Mayor Burton’s remarks made at an Oakville Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday, March 27, 2012.
Thank you so much for the very kind introduction. I want to thank John and Wendy and the team at the Oakville Chamber for organizing today’s event. Thank you for all the work you do to ensure our Oakville businesses are so well informed and so well represented. Let me thank the sponsors of this morning’s event, too, before John does. Ford Canada, Sheridan College, Carterra and Union Gas. You are stalwarts of our business community. You are civic treasures.
Distinguished guests, MPP Kevin Flynn, Chair Gary Carr, Councillors Tom Adams, Keith Bird, Pam Damoff, Cathy Duddeck, Allan Elgar, Dave Gittings, Marc Grant, Alan Johnston, Max Khan, Jeff Knoll, Roger Lapworth, and Ralph Robinson, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here today. We’re at a unique point in Oakville’s history.
We have big decisions ahead of us: 20 to 40-year decisions that will shape our future and let us become Canada’s most livable town. These are decisions we will take seriously and carefully. And they’re decisions we will take together.
Before becoming Mayor, after enjoying a long career in film and television and creating and launching YTV, it had become clear to me that success in business, in sports, in life, goes to those who work hard with creativity and imagination. The kind of effort only fully engaged people can achieve. Last Friday, kicking off the Ontario Minor Hockey Association tournament at our spectacular new 16 Mile Creek sports complex with Ron Maclean, we told the boys and girls no matter how good you are, you are better with a team, and teamwork gets the big things done. Friends, life is a team sport.
The residents of Oakville are the kind of hard working, creative and engaged people that we need to succeed. And when you have engaged citizens and strong leadership, anything is possible. Today, let’s talk about what’s happening and what’s possible with Oakville’s finances, economic development and a new technology developed by Siemens.
Last month, Premier Dalton McGuinty was the featured speaker at an Oakville Chamber event. He talked about Ontario’s economy and our future success.
He spotlighted the need to build our economy in a way that lets us compete and win in the global economy. He talked about a competitive Ontario. His vision of Ontario is an Ontario that wins and prospers.
And he’s on the right track.
The latest numbers have the provincial economy growing at a rate of 2.7 percent. 120,000 net new jobs were created last year and over 305,000 since the recession. And Oakville is moving in a positive direction, too. Our tax-supported debt is low relative to our capacity – and falling. For the fifth year in a row, we’ve received a clean audit from our auditors.
During the municipal election 16 months ago, I promised we would manage municipally, at the town and the region, so that total tax impacts would not exceed the CPI track. This year’s Budgets passed unanimously by Town and Regional Councils, do just that. Our total tax impact, including the recently opened Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre, is just 2.9% this year.
Statscan reports the annual CPI for February is 3.1% for Toronto. Oakville has the 6th lowest tax rate among the 26 GTA municipalities. It used to be 8th. In the last term of Council, from 2006 to 2010, the average annual total property tax levy increase was 5.1%. In this term, we expect that the average annual increase will be 2.8% or less. For the four years before becoming your Mayor, from 2002- 2006, the average tax increase was over 7% annually. We promised we would manage the town and region portion of the property tax to keep the total property tax increase within CPI. And we have. That was the unanimous direction by Council to Staff last year. And municipal Staff and the budget committees (I’m on both) have delivered.
Now, we knew our ambitious catch-up plan on community facilities would cost money to operate. So the first thing we did almost 5 years ago as we planned to catch-up on a facilities deficit, was to shift the town to performance based budgeting (“PB2”) or Budgeting For Outcomes. Our intention was to reduce the tax impact of catch-up costs by increasing efficiency and value.
PB2 focuses on programs and services and results instead of departments. 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? PB2 has helped us find millions of dollars in operational efficiencies. We’re the only government in Canada on any level using it.
Maximizing efficiencies allows us to meet part of our needs by making each dollar go farther. This ensures that we meet our objectives and we keep tax increases more affordable. Town Council and Staff have embraced this shift and there’s a very real focus on value, efficiency and performance, as well as on the environment and livability.
As an example: the Town of Oakville worked with Oakville Hydro on an energy reduction program at Town Hall, resulting in an energy savings of over 35,000 kWh this past summer. My fellow Councillors and I have taken a conservation pledge presented by Oakville Hydro to promote conversation programs for homes and businesses on the Ontario Power Authority’s saveONenergy.ca.
I’m asking you as citizens and business leaders, to take the same pledge and visit saveONenergy.ca to learn about ways that you can conserve – and save your money.
