2014 State of the Town

The following remarks were delivered to Council, staff and residents at the September 22, 2014, Council meeting, where Mayor Rob Burton also presented his Oakville Status Report.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbours. Every year at this time, it’s been my pleasure to give you my report and share my views on the state of the town. My focus this time is our decision-making. You can see our past, our present and our future in our decision-making. You yourselves and all the rest of our friends and neighbours will be making decisions later this year, next month in fact, when you vote for the regional chair, mayor, councillors, and trustees.

So the theme this year is decision making. All of our decisions together add up to what kind of town we are creating.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said it this way in his book: “Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time today, turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that.” Mr. Hadfield was writing about achieving his dream of going into outer space. But the same words apply for those of us just trying to make our corner of the planet Earth a better place to live, work, play, raise a family and retire. We have a vision of being the most livable town in Canada.

To judge the state of the town at this point in our history, let’s look at my choices for the top ten groups of decisions that we’ve made. You’ll see what they’ve done for you. And you’ll see what they will do for you.

My list is from my perspective as your mayor. These are the groups of decisions with the most impact on you and our future. Let’s start with the environment.

A more livable Oakville needs clean air

First, a more livable Oakville needs clean air. We decided to enact Canada’s only legislation restricting PM2.5. PM2.5 is the deadliest form of air pollution. We are the only government in Canada to restrict PM2.5. Since 2010, our air has had a 37 per cent reduction of PM2.5. We also decided to ban smoking within nine metres of all town areas where we know kids play, to protect children from second-hand smoke, which is a proven carcinogen.

A more livable Oakville needs generous green space

Second, a more livable Oakville needs generous green space. We decided to save and protect green space. We created our own 2300 acre local green belt across north Oakville. Some said it couldn’t be done. We developed new parks and redeveloped old ones. We are restoring and protecting the Bronte Bluffs. We’re upgrading Oakville Harbour’s shoreline. We made decisions that saved 80% of the Merton Lands. With the new greener Provincial Policy Statement on land use planning, we expect to save the rest.

A more livable Oakville needs to keep its trees

Third, a more livable Oakville needs to keep its trees. We need to add more, too. There are only two ways to deal with the Emerald Ash Borer: cut or cure. With our target of growing our tree canopy to 40% in mind, we decided to fight this pest by treating our public trees. We recommend to home owners to treat to save theirs, too. Our tree protection and strict tree planting rules for developers will help us reach our goal, and so will our decision to plant more trees everywhere we can. These tree planting rules should make lollipop trees a thing of the past.

A more livable Oakville needs facilities for its residents to stay healthy and active

Fourth, a more livable Oakville needs facilities for its residents to stay healthy and active. We decided to create an additional 800,000 square feet – a 70% increase – of new community facilities. We needed it to catch up with the growth we had experienced as a town. You responded with appreciation and increased levels of participation and enjoyment. And we’ve made decisions that will create more public facilities for you:

  • We’ll create a new community centre in North Park.
  • We will renew and expand Oakville Arena as part of a new community and seniors centre on Kerr Street.
  • We’ll establish a new community centre where the old high school is in southeast Oakville.
  • We will renew the streetscape of the downtown when we rebuild the roadbed.
  • We will add more parking to the downtown.
  • In 2017, we will be ready to renew the central library and performing arts centre at Centennial Square and create a new home for the Gallery for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.
  • We will enjoy a state-of-the-art new hospital. And we decided to make it happen by funding the hospital donation using non-tax funds from green and other energy projects. We believe the property tax is not the appropriate source to fund hospitals.

A more livable Oakville needs to be fiscally responsible

Fifth, a more livable Oakville needs to be fiscally responsible to be able to afford what we need. So we on Council made decisions to run the town with business-like tools.

  • We work each term from unanimous four year strategic work plans. Our version of a business plan.
  • We moved to performance-based budgeting. And we’re still the only government in Canada that operates on a results based basis.
  • We shifted all the costs of growth we could off of you, the property tax payer.
  • To get developers’ hands out of your pockets, we raised our development charges to the maximum allowed by law. We were 15th highest. And now we lead.

The result of our decisions has been to reduce tax increases. For four years before my time as mayor, the property tax levy increase averaged 7 per cent a year. In my first term, we cut that to 5 per cent. This term, we’ve cut it to less than 3 per cent a year. The idea the total tax levy conveys includes our growth in new assessment of new homes and properties.

Our record with the total tax increase, which is what you experience because that leaves growth out of the equation, is even better. This year it was just 0.7 per cent, less than 1 per cent, well less than inflation, the lowest in 15 years. In fact, the total tax increase for this four-year term of Council was 20 per cent below inflation. In the four years before you elected me, the total tax increase was 60 per cent higher than inflation. And each year for the last six years, we have cut the actual property tax rates. If you like your tax increases going down, here on this council are the people you can thank.

Our fiscal status has never been better. S and P has renewed our triple A credit rating. We're rated better now than Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, King, Aurora, Newmarket, the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario. Oakville is also one of the few places with a fully-funded Asset Management Plan. Your neighbouring cities face massive infrastructure renewal deficits. You don’t.

Oakville is on a steady path of declining tax-paid debt. Tax-paid debt was $24 million eight years ago. It’s $10 million now. And it’s headed down.

