2010 State of the Town

The following remarks were delivered to Council, staff and residents at the September 20, 2010, Council meeting, where Mayor Rob Burton also presented his fourth annual Town Status Report.

Every year I deliver a report and an address on the state of the town. I deliver it every year at this time and this evening is no exception. I want to thank the many members of the public who have given me suggestions for this speech. I want to thank the many members of Council who have forwarded suggestions for this speech. I hope you will be happy with the way I have incorporated your suggestions and I hope you will allow me to say that, in that regard, this is your speech.

Samuel de Champlain, as he explored Canada in 1615, wrote, "I labour always to prepare a way for those to follow." For the last four years, our Council has prepared a way toward a more livable and sustainable future for everyone in Oakville. As the chosen representatives of our community we have parked party labels at the door. We've worked together for the good of the town we all share. Four years ago, we created a unanimous four-year strategic work plan to guide us forward to our vision to become the most livable town in Canada. Since then, the phrase "Livable Oakville" has become known across our community. Those words have resonated with you, our residents.

You hold us to the promise of those words when you contact us. Oakville never before had a strategic four year work plan with specifically named outcomes. Our plan has served us like a good business plan. It kept us focused. As a result, we accomplished almost all of it.

Council is not alone in our dedication to the whole community. You residents who are here tonight with us and others across town or on TownTV share our care for Oakville. We're all working to make Oakville the dynamic, engaged, inviting community it wants and needs to be for our kids, our families, our working people and our retirees.

Our greatest achievement over the course of this term of Council was the creation of our new official plan. It controls growth. It protects our existing neighbourhoods from unwanted developments. It directs growth to carefully chosen, controlled locations. Gone are the old loopholes and contradictions.

With our new Official Plan, we will continue our record of success this term at the Ontario Municipal Board. Our legal and planning team is now defending our new Official Plan at the OMB from the developers who are trying so hard to turn back the clock to the days when they always seemed to win at the OMB.

Throughout the creation of our new official plan public consultation was unprecedented and so was public praise. And we unanimously adopted the related Downtown Oakville Strategic Review to assure our downtown a bright future in the framework of our new Official Plan. This visioning work also featured the public consultation we've become known for in this term.

We now have a planning department that gets Oakville. Council, the community and our planners are united in our common vision of Oakville. This is a huge change from what it felt like before. And this is a key part of our chances of keeping our unbeaten record at the OMB in future.

We also have listened to the clear voice of Oakville's heritage groups. Heritage Oakville. The Bronte Historical Society. The Trafalgar Township Historical Society. The Oakville Historical Society. We unanimously supported funding to hire the heritage staff the town had needed for so long.

We completed the listing of properties of heritage interest. We increased the number of designated properties to more than 500. We're designating our first Heritage tree. The Great White Oak on Bronte Road.

This year, Oakville received the Lieutenant Governor's Ontario Heritage Award for Community Leadership. At that ceremony former mayor Harry Barrett received a lifetime achievement award for his 55-year commitment to our heritage protection and on October 1, we'll get Canada's highest Heritage honour, the Prince of Wales Award.

As sharp-eyed as we have been for protecting our heritage, we kept focused on our future challenges too. We know that energy costs are forecast to rise by 30 per cent over the next five years. Personal mobility will be more and more expensive. As we age and give up our cars and as we face those rising costs, we will need transit for personal mobility.

Our youth need transit now. So do many employees of Oakville businesses. This Council voted unanimously to change our transit system to a grid pattern for easier and quicker cross town travel. Ridership rose all this year. We have no empty routes. We do have empty stretches, we do have empty times, but that ladies and gentlemen is normal for transit.

We improved connections for GO Transit. We added hundreds of GO parking spots to assist commuters. Next year, a 2,000 car parking structure will be built by Metro Linx at Trafalgar and Cornwall Roads. The PRESTO fare card now works on all Oakville Transit buses.

We have worked to improve all aspects of transportation, not just transit. We adopted a plan of continuous improvement for road resurfacing and repair. We will finally have 100 per cent of our roads at our quality standard by 2023, if future Councils stick to our plan. We have reversed the old, downward direction on local road quality.