Together, we can accomplish great achievements. Together we have accomplished great achievements. I campaigned on a platform of controlling growth. And we have controlled growth. Growth is now a far more tolerable 2%,not 3% a year anymore.
Our town and regional development charges get the costs of growth off of taxes to the limit allowed by the Mike Harris amendments in 1997 to the Development Charges Act. And our Official Plan allows us to be masters of our own destiny in designating growth to specific areas. Our finances are 1st class. Our Budget Chair, Councillor Tom Adams has an MBA-Finance. He’s a former Senior Risk Manager at BMO. No surprise, he has stressed and we have built up strong fiscal reserves. Where cities around us are borrowing to deal with infrastructure renewal, we are meeting our renewal needs on a pay-as-we-go basis. We are just about the only place in the country that matches depreciation with transfers to capital infrastructure renewal. Our “gap” is gone.
While almost everyone else is worrying about how to complete and how to fund an Asset Management Plan by the deadline set by the Province, our Asset Management Plan is already done – and funded. Our AMP provides for the renewal and replacement of our existing infrastructure and facilities.
Our AMP covers a lot, too. We have added 800,000 square feet to the Town's 1.1 million square feet of community facilities. That’s more than a 70% increase. And total taxes only went up less than CPI. This year’s big catch-up project in the town’s budget is the operation of Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre, which opened this past weekend.
If I look elated and exhausted, it’s because I spent most of my weekend there, with about 6500 residents seeing it for the first time. What an amazing space! It is Oakville’s first community and cultural centre. It’s our biggest community centre and the only one south of the QEW. And there’s every indication that it will do for arts and culture what 16 Mile Arena has done for sports.
So we’re catching up on our facilities deficit. And we’re doing this while cutting tax-funded debt. Over the next ten years we are on track to cut tax-paid debt out of our financial picture. Our tax supported debt was $24 million in 2006. Now, it now sits at $17 million. Within 10 years, it’ll be gone. We will have our full financial capacity and strength at our disposal should we ever need it.
Our unused debt capacity is over $500 million. We are one strong little town. And we have done all this while weathering the Great Recession. So now that we have caught up with our community’s needs as much as we have and now that we’re controlling growth, what’s next? I don’t want to leave you with the impression that our work here is done. We have important work left to do.
We have a downtown whose future vitality and success would be enhanced by renewal of Centennial Square in time for Canada’s 150th Birthday in 2017. We have important questions to answer with the extensive and direct public consultation for which Oakville has become known and celebrated. What will be done with the old hospital site whose future uses we will control when it closes in 2015? What future uses will we permit on the surplus school sites and on the post office site? There are community centres and other town facilities yet to build across the north to keep up with our future growth. There is a donation to make in 2015 or 2016 for the new Oakville hospital on Dundas. It will be carried with non-tax revenues from our unregulated businesses.
We will manage all of these and stay within our means. And while we’re demonstrating great fiscal strength and integrity, we’re planning with the future in mind. We are creating a plan called Vision 2057, to guide our town to our bicentennial in 2057 without ever falling behind again, fiscally, socially, environmentally or economically.
New businesses are moving here. Industry leaders are investing here. In my conversations with residents they appreciate that we have a plan for Oakville and that it’s about livability. Oakville is an attractive place to live, to work and to do business. We are a priority destination for new investment. We have a talented labour force.
We have an enviable quality of life. We have opportunities to partner with international industry leaders.
Since 2007, we have made it a priority to prevent any future conversions of employment land to residential uses. Our new Official Plan does just that. Before 2007 more than 500 hectares of employment land were converted to residential. There have been no conversions in my time as Mayor.
In part, this is thanks to a well thought out and well executed economic development strategy, the dividends of which are clear. New businesses continue to set up in Oakville. Established companies are leaving other places to settle here. Recently, Siemens Canada, a corporate giant and household name, decided to move their Canadian head office to Oakville. It’s a 115,000 square foot, Gold LEED Certified building. 800 good jobs are coming to Oakville. It is a clear endorsement of Oakville as a winning place to live, work and raise a family. It’s a validation of Oakville’s increasing livability. And don’t sell short the importance of livability. One company that’s coming tried to bargain for cheaper taxes and fees, saying it was cheaper in another city. I said Oakville’s worth it. And they came.
Other corporate leaders like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Canadian Tire Financial Services have made similar decisions in relocating their head offices to Oakville. CTFS moved here in early 2011. They brought 300 new jobs. Later they transferred an additional 100 employees to their facility in the Great Lakes Business Park.
