Current Events

I said a few months ago the fall term would be busy, and so far, it has to go down as one of the busiest in recent memory.  Among the major issues we’re tacking:

–  Budget – Barrie has to get it’s fiscal house in order.  Although this Council has cut the capital budget by 20% in two years, and cut new spending by much more than that, more needs to be done.  Tough decisions to come on the 2013 budget.  Council and senior City staff have already taken a voluntary pay freeze, but this is just a tiny slice of what needs to be done.  We actually need to spend more fixing roads and pipes, and much less on new buildings and new programs.  A hint of what’s to come can be seen in the decision to not pursue a Holly Library branch at this time (a shame, but understandable given our fiscal condition).  The draft budget proposed to put $2.7M more into the fund for fixing roads and pipes, while making various (relatively minor) service cuts to save money. 

Lots more to come on this, but to address one proposal – I strongly suspect Council will NOT proceed with a “special levy”, something which has been floated to pay for new projects such as the improvements to our waterfront.  I am hearing many people say that it would be better to delay or not undertake the waterfront improvements until our fiscal situation improves.  You be the judge – click here to see the new plan.  Decision to come in January, but I suspect we will need to find other ways – our residents are clearly saying they can’t afford optional projects right now.

– A sustainable waste plan.  Barrie’s landfill will be full in 2024 if we don’t take action to extend it’s life.  It will cost $6.5M to close it, and another $600,000 per year to maintain the closed site, in addition to the huge costs to truck waste elsewhere.  We must keep the landfill open as long as possible and the secret there is to encourage more recycling – a lot more.  The new strategy includes a proposal for bi-weekly pickup (green, grey, blue bins would still be weekly, and the limit would be 2 bags not 1).  This would not only save money but has been proven in other cities to encourage recycling, but remains controversial.  Comments welcome!  There are many other measures in the plan, which is designed toe xtend the life of the landfill to 2035, saving more than $7M.

– Mid-term refocusing – Council recently held our mid-term update.  We have decided to focus on three of our five key priorities for the remainder of the term – specifically:  creating jobs and growing the economy, managing growth, and improving our financial condition.  The other two priorities – city centre revitalization, and opening up city hall, will continue to be priorities, but Council feels major progress has been made on these objectives.  Our central focus will be on jobs, managing growth, and fixing our finances.

– Economic Development – the “Ideas in Motion” plan (click here to read it) is our five-point plan to grow our economy.  I’m really excited about this, the plan was built directly from a day-long session with Barrie’s business leaders and lays out specific actions for the next 4 years.  Again, comments welcome…

Lots more I could talk about…from casinos to chimineas…check out www.barrie.ca as always for more information on issues of the day as this fast-moving fall term flies by.

Virgilwood Recognition

I’ve been delinquent in my blogging, with so many major issues on the table right now at City hall.  I’ll eventually get to putting out some thoughts on the casino question, finances, the university campus, and so on.  In the interim, I wanted to post my speaking notes from the recognition of responders to the Virgilwood Crisis – it was important that we recognize their heroism and dedication, which we did during a ceremony at Council on Monday night.

 

Members of Council and Members of the Public :

On July 11th, 2012, a confession led to a major break in a cold case murder file in Barrie.  During interviews, the accused told police about the various firearms, explosives and booby traps at their residence. A search warrant was obtained and an extensive search of the home began. At the home at 30 Virgilwood Crescent, police discovered numerous explosives and chemicals throughout the property that put the community at risk.

Over the course of the next eight days, the discovery led to an unprecedented police operation.  Due to safety concerns, 22 area homes were evacuated for roughly one week.  Explosive Disposal Experts from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Barrie Police Service and the Center of Forensic Sciences dismantled and disposed of various explosives and chemical hazards and seized numerous weapons.  Found within the home and its exterior perimeter were 26 illegally possessed firearms of varied types, in excess of 11,000 rounds of ammunition, and 83 improvised explosives devices and various chemicals.

Needless to say, a single explosive device is a cause for great concern and requires tremendous skills, training, and ability to render safe.   Despite the complexity of the investigation, the number of devices, and the conditions of extreme heat, the Barrie Police, OPP, RCMP, and experts from the Centre for Forensic Sciences undertook an unprecedented police operation that rendered safe all of the explosives and made the neighbourhood safe again for residents, without a single injury.  We are here tonight to celebrate and thank these officers for their professionalism and bravery.  They are in my eyes true heroes, who did an incredibly difficult job in incredibly difficult conditions to ensure our safety.

We are also here to thank tonight the volunteers of the Red Cross who assisted the evacuated residents during their time out of their homes.  The Canadian Red Cross stepped in as part of our Memorandum of Understanding but I can tell you that as an organization and as individuals, these folks went above and beyond the call of duty to support our residents.

I also want to recognize the Barrie Fire Department and the Simcoe County Paramedic Service who provided standby service on Virgilwood during the investigation and assisted on scene.

Last but not least, I want to recognize the residents of Virgilwood Crescent.  Their patience amid a very trying time was admirable.  The unfortunate impact of the situation was that many people had to be out of their homes during a time when some were dealing with everything from illnesses in the family, to missed family holidays, and other personal impacts.  To all those who maintained their patience and positive attitude throughout, I want to express my appreciation not only on behalf of City Council but also on behalf of the services.  Their job was made easier by your support.

In conclusion – this incident was unprecedented, not just in the history of the City of Barrie but in the country.  We are a safe city, with one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.  But when a serious situation occurs, we all depend on the abilities of our protective services to keep us safe.  Not only were those services up for the challenge during that hot week in July, they performed spectacularly.  

During the crisis I was on a number of occasions interviewed by both local and national media.  One of the toughest questions came from a national news network who asked me what this incident said about Barrie – and was it a black eye for the city.  I said it wasn’t the way we would like to get into the national media, but I truly believe that the mark of a community is in how it responds to incidents like this, not the actions of a single madman.  Our community’s response, from the residents, to those who helped them and helped the police, to most of all, the Red Cross, RCMP, OPP and Barrie Police, was something to be proud of.

Please join me one final time in thanking all of those involved, on behalf of a grateful community.