’t been watching the fire in the eyes of certain councillors the last month or so.

O’Keefe told all the kids “two things you have to always do: walk and read as much as possible.”

One girl responded, “Reading is my life.” I vote for her for mayor … which reminds me…

…OMG THE US ELECTIONS ARE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND I AM FREAKING OUT. Deep breathes. deeeeep breathes. I absentee voted. And I am crying as I type this getting super emotional about what may happen in my homeland tomorrow. I have my pantsuit all picked out.

… back to the municipal. The winner of Walk to School Month is Hazelwood Elementary. They will receive 500$.

Re-zoning Vote for 79 Old Petty Harbour Rd Deferred
to Get Clarity on Run-off issues

The vote was to be for rezoning 79 Petty Harbour Road from residential low density (R1) to residential medium density (R2). There are two buildings on the property now, a house and a defunct store. The developer wants to remove the exiting buildings and build five townhouses. There are other town house “clusters” in the area.

The public meeting was small but raised concerns about traffic and water run-off.

Cllr. Collins moved to reject the motion to re-zone (seconded by Galgay). Collins was clear this was because of water run-off. He said after the last development built just behind this lot, “you used to be able to go up in sneakers, now its rubbers. Another development would make it hip waders.”

Cllr. Hann asked what staff had to say say about the issue.

Cllr. Collins responded, “He can come up tomorrow and I can show him”

Dep. City Manager for Planning, Jason Sinyard responded, “there is a water issue there but my understanding is that it won’t make it worse.”

Cllr Hickman commented that the additional driveways would make traffic more dangerous.

Cllr. Tilley then asked the reasonable question of why the report recommends re-zoning at all. Staff explained that generally it was reasonable infill in keeping with the area.

Due to no solid information on the effect of run-off Cllr Puddister suggested they delay the vote until the issue is properly studied.

Cllr. Collins said he knew how he wanted to vote now (no way he would re-zone) and they should get it done

Deputy Mayor Ellsworth moved to defer the vote. He had been ready to support it but now, after listening to the objections to it, wanted more information. He pointed out that changes to the storm sewers were also in the future.

Vote to defer carried. Look for this issue again.

 Jason Momoa Back in Town 

Special Events Committee explained that the Discovery/Netflix show Frontier, which just had its big premiere/red carpet event for season 1 at the convention centre last weekend, is now filming season 2 and has requested road closures.

The report lists only O’Brien Farm Rd (a section of Oxen Pond Rd) as slated for filming related closures in November but Cllrs Breen and Lane both stood up to explain that they have been working with the businesses downtown to mitigate any negative effects the filming might have (making sure the roads are not closed on tax free shopping day etc). So either the report forgot to list Water and Duckworth Streets or they were just making sure everyone knew they were actively rubbing elbows with both the film industry while never forgetting the little (business) guy.

Finance Committee: The 2015 Cash Budget After All 

The 2015 budget was projected to be neutral but actually has a deficit of 5.1 million dollars. which is 1.79% of the total city budget.

Cllr Galgay explained that they would have had an almost negligible deficit but for two main things:

– Losing the appeal to classify certain buildings as special purpose properties, and thereby losing the “grants in lieu” from the federal government for those properties. (I believe it was the Labatts and Molson breweries and two other buildings.)

– The early retirement packages from dec 2015 also contributed to the deficit. Though they are still expected to bring a long term yearly gain.

The deficit will be covered by surplus from previous years. There will still be 2.4 million dollars left in the surplus fund from previous years after this.

Cllr Galgay clarifies that this deficit will not mean any cuts to any programming.

Deputy Mayor and Galgay Duke it Out for Honour

Cllr Galgay made a notice of motion that he would move at the next meeting that the St John’s Regional Fire Department Honour Guard become the official Honour Guard for the city.

Cllr Breen anticipated no debate so moved they wave the waiting period and go ahead with the motion right away. Boy was he wrong!

Cllr. Galgay explained with zero humour how passionate he was about this issue. This would allow the Honour Guard, which does already exist, to join the city in an official capacity at ceremonies and celebrations (look for them at Friday’s Ceremony at the War Memorial).