A strong transportation system that's roads AND transit is vital to support our local economy. We now have that strong transportation plan. We still need to be sure that there are areas in town in which to create jobs for our residents. We fought and won two OMB cases to protect vital employment land from being converted to alternative uses.

And we beefed up our official plan policies to strongly protect employment land from being converted to residential use. Before this term of council, conversions of employment lands to residential uses robbed Oakville and our future of at least 500 hectares of employment land.

The loss of those employment lands destroyed forever the space for 25,000 or more jobs and $12 million or more in business property taxes per year. We cannot afford to see such job destruction again. We need to use wisely the employment lands that remain. Our unanimous stance as Council on this policy point is the major foundation for the success of our unanimous job creation plan.

Our plan is to attract and retain jobs in the professional, technology and financial services sectors. We will also work to create opportunities for international collaboration. Our plan's good, but you don't have to take my word for it. The plan has received praise from the Chamber of Commerce AND it won national awards, too.

We are also implementing our job creation plan. The 100 hectares called the Great Lakes Business Park in west Oakville recently confirmed the tenancy of Canadian Tire Financial Services. In Winston Park West we have taken steps to bring online 100 more hectares of high quality employment land.

We expect every 100 hectares of employment land to generate about 5,600 jobs and about $2.5 million a year in business property taxes for the town. These funds reduce pressures on residential property taxes. Each $2.5 million for the town is the equivalent of a two per cent property tax increase on residents without raising your residential taxes!

And there is no question that Oakville is an attractive community for job creation. We have one of the lowest business tax rates in the GTA. Throughout the past four years we have created winning conditions for our local economy and we've benefited in working alongside some excellent partners.

The Oakville Chamber of Commerce. The Bronte, Kerr St. and Downtown BIAs. Golf Canada. The Tourism Partnership. And the arts community. I include them as partners in our economic work because research shows that high quality businesses seek a high quality of life, with a vibrant arts and culture scene, when they choose new locations.

When it comes to arts and culture, Oakville has never had so much sparkle. For two years now, the annual Mayor's Arts Gala has celebrated the arts in Oakville. Last October we created our first municipal cultural plan. The heart of our cultural plan is to enhance and build community capacity for arts and culture.

We are grateful to the arts community for collaborating with us to achieve the consensus we achieved for the cultural plan. The Oakville Arts Council. The Oakville Arts Society. Community Arts Space and Art Works.

We moved forward to fill our community's facilities deficit. Our new Queen Elizabeth Park Community Centre will open in 2012. A dream of generations of Oakville parents will finally come true. At last, the community will have a proper community centre in Bronte.

The Queen Elizabeth Park Community Centre is just one of many facilities we've acquired or built to catch up on the town's facilities deficit. We celebrated one of our biggest catch ups when we opened Sixteen Mile Sports Complex to rave reviews just this past weekend but we looked after our small facilities, too. Kinoak Arena is getting an upgrade to its building with stimulus funding.

Minor Oaks Hockey Association, the Hornets, the Blades, Oakville Speed Skating and Oakville Skating Club and others are all benefitting from more ice time and we can now see the day when adults will also benefit from good town ice time and rates!

Other recreational advancements were outdoors. Our new sports fields at north park and Bronte Athletic Park will help meet the needs of our kids and sports teams for generations to come.

We've also partnered with community groups to add needed community facilities. During this term we've seen a big success story at our new indoor soccer complex in partnership with the Oakville Soccer Club. The Pine Glen soccer facility is fully self-supporting and ahead of its projections financially. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something we can all be proud of.

When the Kerr Street Ministries Dream Centre opened this year, another dream came true. Young and old alike in the Kerr Village community now have a small community centre. It may be smaller than others, but it has a big heart. And the Kerr Street Ministries has the support of the entire town.

In fact, Kerr Village has had a renaissance over the last 20 years, steered by Councillors Fred Oliver and by Cathy Duddeck. The Kerr Village BIA is now our second largest BIA. Kerr Village now has terrific renewal and reinvestment in housing and businesses! This Council's Kerr Village Plan won a prestigious national award, so others have noticed, too.

If other towns and cities that you read about in the news are having trouble meeting the stimulus deadline next March we don't have that worry. Our new transit facility was our $45 million stimulus project. It is on budget and on time. We are proud of our success and grateful that the provincial and federal governments cooperated with us to make this project happen.

