After a year away…the Progress Breakfast 2017

So, stopped blogging for a while. In reality I’ve struggled to find time for any in depth writing, and some of what I was able to do shifted to Facebook, which I have a love-hate relationship with…in any event, herewith my presentation from the 2017 Progress Breakfast last week.  There was an incredible opening speaker, Nicole Verkindt of CBC’s Next Gen Dragon’s Den, who talked about the path to success for young entrepreneurship and the impact of disruptive technology on just about everything. My talk was both a State of the City update (first ten slides) and then a discussion about shifting service delivery models to being proactive instead of reactive…and leveraging the sharing economy.  here’s the deck:

Mayors-Progress-Breakfast-2017_FINAL

And I do plan to start writing back here now and again…

 

 

Progress Breakfast 2016

For all those who couldn’t be there today, I started my day with a speech to about 275 people at Liberty North.  The topic was innovation in the public sector – I wanted to show some of the examples of the innovative ways Barrie is making service delivery more efficient and effective.  But, it being the annual Progress Breakfast, I also did a “state of the city” address to start with…so the first 8 slides give you a bit of a snapshot of the city.

Progress-Breakfast-2016-FINAL

 

Five Year Report

Hard to believe it’s been five years.  As we close the door on 2015 and look ahead to 2016, here’s a five year report on our top priorities, and how our community has changed.  Thank you for the honour of serving you as your Mayor.

 

 

On Refugees, Terror, and Canada’s Response

Been a long time since I’ve blogged.  So, so much I could write about locally, and I’ll get back to that, but I wanted to post my thoughts on Paris and the questions about refugees.

If we allow Paris to harden our hearts against refugees – to allow ISIS to dictate to us who we will and won’t be humane and charitable to – then we let them win.  The objective of terrorism is fear; to use fear to push us off the ideals that groups like ISIS detest – freedom, tolerance, and an open society.  And so I will continue my work to support the Syrian family of 8 – with 6 children under 13 – that we are sponsoring to come to Canada.  And I support the government’s call to bring more refugees here.  They should not move so quickly that they are ill-prepared or skip any security checks or basic planning.  Canadians will forgive the government if they miss their quota by Dec 31st, if the effort is being made to do it properly.  But Canada as a country has always helped those in need, and we should again.

It is part of the responsibility of a civilized, tolerant, and prosperous nation to both give refuge to the desperate and defend the innocent.  This may sound too black and white but it really is to me; I am Canadian and this is what I believe.

Six Months In

The first six months of a Council term are always busy, but this has been a period of unprecedented activity for Barrie Council.

In December, following inauguration, Council set 4 Strategic priorities for our term.   They are:  A Vibrant Business Environment, Responsible Spending, An Inclusive Community, and Well Planned Transportation.

Since then, the following matters have been dealt with by Council:

  • The 2015 budget included an increased focus on renewal of infrastructure.   Council established a new Dedicated Infrastructure Renewal Fund – these are funds that will be spent on roads, bridges, sidewalks, pipes, parks, and all other city infrastructure, in order to address the backlog of state-of-good repair projects that have gone uncompleted for far too long.  This funding will also reduce reliance on debt by some $252M over the next 20 years, saving residents millions in interest payments and reducing the burden on future taxpayers by doing work now instead of at great cost later.
  • Work began on Essa Road and proceeds through the final weeks of the Lakeshore Drive project, Capital plan also includes a substantial expansion in road resurfacing and reconstruction work on many roads that badly need it, such as Ferndale, Morrow Road, Bayview, Duckworth, and many others
  • EA’s were passed for Duckworth Street (Bell Farm Road to St. Vincent), Dunlop Street (Toronto Street to Mulcaster Street), Brunton Park (Lovers Creek Slope stabilization improvements)
  • Feasibility Study completed for Year Round Downtown Market
  • A New Waterfront and Marina plan was passed by Council
  • The Sustainable Waste Management strategy was put into place, with resulting increases in green bin use
  • The City’s technology overhaul kicked off, with the ERP project working to map and automate thousands of manual processes
  • A new plan to use our downtown parking lots to spur revitalization and improve the parking budget was passed
  • The Allandale Station site was improved and the plan for final fit out and completion was passed by Council
  • Barrie is one of six Ontario cities working to merge their electric companies, to create the largest municipally owned utility in the province
  • A new energy savings plan will cut costs for taxpayers – through in part a project to convert all 11,000 streetlights in Barrie to LED’s, saving taxpayers more than $2M a year in energy costs – a great example of innovation delivering savings.
  • The new Affordable Housing Strategy was passed in the first 100 days, including 14 actions to begin increasing the supply of affordable housing, and Budget 2015 provides funding toward 54 unit affordable housing development on Brooks Street at the IOOF campus in Allandale.
  • Farmer’s Market – Wednesdays at City Hall plus study of the Transit terminal- committee formed

