8 of the biggest issues Hamilton city council will vote on in 2017
From LRT to biweekly garbage pickup, here's how Hamilton councillors will change your city in 2017
Hamilton city council resumes its meetings on Jan. 16 after a month-long recess. Here are some of the big issues it will vote on this year.
Biweekly garbage pickup
The city is reviewing its waste collection services, since many of its contracts expire in 2020. Expect the biweekly garbage pickup debate to rear its head again.
A consultant surveyed residents in the fall about services, including what people thought of biweekly garbage pickup, particularly if recycling collection was still weekly. Those results will come to council this year.
Some, such as Coun. Maria Pearson, say biweekly collection encourages people to recycle more. Others say it's not a service they'd vote to reduce. "The public hates it when we tinker with waste collection," said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster.
The light rail transit debate will stay heated this year. Look for councillors opposed to the project to search for "off ramps."
Metrolinx has been hard at work on the $1 billion system, which past councils wanted as long as the province agreed to pay for it. The province agreed but some still have cold feet. Coun. Chad Collins is straight up opposed to it.
This year, we'll learn for sure who will operate the system (the province says it'll be a public-private partnership), who pays to maintain it, where the revenue goes and who covers any shortfalls. Council will also vote on an updated environmental assessment this spring. Metrolinx also expects to start procurement this year.
What negative votes on those elements would mean for the overall project is unclear. Last year, a municipal lawyer said two thirds of council would have to vote to overturn the project this term. Six of the 16 won't do that.
But given the twists and turns with this project, anything can happen.
Supervised injection sites
The city is spending as much as $92,000 to look at setting up a supervised injection site in Hamilton. That report will come back in 2017.
It's a relevant conversation in Hamilton. The area has more opioid-related deaths over a five-year period than anywhere else in the province. That was before the arrival of carfentanil, a substance so potent that even a few grains of it can be deadly.
If the city does go ahead, it will be easier than a year ago. In late 2017, the Liberals announced Bill C-37, a bill that would make it easier for cities to open such sites.
The new transgender procotol
In 2014, a transgender woman tried to use the women's washroom at an HSR terminal. A guard stopped her and directed her to the unisex washroom. The woman filed an Ontario Human Rights tribunal complaint. Part of the ordered settlement was that the city establish a "transgender and gender non-conforming protocol."
It's taken a while, but a draft policy is circulating now. In the new year, council will vote on it.
Its contents include the following:
- People have a right to access washroom and change facilities based on their self-identified gender identity.
- When possible, the city will provide unisex, single-stall washrooms or change rooms, but will not force anyone to use them.
- Disclosing someone's gender identity or transition without their consent or knowledge is a form of harassment and discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. This goes for city employees as well as when the city deals with the public.
- In both cases people "must be referred to by their preferred name, gender and pronoun."
- City employees should use inclusive language while interacting with the public — eg. "people" instead of "men and women," or "they" instead of "he" and "she."
- City employees should think about whether gender information is necessary before they ask the public to provide it. Ideally, instead of "male" or "female" check boxes, there will be a blank space for the person to write in their gender.
The Gore buildings
Right off the bat, councillors will discuss the Gore buildings.
About three years ago, a developer wanted to demolish 18 to 28 King St. E., a key row of buildings along Hamilton's most recognizable downtown spot. Council voted to declare them heritage buildings, effectively halting their demolition.
Now the developer, Hughson Business Space Corp., wants to demolish the buildings again, but save two of the facades. That got a warm reception at a council meeting, but the municipal heritage committee advises against it.
This month, Coun. Jason Farr will likely move to ignore the heritage committee's advice and move ahead with the project. Based on comments at previous meetings, at least some of his fellow city councillors agree.
The city is on a mission to encourage more affordable housing in Hamilton.
This year, CityHousing Hamilton and the city will nail down plans to redevelop the Jamesville social housing complex in the North End, including demolishing some of the townhouses in favour of mixed-use, mid-rise buildings serving people of various incomes. The city will also work with CityHousing Hamilton and a developer on a new Roxborough Park development that combines social housing with market rent units.
Expect to hear about many more affordable housing-related projects too.
The new west harbour neighbourhood
Council has hyped its new development on piers 7 and 8 — land it's wanted to get its hands on for years. It plans a new neighbourhood with condos, retail and some public space.
But who will build all that? That's the big question city council will decide this year. City staff hope to find one developer to build all of it. So it will have to choose very, very carefully this year.
Money to prevent homelessness
The city has a fund called a housing stability benefit. It's a pot of money people can tap into if they're low income and at risk of being turfed from their apartments because of unpaid utility bills, etc.
Research shows it's cheaper to keep someone in housing than to get someone on the streets into housing. So it's best for taxpayers, the city says, if it can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
The problem? Skyrocketing electricity rates. The fund had a $1.5 million shortfall this year because of that, which meant about 600 people were at risk of not accessing it. City council put one-time dividends from the Horizon Utilties merger toward the program. But in March, Hamilton will be in the same spot again.