2011 State of the Town

The following remarks were delivered to Council, staff and residents at the October 3, 2011, Council meeting, where Mayor Rob Burton also presented his Oakville Status Report.

Our increasing livability

Fellow residents, invited guests, staff and Council. Welcome to the fifth annual Status of the Town Report. Our path to a more livable and sustainable future is clearer than ever. We have the civic engagement we need for Oakville to make more progress on the path we set out on five years ago. We on Council can lead, but we work through others. And the work others do is making a difference in our town.

Look at the Oakville Community Foundation's grants of $1 million last year to community causes, from a fund balance of almost $35 million. Or look at the grants generated by the May Court Club last year of $288,000. Their donations are the equivalent of having another $10 million endowment in our community for Oakville. The 202 volunteer members of May Court make a difference with their service.

Look at the ambitious $4 million target just announced by the Oakville United Way. Clearly, Sheridan Institute president Jeff Zabudsky's leadership style is to inspire us to do more. If we do, our social safety net will be stronger for Oakville. The level of engagement of Oakville residents on civic matters is strong, too. We have more residents groups than other places, from neighbourhood-based to town-wide.

As the great activist and urban planner Jane Jacobs once said, "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody." We of course in Oakville are a city that calls itself a town and acts like a village. Because we work together in Oakville, it seems at times that we are a safe and sunny island in a sometimes savage, stormy sea.

That's due in large part to the fact that we agree so much on what we're doing together for Oakville.

Our unanimous plan

With consultation from all interested parties, Council unanimously approved our next steps ahead on our path to a more livable and sustainable town with our new four-Year Strategic Work Plan. Our first four year strategic work plan in 2007 was also unanimous. It put us on the path to success for Oakville. We achieved almost every goal we aimed for in that plan.

Now town staff are fully engaged in translating this new plan into budgets and specific goals for each program and service. More public consultations will take place this month on three concerns. Professor Robert Williams of the University of Waterloo is working on improving Council representation. On October 18, he hosts a public meeting on ward sizes and boundaries.

On October 24, we'll start town-wide consultations on a new Town protocol on new cell towers. On October 27, here at Town Hall, we will host a public consultation on excessive motorcycle noise. Our consultative style is one of the reasons our residents have consistently given us high marks for our work. In 2010, voters graded Council, in the ultimate grading, and all but one incumbent candidate was re-elected. That's a success!

Another measure of our success is the 2011 Citizen Survey. The survey said, "Oakville residents are clearly satisfied that the town is on the right track in addressing and managing the local issues that they care most about." All of us on Council are dedicated to keeping it that way!

Our facilities catch up

Our high marks are in part based on how we invested in catching up on civic facilities. Just wait until you see the Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre when it opens in January of next year! It will do for arts and culture what North Park and Sixteen Mile Arena are doing for sports. We heard the needs of our arts and culture community. We acted to put arts and culture on a path of greater creativity and community - for Oakville.

For Oakville's healthcare to catch up with the 21st Century, construction on our New Oakville Hospital has begun. This hospital is the largest hospital build in the province's history. It will be a state-of-the-art facility. We'll have enhanced services for the highest level of care for Oakville. And as we heard only last week, it will be a major economic boost to our local economy.

We have more to do for Oakville. We are developing a vision for revitalization of Centennial Square. We are launching Phase 2 of North Park, which will involve a community centre and library facility. Many of us are committed to having a 50 metre pool as part of it. Together, I'm sure Council will work hard to try to make that happen.

We are working to determine the best use for Oakville of surplus public sites. We seek to control the future of the five schools, the old hospital and the old post office. Over the next three years, our public consultations will identify the best outcome for each - for Oakville. All of Council agree the disposition of the post office will be a major event in our downtown's history - and in its future.

I thank each member of Council for advice on the future of the old post office. I'm especially grateful to Councillors Alan Johnston, Ralph Robinson, Roger Lapworth, Keith Bird, Dave Gittings, Jeff Knoll, and Marc Grant for our shared vision. We also are working hard on other town facilities, such as the road renewal program we have adopted and the new trails and bike lanes we are creating at every opportunity.