In our broader community:

  • Invest Barrie has begun expanded Business Retention & Expansion efforts through Phase 1 of a formal employer outreach program.
  • The City has seen job growth and new employers.  A new 75,000SF manufacturing plant by armored car manufacturer Streit Inc. coming to south end of Barrie, and major industrial employers such as JEBCO and Napoleon continue to expand.
  • The City was not chosen for a university campus – a major missed opportunity.
  • The City is working to reduce costs and become more open for business – processing time for industrial building permits continues to drop; now 1.1 months, down from 3.5 months in 2010
  • The Memorial Square/ Meridian Place project kicked off,
  • A new performance-based transit contract was put in place, and will begin July 1st.  Transit ridership was up by more than 7% year-over-year in late 2014 and early 2015.

The City also continued to grow its role as a leading municipality, regionally, provincially, and nationally:

  • The City won several awards, including:
    • The Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation for the Restoration of the Former Allandale Station
    • AMCTO Municipal Excellence Award for Zone 2 (Dawn McApline)
    • Barrie Police Services is awarded the High Five Innovation Award by Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO).
    • AMCTO E.A. Denby Award (Accessibility- Sunnidale Park Playground Redesign)
    • NFPA 2014 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year, (Samantha Hoffman)
    • Environmental Services/Access Barrie- award for the Rethinking Waste animated video
    • Lifesaving Society congratulated the City of Barrie for operating the 15th largest lifesaving program, the 5th largest in a community with population between 100,000-250,000 and the 10th largest leadership training program in Ontario for 2014.
  • The City held the Central Ontario Resiliency Conference, bringing together regional and national leaders on severe weather and climate change, to look at this pressing issue.
  • City staff organized the first Ottawa advocacy day for the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus, with dozens of meetings in Ottawa over 24 hours as well as a regular meeting of the group.

Through it all, Councillors and staff continued to use new tools and technology and work 24/7 to provide service to our residents.  Councillors answered thousands of calls and emails, held meetings in their neighbourhoods, took on issues both small and large, and planned for our future and that is the work we will continue in the months and years to come.

Statement on the University campus decision

Mayor Jeff Lehman’s Statement

 

(Barrie, ON) For five years, Barrie City Council, staff, business and community leaders and Laurentian University have been working hard to make a case for a standalone university campus in Barrie. The Ontario Liberal Party committed in the 2011 election to funding three new undergraduate campuses. A provincial request for proposals was launched in December 2013 to build capacity where student demand is strong but at the same time, where access to post-secondary education is limited.  Barrie continues to have a very strong case.

  • The Presidents and CEOs of Barrie’s largest employers have expressed their support for a campus in Barrie, through interviews and letters of support;
  • In June of 2012, more than 200 leaders from the Barrie business community joined a City-led economic strategy session called Ideas in Motion. A University was established as one of the top priorities for Barrie’s economy;
  • More than 1,500 residents signed an online petition supporting bringing a satellite campus to Barrie;
  • In September 2014, a public opinion poll of 1,000 people in Barrie indicated that 80% of respondents are supportive of the Mayor and Council of Barrie’s goal of establishing a stand-alone university campus in Barrie.

As I stated in my inaugural address in December 2014:

It is time for Barrie to have its own university campus.  Today, with companies starting and growing daily, we need to focus on creating more stable, well-paid jobs.  We need to continue to support a stand-alone campus of Laurentian University in our city, as complementary to our renowned Georgian College, because we can only get stronger with both.

Barrie has suffered from a four-year moratorium on new university programs while this process has played out, in the expectation that the Province would address the serious shortfall of access to university spaces for our students here by investing in our city. They failed to do this. We are the only city in the Province which has had a moratorium on new university programs.

We are extremely disappointed with the Province’s decision. Instead of investing in three campuses in areas of the Province that are underserved, one campus was approved in an area with nine other campuses within a half hour’s drive of each other.  The decision abandons our students and our business community, in Barrie, Simcoe County, and Central Ontario.