A more livable Oakville needs strong and successful business districts

Sixth, a more livable Oakville needs our classic village-style business districts to be strong and successful. Ours have weathered economic and natural storms. Ours are facing competition from places that have beautified their downtowns. We decided to help meet the challenge. We have business development strategies to assist all three of our small-town business areas to reach their potential and to be as successful and resilient as possible.

A more livable Oakville requires a future supply of employment land

Seventh, a more livable Oakville requires a future supply of employment land. Our town had a very bad record before this Council of letting developers convert employment land into houses. Over the last two terms of this Council, our decisions have preserved job lands through our official plan and our zoning. We decided that your need for a financially sustainable town outweighed the desire of developers for fast and easy profits. All of this makes for an even more livable Oakville. And, that attracts business.

The businesses we attract and the ones we keep are how we are meeting our goal of creating 1000 jobs a year for Oakville. Oakville is a great place for business because it is such a great place to raise a family.

A more livable Oakville needs a strong and successful auto sector

Eighth, a more livable Oakville needs a strong and successful auto sector. When the Ford Motor Company decided to invest the best part of $1 billion in its Oakville assembly plant, rather than close it, we did more than celebrate. We took the initiative. We formed the Auto Mayors Coalition. We’re working with the automakers, Unifor, academics, and government. We’re driving to create an Industrial Policy for Ontario and Canada, with an Auto Manufacturing Policy at its core.

We need to keep good-paying manufacturing jobs in Oakville, in Ontario, and in Canada.

A more livable Oakville needs plans

Ninth, a more livable Oakville needs plans. I’ve always been reluctant to call them blueprints. Let’s call them “greenprints”. For our town, Livable Oakville is our vision and our land use plan. For our region, Sustainable Halton is our vision and our land use plan. Now, these plans control growth. They protect our neighbourhoods from unwanted densification. They protect our green space. They protect us from having to finance and subsidize developers infrastructure. Our town plan and vision are required by law to conform to the region’s plan and vision.

For that reason alone, the region is worth paying attention to – and we do. One result is we have been able to make developers pay for an almost 500 per cent increase in our roads budget to fight gridlock. The leadership of Regional Chair Gary Carr has been essential to our victories in that forum.

A more livable Oakville needs the best possible professional civil service

Tenth, a more livable Oakville needs the best possible professional civil service. So we made decisions to invest in recruiting and developing and retaining the best and the brightest. Our clear vision for Oakville has attracted talented and committed staff. You have seen how we have been able to trust staff to translate into reality our vision of a more livable Oakville. We know that our people are the most important part of our success as a town.

Those are the ten most directional sets of our decisions, from a mayor’s perspective. You may have others. Our vision and our plans are living documents. Part of the current state of the town is that we are now engaged in municipal elections. At every municipal election, you the voter judge our decisions. Your decisions can change anything or everything. You can have large or small impacts.

  • A different council can sell off assets we depend upon to carry the town’s up to $130 million donation to the hospital next year.
  • A different council can reverse our increase to fire protection that sped up fire fighters’ response times to rescue people and save property.
  • A different Council could cancel our new Children’s Festival that’s a big hit with families who enjoy the waterfront fun.
  • A different council could reverse our unanimous protection of heritage districts.
  • A different Council could reverse our expansion of transit into a grid system that has increased personal mobility for everyone.
  • A different council could turn away from our prudent fiscal management that has kept tax increases at 20 per cent less than inflation. We were on a very different path before eight years ago.
  • A different council can reverse our support of the police and our resulting six years of being Canada’s safest place to live. There are seven members of this Council who serve on the Regional Council that funds and oversees our police:
    Councillors Tom Adams, Keith Bird, Cathy Duddeck, Allan Elgar, Alan Johnston, and Jeff Knoll. Oakville has had a central role in the police with me as the chair of the police board and Councillor Knoll as a board member.
  • All of this Council, including town councillors Pam Damoff, Dave Gittings, Marc Grant, Max Khan, Roger Lapworth, and Ralph Robinson supported our move to shift development costs off of the property tax and on to development charges where they belong. A different council can change the development charges bylaw to shift the costs of infrastructure back on to property tax payers.
  • A different council in short can take us off the path we decided to follow for the last eight years.

So now it’s your turn to make decisions. For four years, you have trusted this Council to make the good decisions that have kept us on the path towards a more livable Oakville and a more sustainable Halton. We will see next month if you feel that we have delivered.

My verdict is that the town is in a better place now than four or eight years ago. That’s my judgment. We on council await your judgment of our work. And your judgment counts more. But I hope we can all agree that the town is in a better place now than it was in 1976 when Councillor Keith Bird began his career of service to you as a member of our elected councils. Councillor Bird takes great pride in the progress in his terms on the police board and the conservation authority, as well as the downtown BIA.

There are many other contributions by Councillor Bird too numerous to mention here. And I urge you to watch for your invitation to his retirement dinner later this year to really celebrate his career. As a Council we worked together with creativity and a growing mutual respect to always find agreement and consensus on your behalf.

To each member of Council let me say, it has been great working with you. To you, the residents we serve, on behalf of everyone on Council, let me say, thank you for your trust.