I'm also proud that our strong fiscal management gave us the financial strength to be able to contribute our one-third share! So when the dust settles, in one term, we are adding 775,000 square feet to the approximately 1.15 million square feet the town owned when we began this term. And we did that while cutting debt paid by taxes to less than when we began this term!

Our budgeted debt payments cut town tax-supported debt to only $22 million this fiscal year. It was over $24 million in 2006. It was $10 million in 2002. I wish that we could all keep a clear head about debt. Our town could afford, under provincial rules, to borrow over $250 million. We are a long, long way from any kind of debt crisis. We have great fiscal health!

We achieved so much this term and we kept the Town in strong financial condition. We were fiscally responsible in addressing our needs. You only have to look at how we managed the 2008-2009 recession with spending controls to avoid any deficit. And I think everyone on Council enjoyed the newspaper editorial praising us at the time for that achievement.

We have the financial strength we need to deal with the school properties that are being sold by the school board. If Council wants, we can afford the debt to buy them. If we buy them, we control their future use. Look at Queen Elizabeth Park High School for an example. In this way, we could keep public space in our neighbourhoods and we would prevent bad development in our neighbourhoods.

The town has always borrowed to finance the infrastructure projects that we have needed because of growth. We've always been repaid by developers as they build. They pay the interest, too. This is using other people's money that's a good thing for the taxpayer. The alternative is we use yours. My vision is to do more of it using other people's money.

Now, because of our strong cash reserves, we will be able to lend to ourselves for growth related projects. This is good because WE collect the interest instead of a bank! We create new non-tax investment revenue for the town. I'm proud of getting our cash position to this point because my vision is to meet our needs with new revenues rather than property tax.

This Council shared a unanimous vision on fiscal management. Our town's fiscal management is on a new, more business-like basis. We have fully implemented performance-based program budgeting or PB2. PB2 should be our most powerful legacy to the future.

Councillors and residents will be able to see the cost of our programs and services that they want with an all-time high level of accountability and transparency. PB2 also found millions of dollars of savings each year during its implementation. We held the rate of tax increases this term to the same as the previous four years! And we did more this term, too!

Our overall property tax increase was 2.6 per cent a year, close to the rate of inflation for the period. This year it was just 1.6 per cent. At .98, we have one of the lowest property tax rates in the GTA. It's the same tax levy rate coincidentally that we started this term of Council with.

And we have a lot more to be proud of financially. Four years of clean audits from our auditors KPMG. Four years of unanimous audit committee reports. Councillors Knoll, Bird, Oliver, Lapworth, Khan, Johnston: your work is appreciated. No challenges to our financial statements or audits in four years! That's good work. Congratulations!

Tax payers received more financial relief this term when we unanimously agreed to make developers pay more for the facilities and infrastructure that will be needed to support their developments. Growth will pay for more of growth's costs because we raised development charges to the maximum, we raised them 60 per cent. The result: lower pressure on your taxes.

Our new higher DCs are being fought in the courts by the developers who want to prevent us from moving forward. I am confident of our legal team in defending our position. Our financial strength has been a crucial part of the success story of this term of Council. It allows us to be able to provide what we need to survive and thrive.

This year the town was asked by Halton Healthcare Services to make a $230 million donation to their local share plan for the new Oakville hospital. Council resolved by 11 to 2 to commit a maximum of $130 million in 2015 to the hospital's local share plan. We know we need the safer, modern hospital we're lucky to be able to afford.

To protect ourselves, we will not provide any funds until the new hospital is built and operational. We also resolved that we will also consider another $40 million donation stretched out over the 30 years after 2015 if or as it is proven to be needed, from our operating funds. Over that 30 year period, our Town will spend over $30 billion.

We will be able to find a few million every few years of the way to be sure we have the hospital that we need. And the exact amount of our donation could be less. Only when the Request For Proposals is answered by bids next year will the exact amount of the donation be known. Regardless, our donation is capped at no more than $130 million in 2015 after it's built.

The donation in 2015 can be lower, because unlike all other cities and towns, in our case we are last in and first out. If the RFP bids come in lower than the gross estimates, all the savings to the Local Share Plan go to reduce our donation to the hospital. We don't give them more than they prove they need.

