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Funding for outdoor urinals comes to a head at council

Monday, July 27, 2009

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  • Outdoor pissoirs, like this model used in Edmonton, would be installed in the downtown core under a proposal put forward by a co

    Outdoor pissoirs, like this model used in Edmonton, would be installed in the downtown core under a proposal put forward by a co

Written by Greg Beneteau

Guelph City Council was poised tonight to revisit a proposal to pay for urinals in the downtown core, a month after turning down a similar request from local stakeholders.

The Night Life Task Force, created by downtown businesses, Guelph police and council members to combat problems in the city's entertainment district, asked council for cash to install two temporary pissoirs on MacDonell Street starting in September.

The two-month trial project is intended to curb the frequent problem of public urination, which has long had a negative impact on downtown businesses and patrons, explained Ward 2 Councilor Ian Findlay.

"If you go into an alleyway and pee, it doesn't go away. It starts to smell... we literally receive complaints every day about this," said Findlay, a member of the Task Force who is also a downtown business owner.

On June 22, council approved a $5000 pilot project that would have seen urinals installed downtown on weekend evenings in July and August.

However, the resolution stipulated that “the downtown stakeholders be responsible for the full cost recovery.”

Under the revised proposal approved by the city's emergency services, community services and operations committee, the facilities would be available around the clock rather than at nights. The committee also recommended shortening the duration of the pilot project from four months to two.

The city would be on the hook for purchasing and servicing the latrines, which would cost an estimated $8500 based on figures provided for a four-month project. The Task Force offered an additional $4200, including $3500 from the Downtown Guelph Business Association for an advertising awareness campaign.

The situation left some wondering why an even more expensive proposal was being debated after council turned down a request to pay for it.

"The amendment that passed stated that no funds for this project would be coming from the City coffers and that the expense would be shared by all those businesses with a vested in interest in assisting the City to clean up this disgusting situation," wrote one citizen on the blog maintained by Ward 2 councillors Findlay and Vicki Beard.

However, Findlay said the new proposal was different in terms of "funding and timing" and that new information has come to light since last month’s vote that may affect council's decision.

In particular, he suggested the city could use money earned from ticketing public urinaters to pay for the project.

There have been 342 tickets handed out by Guelph Police for public fouling since January 2007. Each carries a fine of $245, of which the city receives $200, Findlay claimed.

“The municipality is generating $70,000 a year," he said. "We’re asking city council to use that money to provide a solution to this problem.”

The urinals, which are already used in Canadian cities like Edmonton, are not accessible to women or persons with disabilities, leading councilors to voice concerns of potential human rights complaints at the June 22 council meeting.

Findlay said that the Night Life Task Force was considering "long-term" plans to address issues of accessiblity with the urinals if the trial was successful.

Reaction on council going into the vote was mixed. Ward 1 Councilor Kathleen Farrelly said she disapproved certain aspects of the plan, including the proposal to keep the pissoirs open all the time.

"I feel there are enough facilities open during the day, so I'm not too keen on that idea," she said.

Voicing his support for the project, Mike Salisbury cited his experiences using outdoor urinals in Edmonton.

He said he was impressed by the unit's privacy and its effectiveness in reducing the befouling of public spaces.

"After learning the urinals collect 500 litres of urine on a typical weekend, I couldn't help but wonder what 500 litres of urine in our alleys would look like," Salisbury said.

"Everyone is saying we should be doing something. This is something."

CSA Communication Commissioner Gavin Armstrong backed away from endorsing the plan, saying they would "work with the city" to address public urination in the downtown no matter the outcome of the vote.

"It will be interesting to see what happens at the meeting tonight," Armstrong said.

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