In total, company relocations accounted for 639 new jobs in 2011, as well as absorption of over 400,000 square feet of commercial and industrial facilities. 2011 was a strong year for Oakville. In addition to the construction of a new corporate head office for Siemens Canada, two other major non-residential development projects are underway: Phase II of the Great Lakes Business Park and Joshua Creek Corporate Centre. These and other office developments will bring 2,200 high quality jobs to Oakville. They will strengthen our non-residential tax base. They are joining 300 other head offices. This trend is set to continue in 2012 with the development of over 600,000 square feet of new office space with a capacity for 4,000 new employees.
Our economic development strategy focuses on companies in the business of Professional and Financial Services, Advanced Manufacturing, Life Sciences and Digital Media and Animation. We draw on the excellent support and competent stewardship of our friends at the Halton Region, led by Chair Gary Carr, in offering greater investment marketing and attraction services.
And it’s precisely because we’re on course and have planned ahead that industry leaders are investing here. In September, Ford Motor Company of Canada announced a $2.5 million investment. This research initiative will develop new powertrain systems for hybrid vehicles. Partnering with McMaster University and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, funding is spread over 5 years. They aim to establish an industrial research chair in hybrid/electric vehicle powertrain diagnostics at the university. Goodrich is another example of a company that is investing in Oakville. A $3.3 million provincial investment in Oakville’s Goodrich Landing Gear was announced in December by our local MPP, Kevin Flynn. The funding will go towards R&D in developing and manufacturing more advanced and reliable landing gear systems in a sustainable manner. The end result is more jobs in Oakville and a high level endorsement of Oakville as a preferred place for investment.
For our part, we’re at work on a Life Sciences and Technology Park, a Digital Media and Animation Hub and positioning of the Winston Park West (WPW) employment lands to attract a significant share of Oakville’s total office and industrial demand. The Life Sciences and Technology Park will sit adjacent to Oakville’s new hospital. The hospital and the technology park will have a synergistic relationship. We’re in the process of a visioning workshop, concept rendering and an investment market analysis. Staff will report later this year to Council outlining options on the best way to proceed. If the MP for Oakville was serious when he promised to get $10 million to help develop the hospital area, it will be welcome. But we’re not waiting for him to show up and deliver.
We’re also working with key partners from the Sheridan Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning, Haltech, Silicon Halton and local companies on the development of a digital media hub or cluster in Oakville. Our intention is to strengthen connections between students, faculty, private industry and outside organizations as well as attract mature companies from this sector to the Midtown/QEW employment areas.
And while we’re on the subject of employment lands: the Winston Park West (WPW) employment lands are an area of focus for us in 2012. With nearly 250 net acres of developable land and a strategic location at the junction of the QEW and Hwy 403, WPW is well positioned to attract a significant share of Oakville’s total office and industrial demand.
Our Halton Region Council members have won approval of servicing of this area and we will continue to work with key stakeholders throughout this year to ensure an end result that is beneficial for everyone.
Now, let me share something Siemens showed me that presents opportunities for communities all over the world to solve the problem of getting around. And it traces back to one of those serendipitous coincidences in life that make you think things are meant. A personal and professional relationship between Councillor Max Khan and the leaders of Siemens led them to Oakville.
As we plan for full build out of our town in 2031, and the growth that will occur between now and then, we anticipate the need to move residents more freely between our major urban centres and places of business and industry.
The video captures a forward thinking focus on environmentally friendly design and moving people in a sustainable way. The ability to wirelessly optimize integrated movement of people and goods, matching capacity to demand, and respond to transportation needs as they arise paints an exciting future. My grandfather was born in 1888. When he was a boy he had a pistol and a pony. He lived on a ranch. He died in 1988. He liked to tell me how amazed he was at the great progress of the human race in his life time despite two world wars, one of which he fought in. Automobiles. Jet travel. Radio. Telephones. Television. Moon landings. Siemen’s makes me hope I’ll see as much progress in my 100 years!
Until then, we will keep moving forward together in creating, preserving and affording the livability that we are always working to increase for our town.
We’re controlling growth, saving green space, and keeping up with the town’s needs; all while keeping increases to taxes and debt paid for by taxes lower than before.
Our fiscal house is in order, we have an outstanding team led by Dorothy St. George who is working with Council to realize the town’s economic development goals and our vision for Oakville to become the most livable town in Canada.
Because we are a community who can picture our future with such inspiration, passion and engagement, when we work together with creativity and imagination our only direction is onward and upward!