Other cities and towns are already adding tax levies on their taxpayers to fund money commitments up front and without conditions even though they have no guarantee the Province will approve and fund their desired hospital.

We have not passed any such speculative tax levy. And I have a plan to fund our donation using new, non-tax green energy business and financial revenues instead of taxes, by the time we get to the donation year in 2015. One of those is the "district energy" project in the new hospital district.

As the 100 hectares around the new hospital become home to a successful life sciences business park, each building will be able to draw heating, cooling and backup power from one small, cleaner, cheaper, central source, replacing perhaps 100 dirtier individual furnaces and coolers, and generating new income for the town.

We also secured the old hospital site as a condition of our donation, so that we can control its future development and make sure it's in keeping with the local neighbourhood. And we have already begun public consultation with you, Oakville's residents, about what to do with it. The hospital expects to turn the old site over to us in 2015.

We have time to decide how to use it. I get asked what my vision is, I try to be the leader who helps you implement your vision but I'll seed the discussion with my own vision for the place. My own vision for the site is to rent it back to the Province to create a Seniors Healthcare Centre of Excellence. Imagine 330 new long term care beds which are greatly needed in our town, imagine programs designed to help seniors stay in their homes longer, and clinics, and even an Emergency room. The rent would help pay for our donation to the new hospital!

Inside town hall, we have focused on improving service. Our new one-stop Service Oakville operation, those staff are the first voices that residents now hear or meet when they need help from Town Hall. I'd like to recognize Jane Liu, Manager of Service Innovation, for her success in getting Service Oakville up and running so successfully.

Other staff have done us proud, too. Staff in Recreation achieved the prestigious HIGH FIVE accreditation for the town's children's programming this year. Jane Arnett, Manager of Parks Maintenance, received the very rare honour of membership in the Sports Turf Association.

Planning and development staff received two Excellence in Planning awards from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute. These awards speak to our staff's high skill and dedication. We on Council value even more the many compliments our staff receive from our citizens for the quality of their service.

One resident wrote to express her thanks after she asked about her parking ticket, she wrote:

"A very helpful person explained the parking bylaws, I was completely blown away by the excellent customer service I received from the moment I wandered into the building to the moment I left. Each and every person I dealt with was courteous, professional, and most importantly, genuinely interested in helping me." And that is certainly what Council's goal for staff service to you.

We on Council who care so much about service quality and you among our residents who care about service quality must be concerned about the growing labour shortage that lies ahead. This challenge to maintain our service levels is one that must be addressed.

When I became Mayor, my first question was to see the staff development and retention program. Staff told me Oakville didn't have one. Now, we do. I'm proud of that. We are now ready to compete with other employers for the best employees.

Now of course the elephant in the room, the biggest environmental issue for the community this year has been TransCanada's decision to build a gas-fired electricity generation station here. I learned that 103 of the last gas-fired generators licensed under US President George Bush were cleaner and safer distances from homes and schools than what TransCanada proposes.

In 2009 Council unanimously enacted an interim control by-law. We held up any power plants over 10 megawatts from being built in Oakville until the appropriate planning rules for locating these facilities could be developed by our staff. The OMB upheld our by-law when TransCanada and Ford appealed it.

We unanimously extended the control by-law this year. Planning staff have worked hard on the Land Use Study on Power Generation and the proposed zoning and Official Plan amendments. We will consider that work at the Planning and Development Council meeting a week from today.

The environment has been this Council's priority for the entire term even before we heard of TransCanada. We made protection of woodland, marsh and green space high on our priority list throughout the course of our four-year term. A growing tree canopy and extensive green space continue to help improve Oakville's air quality.

When complete, our tree inventory will help us care efficiently and effectively for our urban forest. It will help us reach our unanimous goal of growing our tree canopy from 29% to 40%. So will our plan to combat the emerald ash borer. Our plan is one of the most innovative and aggressive in the province.

We have more trees to lose than many of our neighbouring communities. Trees clean our air, but they can't do the whole job. So our Council unanimously passed Oakville's (and Canada's) first by-law to protect the health of our citizens by regulating air pollution in Oakville.

A staff team led by the town's Director of Environmental Policy Cindy Toth and our Town Solicitor Doug Carr created this ground-breaking initiative. They are guiding its implementation, now. Their vision and dedication to this vital work has been for me, inspirational.

