June/July 2011 Progress Report
With two Council meetings in July, I thought I would wait until both were complete before publishing the Progress Report. Council has now taken a six-week break from Committee and Council meetings.
The last six weeks have been very busy. Council has continued work on the Strategic Plan. As indicated in my last Progress Report, I had a family wedding to attend on the west coast and took the opportunity to visit Portland, Oregon, for several days. I am sorting through all my photos and will be preparing a presentation to share some of the really interesting things that Portland is doing. Portland is considered the most progressive city in the U.S.
Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital
Council established a working group in June to complete the work to develop and make recommendations to Council on the agreements for funding the municipality's share of the expansion costs. The City currently is setting aside $2.4 million a year in a hospital fund and has committed to providing $60 million in total funding to Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital. I am concerned by the continued reports of wait times at Joseph Brant. I will be meeting with the Minister of Health and Long Term Care in August to discuss the urgency that we have in Burlington to dramatically improve this situation.
The Brant Street Pier
There continues to be a lot of discussion in the community about the Brant Street Pier. There have been no changes in the plan, however, there has been some inconsistent information circulating in the community.
Council is fully committed to completing the pier. The tender was issued to seven qualified firms on July 20. We will have bids by mid August. There will be a flurry of tweets and Facebook updates when the numbers come in. Staff will have to review the bids. I will reserve my comments until this has happened.
We have a difficult situation to face. To complete the pier or to demolish the pier are estimated to cost about the same. This will be confirmed through the tender submission and a final decision will be made. I support completing the pier for a number of reasons.
1. I spoke with thousands of residents during the election who wanted the pier to be dealt with. Most were embarrassed by the fact that an incomplete construction project was sitting in the middle of our waterfront and Council seemed to be doing nothing. During the election, I committed to completing the pier.
2. Completing the pier is not a question of priorities. We do not have an option that allows us to stop the project and spend the money elsewhere - on the hospital, for instance. Money will either go to complete the pier or we will have to pay the same amount to have it removed.
3. The decision made many years ago as part of a larger waterfront plan to build the pier included extensive funding from senior levels of government. This Council is taking accountability for resolving the situation.
4. The City hired professional engineering and contract companies to build the pier. There remains a responsibility on their part to deal with the results of this project. While being mindful of both the risks and costs, Council is pursuing its legal options to protect the taxpayer and recoup monies. The City and the taxpayer are the injured parties in this project. I intend to protect the taxpayer to the full extent available.
5. The image of Burlington has been hurt by this project. I truly believe that completing the pier will be much better for our image as a city than admitting defeat and walking away. In Burlington, we strive to be a great city, and we achieve that goal.
Niagara to GTA Highway
I expect this to be an important election issue in the October provincial election. We will be asking all candidates to be clear on their position regarding this. I will be discussing this issue again with Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation, in both July and August.
Burlington and Regional Council passed resolutions in June in support of protecting our rural area and keeping the proposed highway out of this environmentally critical area. Our community partners, including environmental and neighbourhood groups, continue to be opposed to the highway.
Council provided a budget direction to staff for preparation of the 2012 budget. We conducted a review of the 2011 budget process and have made some changes, especially to the public consultation process. There will be public consultation in the fall prior to any budget recommendations or drafts coming back to Council. The public will have legitimate input about the options available.
Council provided direction to staff to put together options based on a rate increase between 2 per cent and 3.5 per cent. This range is intended to provide for increased funding to the hospital expansion within the budget (we currently rely on a surplus to fund 50 per cent of the contribution) and increased infrastructure spending.
Council approved the 2010 Financial Statements and posted them to the City's website in July.
We also received the annual report from BMA Management Consulting Inc. regarding the financial health of the City. The City of Burlington 2010 Financial Health Report contains a comparative analysis of how the City is doing on a broad range of financial measurements when compared to the provincial average and to a specific set of similar communities.
There are some very positive results and there are some areas of concern raised as well. In general, our tax rate is lower than average, tax as a percentage of average family income is one of the lowest; and the city's balance sheet is strong. Some concerns were raised about the use of debt and the level of reserves in some areas.
The results and recommendations are being considered by Council.
Employment Lands Study
In advance of the Official Plan Review, scheduled to start in 2012, Council received the Employment Lands Study in July. Having sufficient employment land and protecting that land is critical for the City's long term prosperity. This is even more important in Burlington where the urban boundary is clearly defined.
The report indicated that the City has excess employment land based on planning estimates to 2031. We need to make sure that we have opportunities beyond this. In addition, while employment land exists there are a number of limitations. We want to overcome those limitations, and ensure that Burlington is a competitive city, attracting employers and meeting their need for employment lands. We want to ensure that we are shovel-ready, with all shapes and sizes of land parcels available to organizations who wish to set up a business in Burlington.
Based on this report, a number of developers will be looking to convert employment land to residential or commercial use. A report is being prepared on the criteria, process and other factors we must consider in protecting our future and managing these potential conversion applications.
Council and Staff completed work on the draft Strategic Plan on July 20. I believe the plan is reflective of considerable input received from the public and stakeholders. The collaborative effort of all members of Council and our Executive team was significant.
The plan is now being prepared for public review. This will take place in early September when the summer vacation period ends. We want the plan to be reviewed by as many people as possible. I am excited about the Vision of the plan. I also believe that we are approaching this in a much more focused way and will do a much better job of implementing this plan successfully. Early discussions indicate that the clarity in the plan will allow us to share something meaningful with the community and to report on our progress.
The Burlington Performing Arts Centre
The Burlington Performing Arts Centre is nearing completion. The project is on schedule and on budget. Staff moved into the offices at the Centre on July 19.
The announcement has been made regarding the lineup of entertainment for opening week, November 26 to December 3, 2011. Sarah McLachlan will headline the December 3 Gala. The new Burlington Performing Arts Centre website will launch in early August.
The box office for the Centre will also open in August . Tickets are not yet available for sale. I will be sure to let everyone know when tickets are available. I am sure ticket sales will be well promoted.
I have started a practice of touring the Wards with members of Council. Last week I spent a day with Councillors Taylor and Lancaster in Wards 3 and 6. We visited many areas of the Wards and met with staff and residents. We spent 30 to 40 minutes at two different farms. We also went on-site to look at some lands that will be considered for zoning. Councillor Taylor gave us a tour of the recent improvements at Mountainside.
We currently have time set aside for visiting the other Wards with members of Council in the fall.
What Is A Cyclovia?
Our last INSPIRE Burlington featured Gil Penalosa from 8-80 Cities who gave an excellent presentation on how to make Burlington more pedestrian and cycling friendly, including implementing a "cyclovia".
Ciclovía (also ciclovia or cyclovia) is a term which translates from Spanish into English as "bike path" and is now used worldwide to describe either a permanently designated bicycle route or a temporary event, the closing of the street to automobiles for use by others. The benefits of this type of event include increasing social connectivity and encouraging citizens to be more active and healthy
800 cities around the world have conducted this type of event with Kitchener and Waterloo doing their first cyclovias this year.
Following that presentation, Council has provided city staff with direction to conduct a cyclovia on a Sunday in September or October this year, with staff reporting back to council in late August.
Here is a link to a video from a cyclovia in Portland, Oregon.
I will be mixing work and vacation the first couple of weeks of August, enjoying some time with family and friends and attending the AMO (Association of Muncipalities of Ontario) conference in London, Ontario.
I hope you enjoy all Burlington has to offer this season, and that you spend special time with family and friends. Have a great summer.