Waterloo Region, with a similar population to Simcoe County, has more than 40,000 university spaces.  In Simcoe, we have less than 3,000. Barrie is the largest census metropolitan area in Canada without a university campus, and is projected to grow by over 30% in the coming years. We are the urban growth centre of Simcoe County. Currently, 88% of university applicants from the region are forced to leave to study, and this will only get worse without a stand-alone university campus.  Our participation rate in university studies is far below the Provincial average.

This cannot be allowed to continue, regardless of this decision.  As such, I will not be taking “No” for an answer.

So what happens now?

While we have not been successful in the Provincial Major Capital Expansion (MCE) process, we assume that the four-year moratorium on new university programs in Barrie is lifted.  A vision of university education has been co-developed by Laurentian, the city, our community, and industry that would help Barrie thrive into the future. Laurentian University now needs to be able to grow in our community, which I will continue to fight for.  Georgian College also needs to be allowed to expand degree programs in Barrie.

In short, if the Province will not help us with this growth, we will have to do it ourselves. Barrie needs and deserves this investment in our economy and in our young people.

 

A note on a tough day for Barrie.

Some days in this job are easier than others. But today was a day that also reminded me why I do this job. Started on CBC Radio at 7:40 talking about the Resiliency Conference we are hosting tonight and tomorrow. Then had to write a statement expressing my deep disappointment and frustration over the Province’s decision not to support a university campus in Barrie. That dominated the day a bit, with media reaction and a press conference at 3pm. But in between, I observed a Barrie Police tactical unit training exercise, and got to see first-hand the professionalism of our force and the Simcoe County EMS Tac Medics that are embedded. The City was pleased to receive the first “Blue Flag” rating for the Barrie Marina, for environmental protection. My incredible staff have got everything lined up for the Conference tomorrow – and we received a pile of last-minute registrations. And a staff member sent me pictures of the snowploughs that have been decorated by students at Barrie schools. So, while today was a kick in the gut to lose the university bid, that’s not over yet – and I had a bunch of reminders of how great the people are that work with me and for the City.

Here’s a pic from the training exercise…and I’ll post my statement on the university decision separately.

With BPS Tactical Unit

 

 

The First 100 Days

City Council marks its first 100 days in office on March 11th.  For me, this is a good time to check in on our initial progress as a Council.

Immediately after being sworn in Council set 4 Strategic priorities for our term.   They are:  A Vibrant Business Environment, Responsible Spending, An Inclusive Community, and Well Planned Transportation.

Responsible Spending has within it the following goals:  Embrace innovation to improve how we do business, Demonstrate value for money, Improve understanding of how tax dollars are spent, and Build a community that respects both current and future taxpayers.  So far:

  • The City’s budget, just passed, included a 3.2% tax increase – about 0.7% more than the core inflation rate.  Of that, operating costs resulted in a 2.2% increase (below inflation), and the remaining 1% is a new Dedicated Infrastructure Renewal Fund – these are funds that will be spent on roads, bridges, sidewalks, pipes, parks, and all other city infrastructure, in order to address the backlog of state-of-good repair projects that have gone uncompleted for far too long.
  • This funding will also reduce reliance on debt by some $252M over the next 20 years, saving residents millions in interest payments and reducing the burden on future taxpayers by doing work now instead of at great cost later.
  • Included in the budget is a project to convert all 11,000 streetlights in Barrie to LED’s, saving taxpayers more than $2M a year in energy costs – a great example of innovation delivering savings.

On affordable housing, I said during the election that we should build 300 units by 2018, and in my inaugural address challenged Council to pass our Affordable Housing Strategy in the first 100 days.  Council made affordable housing one of the goals within its Inclusive Community priority, and has made the following progress:

  • The Affordable housing strategy was passed by Council in February, within the first 100 days, including 14 actions to begin increasing the supply of affordable housing
  • Budget 2015 provides funding toward 54 unit affordable housing development on Brooks Street at the IOOF campus in Allandale
  • Working group of developers, city staff, agencies to begin implementing changes and recommending additional actions to make it easier to build rental and affordable ownership units

On jobs, Council established several goals:  Build a global startup community, Eliminate obstacles to business growth and investment, Attract and retain a talented workforce, Promote Barrie’s strengths.  These fit well with the “3 E’s” theme of Entrepreneurship, Education, and Expansion discussed at election time:

