2009 State of the Town

The following remarks were delivered to Council, staff and residents at the September 21, 2009 Council meeting, where Mayor Rob Burton also presented his third annual Oakville Status Report. Watch the meeting on TownTV.

This is the third Annual Town Status Review of this term of Council. We've seen a recession come and go. We're not here to talk about weathering the storm. We already took decisive corrective steps for economic conditions, thanks to active management, last April. As a result, we are here to talk about success. We've made great strides toward our goal of becoming the most livable town in Canada.

This term of council began 1026 days ago. We're proud to say we've done just about everything we said we'd do in our four-year Strategic Plan. We've created a strong spirit of alignment between Council and planning staff. We listen to each other, and our new planning rules mean what they say. As a result, we're undefeated at the Ontario Municipal Board in this term of Council.

We've improved services we provide our residents. We mow our grass more often. We clear more snow - and sooner. We even pick up more leaves. We run more buses and go more places with them. We expanded fire protection. We rebuilt major roads at Fourth Line and the North Service Road. We added over four kilometres to our network of walking and biking paths. We planted 4,500 trees.

The most exciting accomplishment of 2009 is the completion of our new official plan, Livable Oakville. Made with unprecedented public input, Livable Oakville received high public praise and acceptance. It will control growth to preserve our established neighbourhoods, parks and woodlands - and employment lands. It comes into force upon provincial approval later this year, unless it's appealed.

Livable Oakville is a historic achievement, not just of Council and town employees, but of Oakville residents too. Residents were heard at over 100 public meetings in the past two years. We have a stronger, more defensible plan because of public input. Oakville will remain a residential community, but we will capitalize on the potential of our employment lands to deliver high value to our residents.

So in 2009 the Town of Oakville had its sights focused on the future, not just the present. We're now ready to control growth. Our economy is healthy. We've created the foundations of what Oakville will be for future generations: a vital, sustainable, forward-thinking community.

We heard the requests from our arts community for a space of their own. This spring we finalized plans to build dedicated space for arts and culture groups into the QE Park Community Centre. This fall we will complete our Strategic Directions for Arts and Culture, which will further clarify our strategy for supporting and encouraging the arts in Oakville.

We've built a new Youth Centre in Bronte. We opened a State of the Art indoor soccer building everyone's proud of. We have four new soccer fields and two new softball diamonds. Construction of the quad pad arena at North Park is on track for completion next spring. Eventually, North Park will include outdoor sports fields and trails, a recreation centre and a library, too.

Our new Environmental Sustainability Policy, Sustainable Green Fleet and Sustainable Green Purchasing procedures will improve the town's overall energy efficiency, reduce our resource consumption, and lower our greenhouse gas emissions. Eighty-nine per cent of our Environmental Strategic Plan is now underway or complete. Our Energy Management Plan will track the town's yearly energy performance.

We're not done: we are developing a Sustainable Green Building Procedure to cut back on energy use and emissions. In December, council approved Oakville's first State of the Environment Report. Environmental health here is good, based on key indicators such as natural resources, community engagement, energy use and transportation. We will track our future progress in each of these areas.

New homes north of Dundas Street will be built according to strict environmental sustainability regulations. These walkable "transit first" neighbourhoods will be connected by our Natural Heritage System of parks, open space, wetlands and woodlands. Our goal of growing Oakville's tree canopy to 40 per cent by 2057 will shape the new streetscapes, parking areas and green space.

As part of our focus on Fiscal Sustainability in 2009, in August, Council updated the town's development charge by-law with a 63 per cent increase. We have ensured growth will pay its full legal share of its costs. This is an important achievement for our town, because it allows us to manage our future growth in a controlled, fiscally sustainable way, as our residents expect.

As a community, Oakville received generous amounts of stimulus funding from the provincial and federal governments for a total of almost 130 million dollars' worth of shovel-ready infrastructure projects. As a result our essential new transit facility will be completed in 2011. Without it we could not have supported our transit expansion to a grid service this month.

Our stimulus spending and careful fiscal management have us poised to benefit from the economic recovery that is now underway, as the TD's economist, Don Drummond, described at last week's Chamber dinner. One of my economics professors, Douglas Hamilton, taught us to say, "recessions are Nature's way of telling us to do something new." That's as true now as it has been in the past.

