Budget Update

The First 100 Days

Spoke with the media and residents today at a coffee shop downtown about the first 100 days since inauguration.  Hard to believe it’s been that long, time flies when you’re having fun.   Here’s what we reported on in terms of the first 100 days:

Major Projects

  • Mayor’s Plan for Transit initiated through four working group meetings since December.  Approved in principle by Council in February – plan focuses on overhauling the transit system and intercity service and repurposing of the downtown terminal to a possible food market 
  • Site plan, building permits finalized for new TD Operations Centre – the largest new office/industrial building in Barrie in more than 5 years
  • Campaigned to keep Barrie Central Collegiate open, created partnership opportunities to revitalize high school and strengthen west end of Downtown – March 1st ARC recommendation supported City’s position to defer closure and pursue partners
  • Council passed traffic calming policy and pilot project – part of a Safe Streets agenda.  Traffic calming measures to be introduced in problem areas around the City this year
  • Worked with Georgian College and their university partners to plan and advocate for a downtown academic building

 

Economic Development

  • On-going meetings with the business community including; the Chamber of Commerce, Barrie Real Estate Board, Springboard Innovation Centre, Georgian Angel Investment Network, small business organizations, the Sewer and Watermain Construction Association, and many of Barrie’s largest manufacturers. 
  • Continual work on investment recruiting and business meetings. Since December 1st, held 58 meetings or conference calls with businesses, business groups, and  potential investors
  • Participated and enjoyed being one of the “Dragons” for SpringBoard’s two live business pitch competitions. 4 new businesses are now being incubated and another 3 businesses are in the coaching program
  • Internally, initiated “Investment Readiness” review to ensure City departments are delivering customer service to new and expanding businesses

 

Governance

  • Held transition meetings with senior staff and Councillors in November to ensure appropriate orientation of City issues and administration
  • Within 5 days of inauguration – held strategic planning session with new Council to establish goals for new term (Dec 11th) and budget briefing with new Council (Dec 8th).  Strategic plan approved by General Committee in March
  • Established new Economic Development and Transportation Committee of Council to bring new Council focus on job creation, economic expansion, and transportation issues
  • Spoke at both County Council and Innisfil Council meetings to rebuild relationships and deliver the message that it is time to move forward together on common issues
  • Met with Mayors of Orillia, Collingwood, Markham, Vaughan; Base Borden Commanding Officer Col. Meloche; MP Patrick Brown, and MPP Aileen Carroll to discuss and pursue City matters; attended Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) meeting in Markham with 17 other big-city Mayors.

 

Community and Communications

  • ‘Opened up’ Council meetings through introduction of new open delegation segment; overhauled meeting agendas to simplify and expand opportunities for public consultation and involvement
  • Held meetings in the community – Mayor’s levee and three Town Hall meetings held (Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 5) with more than 300 attendees in total
  • City’s new website launched with easier access to information and new online services for residents
  • Improved online communications through social media – now using Mayor’s Blog and Twitter to exchange information with residents.
  • Dedicated a significant amount of time to participating in community events and talking with community groups and organizations.  Since December, Mayor Lehman has had more than two dozen speaking engagements and has directed his staff that he will accept every invitation he can possibly accommodate.
  • Streamlined Committees and Boards – eliminated duplicate or unnecessary committees, added community members; established new Environmental Advisory Committee

Budget – The Opening Scene

Budget season has begun.  The City of Barrie has about a $170M annual operating budget and lest anyone think Council doesn’t get a lot of detail – the budget binder is 4 inches thick.  My new cross-training regime is carrying it home and back every night.

It details every service that the City delivers and what it costs to deliver them.  Police services is the largest chunk, about 25% of the total budget.  The County of Simcoe’s services (Ontario Works, land ambulance, social housing, and Homes for the Aged) together are about another 13% of the budget.  The Fire Department is 11%.  Virtually everything else the city does – roads, parks, rec centres, streetlights, libraries, sidewalks, transit, building permits, planning, economic development, clerks’ office – everything – gets done for the remaining 50% of the budget.

This year, for the first year, there are benchmarks built right into the budget, to show whether Barrie’s service levels are above or below average.  On page 65 of the budget is data that compares our performance by service to 18 other Ontario cities.  By measuring where we are above or below average, the City can target areas that most urgently need improvement, or where we are doing particularly well.

Service partner presentations are the 21st (Police, County).  Then Council debates the budget on March 28th – and we will certainly not be short on information.  It’s now up to Council as to how well we use it to make good decisions.

Grants and giveaways

Lots of discussion at Council this week and last meeting about grants for good causes and events, like charity hockey tournaments, etc.

Nobody likes to say no.  But the fact is, Council shouldn’t be picking and choosing among good causes; if we go that route, we’ll never make everyone happy and we’ll end up making a lot of people unhappy.

A year ago Council directed that a separate committee be set up to decide on community grant requests like this, and institute a formal process so all groups get the same chance, and the decisions on who gets the grant get de-politicized.  Nothing worse than politicians having to pick favourites, especially when it comes to good causes (they are all worthy…and how do you decide if one is more worthy than the other).

As a Councillor, I’ve brought forward my share of charitable events that I want the City to support, but we really need some consistency and clarity when giving out these sorts of grants.   On March 7th, we’ll get this long-awaited report from staff on a committee and clear process for grant requests.  Hopefully this will put an end to the ad hoc, picking and choosing among the so many great causes that could use our help.