TransCanada has applied to Superior Court for an order to quash it. That case will be heard in December. The result is that we are severely limited in what we can say about TransCanada, since we are before the courts.

We continue to consult with key environmental groups on green initiatives within the town. Oakvillegreen. The Halton Environmental Network and Its affiliated Solar Rooftops Project. The Oakville Community Centre for Peace, Ecology and Human Rights. Greentrans. Citizens for Clean Air and Transitions Oakville.

All of these organizations are working on behalf of the community to help lead us towards an improved standard of living and sustainably. Think of the global challenges facing us in the future. It's clear we need to learn to live regeneratively - and resiliently. It may be a long way to that goal, but we need to take steps now.

We are moving forward on that path with Oakville Hydro's installation of solar panels on the roof of Hydro's building. Oakville Hydro will now be able to assist businesses and residents to do the same. You get to sell power back to the Ontario power grid, too!

One of the first residents to install solar panels wrote to us last month with joy she didn't try to hide. "I've been paid!" she wrote. "Thank you all for your part in getting this accomplished over the past year and a half." She and others are helping to point more residents to the way to a more sustainable energy future.

We also benefitted by continuous improvement of public engagement in our community. We've innovated and expanded the ways we create and use public engagement to guide us. Public participation in 9 Mayor's Advisory Groups has strengthened my ability to offer advice and information to council, one of my key duties.

Private tree protection, led by resident, Glen Herring. A vision for Bronte, led by the Ward 1 councillors, Alan Johnston and Ralph Robinson. Recycling or reducing plastic bags and bottles, led by Ward 6 councillor, Max Khan. The economic potential of Creative Oakville, led by Ward 3 councillor Mary Chapin.

A lobbyist registry, led by Ward 1 councillor Alan Johnston. Natural trail standards, led by Ward 1 councillor Ralph Robinson. Sustainability, led by Ward 4 councillor Allan Elgar. Rooftop Solar power, led by Lisa Seiler and Hart Jansson, with Ward 4 councillor Roger Lapworth and Ward 1 councillor Alan Johnston.

Unifying public notification standards, led by Ward 2 councillor Cathy Duddeck. Ward 6 councillor Tom Adams represented us on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario sustainability committee and, as our budget chief, he guided implementation of PB2 to strengthen our fiscal management and he delivered two budgets to unanimous council support.

I thank you all for the way you enriched this term of Council above and beyond the call of duty. The Community Leaders Roundtable I created has also been invaluable to my work as Mayor. Leaders of Oakville's residents groups meet together with me monthly. We hear each other's concerns and exchange ideas seek solutions and we see how our town is greater than the sum of its parts.

Councillors Tom Adams, Keith Bird, Mary Chapin, Cathy Duddeck, Allan Elgar, Marc Grant, Alan Johnston, Max Khan, Jeff Knoll, Roger Lapworth, Fred Oliver, Ralph Robinson, and I have served the whole Oakville community together now for four years. Councillor Adams and I never missed a council meeting. No one missed very many.

Some of us have served our community for many terms, such as Councillors Bird, Oliver and Robinson. Some of us are finishing our first terms. Councillor Oliver, his last. All of us made this term count. This term, we have paid attention to each of Oakville's parts and how they work together. We have preserved and protected what makes Oakville great and we cherish.

We have prepared a way for those who will follow. And we moved the town forward toward a more livable future. Next month, you the voters will give us your verdict on our work together. For now, I reflect on something Casey Stengel said. "Gettin' good players is easy", the master coach said, "gettin' 'em to play together is the hard part."

You, the residents and voters of Oakville, chose the players of this team four years ago. The players you chose for this Council worked together very well for the benefit of the community as a whole. I congratulate you, Oakville, for your good choices.

Many of you have told me how much you appreciate our success over these four years. We have made good progress together on our vision of creating in Oakville the most livable town in Canada. Our economy is strong. Our town is poised for ever greater success.

Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. This is what we on this Council have done with our term. I thank you and I thank Council for having been able to help you get what you wanted done. We've shown that when we all work together with our best interests with creativity and with imagination, our direction is onward and upward! Thank you very much for your time and attention.