The new bike lanes are already getting raves. Petrina Tulissi wrote to us: "I use Royal Windsor to ride my bike in to work in Toronto and home again throughout the year. I would like to thank the Town of Oakville for creating this bike lane." The email complimented the special features that make it safer and easier to use. "It's exciting, she says, to live in a community with forward thinkers.

Our employment gains

Our forward thinking identified that livability would be our best economic development asset to attracting the new offices and jobs we want. Executives and leaders of the new businesses we are attracting are telling me that it is our livability that makes them want to locate here. Even when it costs more to locate here than other places. They know that their employee attraction and retention are driven by livability, livability, livability.

Siemens Canada has broken ground on their new corporate head office for Canada here in Oakville. That's 800 new jobs for Oakville. Our economic development strategy is working. We owe a debt of thanks to Councillor Max Khan for this success. Councillor Khan was a keen supporter of Siemens' initiative from the outset. He was instrumental in creating the opportunity. He saw it through to success - for Oakville.

Siemens has a reputation as outstanding corporate citizens. Already they are starting to contribute to our future. They recently shared with us their Light Rapid Transit technology. At a future meeting of Council, they will share it with everyone. Incorporated into our transportation master plans, their technology would make public transportation world class - for Oakville.

The Siemens head office joins new offices by other significant companies: Canadian Tire Financial Services and Javelin Technologies. There will be more. The presence of these dynamic corporations speaks to the winning economic conditions we have created for our town, and the robust fiscal health of our town. We are working to assure success at the street level of business too.

Our downtown business area is about to enjoy an increase in parking capacity on Lakeshore with our soon to be installed solar-powered pay and display machines. The Kerr business area continues to benefit from its BIA, the town's youngest. In Bronte we look forward to an expert panel analysis of ways to improve business conditions there from Dorothy St. George, our director of economic development.

Our financial strength

The Town of Oakville is in a strong and stable financial position. Our credit rating is triple-A. Our reserve funds are at historically high levels. Our tax-supported debt is low relative to our capacity. For the fifth year in a row, we've received a clean audit from our auditors. The overall property tax increase for 2011 was 2.6 per cent, which was below inflation. Council is determined to stay within CPI for the future too.

At 0.96, the town's tax rate continues to be one of the lowest in the GTA. Yes, at 0.79, Toronto's is 20 per cent lower, but they enjoy a subsidy from that the rest of Halton, Peel and York have been forced to subsidize them since 1998!

One of the reasons the town is in such good financial shape is Council's adoption three years ago of performance-based program budgeting, or PB2. PB2 focuses on programs and services and results instead of departments. It's also called "budgeting for outcomes." It's a culture shift. We ask, what are we making happen? How much of it do we need? How much does it cost? How can we do it more effectively and more productively?

The 2012 budget and its outcomes will be the subject of our work for the next few months with completion in the New Year. We will continue to create new levels of public engagement under the direction of our Budget Chair, Councillor Tom Adams. Councillor Adams holds an MBA in Finance and worked for a major bank as a senior risk manager. These are good credentials for a budget chief in these times.

Our growth controls

Council will keep its focus on controlling Oakville's growth over the next 20 years. It is the immediate goal of Council to complete our catch up with our growth by updating our master plans. We are beginning a new development charges by-law study. We will continue to make growth pay for itself - to the limit we can. The 1997 Development Charges Act forces a subsidy of developers unfortunately.

Our key growth control tool, our new official plan, Livable Oakville, received Ontario Municipal Board approval in May of this year. OMB approval means that finally we are masters of our own community. We now control growth to our vision. We'll be just as successful with our zoning review. That is the next part of the implementation process of the Livable Oakville official plan.

Our environmental commitment

As Oakville grows, albeit at a slower pace than before, Council and town staff recognize that our natural environment and environmental sustainability are fundamental. Council is building on major victories with the implementation of Canada's first health protection air quality by-law to control harmful PM2.5 emissions.

Our new "Do No Harm" official plan policies and regulations for assessing infrastructure applications in our town have created a level of protection no other community has. These measures will be our key tools if anything like the 950 megawatt power plant is ever going to come in our direction again.