  • Barrie has continued its advocacy for a university campus in Barrie including an information session at Queen’s Park in late January
  • We have worked with existing businesses to sell Barrie through the revitalized Barrie Business Ambassadors, who had their first training sessions for new ambassadors
  • Invest Barrie has begun expanded Business Retention & Expansion efforts through Phase 1 of a formal employer outreach program
  • New 75,000SF manufacturing plant by armoured car manufacturer Streit Inc. coming to south end of Barrie
  • Processing time for industrial building permits continues to drop; now 1.1 months, down from 3.5 months in 2010

Council’s fourth priority for this term is Well Planned Transportation, with three specific goals:  Improve our road network, Improve options to get around, Improve road safety.  To date in this term:

  • Our new 5-year capital plan includes critical road expansions and links such as Essa Road, Mapleview East, and the Harvie Road/Big Bay Point Crossing
  • Capital plan also includes a substantial expansion in road resurfacing and reconstruction work on many roads that badly need it, such as Ferndale, Morrow Road, Bayview, Duckworth, and many others
  • Budget 2015 includes permanent traffic calming measures at 3 intersections in residential neighbourhoods
  • Our active transportation plan will continue to roll out in 2015 with road diets in certain locations, there will also be a new performance-based transit contract, and work continues on the Centennial Park expansion and Lakeshore Drive realignment

Council is working well together on many key issues, maintaining a focus on getting things done, and making increased efforts to listen to the residents we serve.  Most members of Council are active on social media, and the first of the monthly ward town hall meetings was held in Ward 2 on Saturday March 7th.     In my opinion, Council has also shown the willingness to make some tough decisions that may be politically difficult today, but will save money and improve services for decades to come.  Still much, much work to do, some issues (such as parking) that we have not yet tackled meaningfully…but a really solid start.

Time to Slay the Infrastructure Deficit

OK, I know I’ve been beating this drum for years.  But, it’s budget time, so it’s crunch time.  If we’re going to do something about all the roads, pipes, parks, and buildings that need fixing in Barrie, now’s the time – let alone the projects that are needed to help us get around more easily, such as the Harvie-Big Bay Point crossing, and connecting Bryne Drive.

Barrie staff have sent cameras through water pipes, used sonar to map the condition of all not only our road surfaces but the subsurfaces too, and looked at all the stormwater culverts, ponds, and pipes that need repair.  Their conclusion is pretty stark – we need to be spending something in the order of $80M per year to maintain state of good repair.  Today, we’re spending something like $30M.  You – our residents – have told us we need to do more.

This budget, Council needs to tackle this problem in a meaningful way.  Overhauling services and innovation will help.  But the amount of taxes going to capital budgets needs to increase.

The math is straightforward.  While getting to $80M will take time, we can make real progress in this term of Council.  We now have a 5-year capital plan – if we decided we were going to make this a “$25M Challenge” – $5M more to capital for over the 5 years of the plan – we could accomplish this with:

  • Debt Retirement – $5.2M
  • Infrastructure Funding from taxes – $11.5M
  • Service Innovations – $4.0M
  • Federal Gas Tax – $4.3M

The City retired some debt in 2014, that will save us $2.2M in the operating budget this year.  A further $3M is coming in 2019.

Since 2009, Council has already been increasing infrastructure funding from the operating budget to the tune of about 0.35% on the tax increase.  This need to increase, probably by another six-tenths of a point.  The degree to which we can offset this tax-based increase in the capital funding – and keep the overall tax increase down – will depend on our success in keeping operating costs down from year to year.

Service innovations are changes such as the LED streetlight conversion project, which will deliver $2.2M in savings alone by 2019.  A further $1.8M would need to be freed up, but I am confident this can be accomplished.

Federal Gas Tax is indexed to inflation; however, the City typically does not fully spend this funding annually (I think we should).  $4.3M more is roughly $850,000 per year more; indexing will probably provide about $300,000 of this, leaving about $550,000 more annually to reallocate to asset management and state of good repair.

Together, these measures would bring our annual funding of infrastructure to $50M by 2019; that will allow us to do more work, sooner, and with less debt.  That is an aggressive goal, but one that Council needs to tackle.

 

The Agenda with Steve Paikin

More to come soon on other issues as February is looking like a blockbuster month – budget, affordable housing, planning for intensification, some key debates on parking etc.  In the meantime, due to popular request, here’s a link to the first of two episodes of the Agenda with Steve Paikin filmed in Barrie about ten days ago, concerning growth and our economy.  It was a great opportunity to talk about the City we all love, with a good and open debate about the challenges facing us.

 

 

 

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