Galgay said this would require no funding as they are volunteers. It is true that staff was asked in the past how the city could fund them (for uniforms) but that, Galgay said, is a separate issue.

Dep Mayor Ellsworth responded, “they provide service day in and day out. But I just want to clarify, this requires no money for them to operate as the official honour guard?”

Galgay, for some reason, took complete offence at being questioned and shot back that any request for funding would go through the regular channels of budget requests and was independent of his move to make them the official honour guard.

Ellsworth said, “so we should expect requests to come through?” and then implied this was contrary to something that had been discussed to make sure processes are in place so everyone has all information regarding financial requests. He then added some comment about why he could not make the last finance committee meeting as he was fulfilling other super duper important duties of his office.

Galgay’s very snarky “what?” was practically spit out and implied much had gone on between the two before this public meeting got under way. Galgay was completely dismissive of the implications that the decision to make them the city’s official Honour Guard may necessarily have some impact on the city’s ability to freely accept or reject budget funding requests on their behalf.

Puddister was more honest, “let’s not kid ourselves. This will require some money. Class A uniforms. I will support this, but it will cost money.”

Galgay sputtered out, still visibly seething, “I understand. [… ] I did raise issues to go through process but the Deputy Mayor derailed the intent. I take a little exception.” Though he looked like he took quite a lot of exception.

Ellsworth chortled, “Get off your soapbox.”

The motion passed unanimously and Ellsworth, letting bygones be bygones, looked across at Galgay and raised his water glass, “Unanimous! pretty good.” But Galgay was too rotted to respond pleasantly or take the gentle tease.

Wrap up

Collins: Requests staff get a hydrologist up to site on Old Petty Harbour Rd.

Tilley: Thanked the Presentation Sisters for their donation of St. Patrick’s Convent to the city for affordable housing for seniors.

Breen: Food drive begins next week, Nov 14-18. Collection day is garbage day. Put your donation out somewhere highly visible when putting out your garbage. The city will pick it up.

O’Keefe: What time?

Breen: Before 8am. When your garbage goes out.

O’Keefe made a face acknowledging the reality that is all of us dragging our garbage out across to the neighbour’s driveway at 10am after we’ve missed the first pass of the truck. He confirms for the record that, regardless of when you get your garbage out, the food donations must be out by 8am.

Breen returns a blank look, like an extra from Leave it to Beaver, he seems unable to imagine anyone setting out garbage later than the designated time. But he moves on and reminds everyone to pick up their paper leaf bags from Rona (BOGO) for the city to pick up this month as you rake.

Puddister asks why there is only pick up and not dump sites like there were in previous years. O’Keefe explains that we are all skeets who dumped all manner of junk in the leaf piles at Bowring Park and other locations and so now we can’t have nudding nice….except door to door pick up service.

Lane: tax free day Saturday downtown. Hotel rooms are also discounted so shop til you drop and stay down(town).

Ellsworth: With the Landlord survey complete there will now be a Landlord engagement forum on Nov 22.

Nov 30 is the Point in Time Count for Homelessness  and they are looking for volunteers. Contact Ellsworth and he will get you in touch. 40 volunteers so far, but they need 100. This count will be important to have as the city moves forward with a homeless and affordable housing strategy.

If you are interested in the homeless population in our city, check out some recently published research on homelessness in St John’s by Nicole Wilson, wherein she lays out why I have already messed up this whole paragraph by using the not-very-accurate term “homeless” to lump together several distinct categories including “sleeping rough,”  “precarious housing,” and “bereft-of-home.” Learning things!

Last Sunday Humane services adopted out 88 cats, and, apparently, “Galgay was quite excited by the number of pussycats we had on [the] site.” At which point, Galgay finally did laugh, and someone else meowed. Which proves there are at least as many inside jokes arising from the closed door “Special Meetings” as there are rivalries. It’s all about balance.

O’Keefe concluded by pushing us to participate in the food drive. Last year they collected 70 tons of non-perishable food. But this year will be better.

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