We also are creating an Oakville Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Our energy consumption at facilities across the town continues to decline. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario says we were the first community with an Energy Management Plan. And we are doing everything possible to save our 180,000 ash trees from the Emerald Ash Borer to protect our tree canopy. We recognize we will need a replacement strategy too.

Earlier this year, Council unanimously asked the provincial government to launch a pilot project within our air shed to reduce air pollution and improve air quality for families. On August 17, the provincial government made the announcement in Oakville that it would grant the request. Clean air is fundamental to Oakville's livability. It has been a long time since our last smog days. We all want to keep it that way.

Our work will continue to create an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan for Oakville. The community will be broadly engaged. We will encourage participation and partnership with key stakeholders on environmental issues. We owe a great deal of thanks to Councillor Allan Elgar, the pathfinding founder of Oakvillegreen, for his constant leadership to create an ICSP for Oakville.

Our challenges ahead

There may be challenges ahead. The greatest challenge is to our budget. The question is will Oakville property tax payers have to keep subsidizing Toronto to the tune of almost $5 million a year or will our property taxes be for our own local priorities? There will be a giant hole in our budget if we must continue to subsidize Toronto almost $5 million a year from our total municipal property tax levy of $225 million.

We have had a strong and productive working relationship with the MPP who represents most of Oakville. As many know, he was a member of this Council for 18 years. No matter who wins the Provincial Election on Thursday, we can be sure that the outstanding results MPP Kevin Flynn has delivered for Oakville have set an outstanding example to live up to - for Oakville no matter who wins in the election.

For our part, we will continue to create efficiencies and productivity across our programs and services wherever we can. We created ServiceOakville to make it easier for the public to do business with the town. This streamlining public service to a one town one window framework is being paralleled online with a redesign of the town's website. We will perform in an ever more efficient and effective way.

Our staff performance

Town staff bring our public policy to life. Theirs are the faces the public sees. They provide the services we all know and appreciate. It is their hard work and dedication that have brought the town recognition in significant awards over the past year. Oakville received the 2011 PRO Excellence in Design Award for the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex from Parks and Recreation Ontario.

The town also won a Youth Friendly Community in Ontario Award. We received High Five Accreditation from Parks and Recreation Ontario. We salute and thank our Community Services Commission and our Facilities Management department for these honours.

Council adopted a mission statement five years ago that concludes with these words: "We ensure our staff receives the same level of respect, commitment and care that they are expected to deliver to the community." You can tell that's happening from the hundreds of emails we receive from Oakville residents to praise the service provided by town staff. I want to share just a few of the examples that stand out.

In April of this year, Oakville Resident Lisa Shapiro wrote: "I've just spoken with Neil Gallant from the Clerk's department and received the best customer service I've ever had when dealing with any government organization." Neil had expertly helped Ms. Shapiro navigate online information about civil wedding ceremonies that meant a lot to her.

In another email the Halton Police Services praised the quick thinking of Parking Operations staff member John Mattocks, when he located a missing person. "Quick action by the by-law officer saved the (police) service countless hours of search time, thousands of dollars in equipment resources, and essentially saved a life," the police said.

This year the staff at River Oaks Community Centre also helped to save a life. A resident suffered chest pains. The staff responded without hesitation. They provided CPR. They activated the defibrillator. And, even though the man's heart had stopped, the team revived him. You cannot put a value on this kind of service?

Both service and value combined in another individual who passed this year, in February. Councillor Fred Oliver made many contributions to our community for more than 50 years. Police chief. TOWARF founder. Long-serving member of this Council. Councillor Oliver's passion and love for the Town of Oakville are very much still present in our continued ability to work together in this term of Council.

His place on town and region Councils has now been taken by his longtime ward partner, Councillor Cathy Duddeck, while new Councillor Pam Damoff serves Oakville from Councillor Duddeck's former seat.

Our council commitment

As a Council we are individuals who know, as coach Vince Lombardi said, "individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work". We are on the right path for Oakville. We can be confident that our creativity and imagination will keep moving us closer to creating - for Oakville - our vision of becoming the most livable town in Canada.