Spring Session Summary

Last night was the last meeting of the spring 2012 session of City Council.  I made some remarks about our progress this year, as follows:

It was an incredibly busy session.  From taxis to transit and from parks to police cameras Council has made substantial moves on a very broad agenda.

Perhaps the most obvious change has been in how that agenda was pursued.  One of Council’s 5 priorities is increasing citizen engagement and opening up City Hall.   Nothing shows our progress on this better than the decline in the number of items Council is dealing with in-camera.  Council is doing far less business behind closed doors.  The number of confidential items has dropped from 71 in 2008, 30 in 2010, 21 in 2011, and just 8 in-camera items so far this year in 2012.

In addition, there have been 14 open town hall meetings in the first 18 months of this Council, and these meetings have been held all around the City.  There were town hall meetings in wards 1 through 5 just in the past two months.  In addition, the City has held consultation on everything from a new waterfront plan to our sewer by-law, with 8 public open houses, and 15 public meetings under the Planning Act.  Our new website was launched and the City is using social media to hear directly from residents.

Council’s top priority remains job creation and economic development.  This spring saw IBM choose Barrie for a major facility, we welcomed Fortune 500 company PPG to the former Bemis plant on Fairview Road, and some of our largest employers have announced expansions, including Transcom, Wolf Steel, Munro Concrete and of course RVH.  We’ve held major events to help support business growth, including the Ideas in Motion event and the Google Get Your Business Online event last week.  The City is continuing to review zoning restrictions to ensure the City’s policies are not a barrier to growth.

Downtown, the development of the Collier Centre and its new grocery store, pharmacy, office tower, and residences will begin shortly.  A new local food store has opened on Dunlop Street and patios are livening up the downtown during the daytime.  Security cameras have been approved and will be installed later this year.  This Council has moved to prevent any more nightclubs in the Downtown, through new zoning restrictions.  And the 5-points fire site was cleaned up and turned into a parkette.  Although there’s still lots of work to do, our downtown has been improving.

Financially, Council has continued the process of righting the City’s fiscal ship during a period of austerity, while still trying to move the city forward.  The 2012 budget was approved unanimously, reducing both capital spending and the amount of forecast debt, while adding a badly-needed 5th fire station in southwest Barrie, and adding $1M to road resurfacing, reflecting public concerns.  Council also provided $8M this year toward the total of $52.5M committed to the RVH expansion.  Funding this commitment required very hard work by staff and Council to ensure other needs were met.

On transportation, the Mayor’s plan for transit was approved this spring which is the first overhaul of the transit system in 40 years.  The Allandale GO station opened, and the City’s work with Metrolinx has resulted in summer weekend GO train service being introduced on Saturday.  Council has cut taxi fares, and overhauled regulations of taxicabs.  It also passed new regulations for the tow truck industry into law.

A new program, RecAccess, was created by City staff and approved by Council, to provide surplus spaces in rec programs to low-income residents, and staff and Council are working to create fairer pricing for recreation programs.  New heritage programs, including a municipal register for heritage properties, Heritage Month, and a waterfront heritage walk (former Mayor Kinzie’s idea), are in the works.  Last but certainly not least, Council hired a new CAO, Carla Ladd, who started work with the city earlier this spring.

Members of Council moved more than 25 individual items on everything from Library budgets to expanding the BMC to Freight Rail.  Council has continued to work together extremely well and whether you agree with all of our decisions or not, I think all would agree it has been a busy but very fruitful session.  I want to thank members of Council and City staff for their hard work in moving the City forward.