This week, Ford, our major employer, is launching its exciting new vehicle, the EcoBoost Lincoln MKT. And I took my professor's words to heart when I launched YTV after the recession of the 1980s. This year, we took the professor's words to heart in our 10-year economic development strategy.

Economic recovery from a recession always brings new opportunity. We have opportunities for a life sciences business park by the New Oakville Hospital. We have potential for an international hub for digital media and animation to leverage the expertise at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Our economic environment is also boosted by our three Business Improvement Areas: Bronte, Kerr Village and Downtown Oakville.

Our fiscal sustainability is Council's most important objective. Over the past two years we have worked to implement performance-based, program-based budgeting, otherwise known as PB2. When fully deployed in 2010, PB2 will not only give us better financial management, it will make us a fiscal leader in Canada: We will be the only government, anywhere in this country, at any level, to be using PB2.

PB2 makes it possible to measure the efficiency of the money we spend. PB2 will allow residents to judge value for money on a unit cost basis. PB2 will deliver the promise everyone looked for and never got from ZBB 40 years ago. PB2 performance measures for all town programs will be included in our 2010 budget discussion document in November.

When you work hard for three years and produce progress and results with mutual respect and harmony, you can hope for some positive feedback. The results of our 2009 Citizen Survey told us 88 per cent of residents are satisfied with town programs and services. Eighty-nine per cent of residents are satisfied with the key attributes or qualities of the town. Eighty-five per cent of residents said Oakville is more livable than most places in the GTA.

Now, 85 per cent is pretty good, but Oakville is a town that aims high. We'd like every one of our residents to be able to say Oakville is the best place to live, period. So in 2010, we'll be focusing again on enhancing our natural and economic environments, while working to ensure our programs and services are fiscally and environmentally sustainable.

As always, we'll work to improve our programs and services while keeping taxes low. We're proud to still have the fifth lowest tax rate of the 26 GTA communities and we're working to keep it that way.

As we turn the corner towards the last year of this term of council, let's look at one of the questions a mayor gets asked the most on visits to schools and other groups: "What does a Mayor do?" A mayor listens. You listen to council. You listen to town staff. You listen to residents. You listen to their ideas and their problems. Listening could be the most important part of the job.

Oakville residents are smart, successful folks. We learn from them when they have their say. We see the benefit in better decisions. That's why we like to create Mayor's Advisory Groups - so much so that we have five of them operating now.

Over the past three years, we've concentrated on building new facilities and upgrading our services to catch up with the growth Oakville has already experienced. We've prepared for the growth that will come again, but in a new, controlled, sustainable way. Next, we will focus on improving the way we interact with our residents.

Our new customer service initiative, ServiceOakville, is now the first point of contact for residents coming to visit town hall, and our partnership with the region on 311 telephone service provides one phone number that directs residents to the information they need. Our goal is one-window, no-hassle service for our residents.

We will extend that same goal of high quality of service to the Internet. Over the final year of this term of council, we'll improve the level of engagement between residents and the Town of Oakville. We'll bring municipal government, programs and services closer to residents using new, interactive ways of connecting through our website. Residents won't have to leave home to use all our services.

Whether they're starting a small business, enrolling their children in swimming lessons or paying a parking ticket, we want to give everyone a quick and easy way to reach us and get what they need done. We are also working hard to be able to guarantee the accessibility of our services and facilities will comply with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

This Council's record of teamwork and respectful collaboration is unmatched anywhere. We build on each other's strengths. We listen to each other. We've created a unified vision of where we want this town to go - and we're making it happen. The work we've done would be impossible without the intelligence, flexibility and hard work of our professional and dedicated town staff.

We know that together, Council, town staff and our residents will continue to surpass expectations as we work to become the most livable town in Canada. We'll plan, create, evaluate and operate the facilities, roads, programs and services that make and keep Oakville a great place to live.

And we'll continue to guide our decisions by our values of accountability, dedication, honesty, innovation, respect and teamwork. We've learned that when we work together with respect, creativity and imagination, the only direction for our town is onward and upward!