The text of Mayor Bob Bratina's third state of the city address.
By Bob Bratina
Published January 30, 2013
This is my third State of the City Address, and as with the first two we are presenting in different areas of Hamilton to reflect on and reinforce the strength, heritage and importance of every part of our City.
It is appropriate that Stoney Creek is our venue today because of its importance to the economic well-being of our community. I want to thank today's program sponsor, Kubes, whose success has derived from the very things I want to talk to you about today.
Kubes Steel offers a range of custom roll form services for structural steel sections, metal sheet, tube, angle, pipe and beams. Their expertise has made them a leader in architectural exposed structural steel projects throughout North America.
Kubes Steel is the result of over 3 decades of investment in founder Joe Kubes' vision which is a vision that we at the City of Hamilton would do well to emulate: to be the best at what we do by investment in plant, equipment, training, technology and most importantly, people. So thank you again for helping make today possible and inspiring a vision for Hamilton.
I have great news today about the progress we've made with our economy especially the diversity that has resulted in the lowest unemployment rate among major Ontario cities - 5.9 per cent against a provincial average of about 8 per cent. The best evidence of that diversity is in Stoney Creek along Barton Street and the QEW Arvin Avenue, Seaman Street and the surrounding employment district.
When people talk about the steel industry in Hamilton they sometimes think that the much lower number of employees they see at ArcelorMittal Dofasco and at US Steel are a sign of the steel industry in decline. But a lot of those jobs have simply moved East to Stoney Creek and elsewhere in Hamilton.
It's in this part of the city that the Steel Service Centres and a lot of the finishing and value add operation take place in Companies like KUBES steel and all of the machine shops and engineering firms that service the steel industry.
Some of the decline in steel industry employment was due to contracting out of many functions that were once in house. So I am happy to be in Stoney Creek for those reasons and also because it is home to many of our most successful risk takers and business people.
I'm here today to talk to you about a 21st century vision for Hamilton. We are 12 full years into the 21st century but in many ways we continue to operate in a culture and framework that dates to the 1990's.
While the city and its economy are firmly progressing into the century, it's important that our institutions like municipal government, are not still be operating as if it were the 1990s. So we will review the accomplishments of 2012, and look at how to provide a more open form of government, one that uses technology to better engage its citizens.
2012 was a banner year statistically but was also important because in April of 2012 my colleagues on council approved a strategic plan to carry us through to 2015. Out of that plan came a number of strategic objectives that allow us to measure how we have done.
So the first of these strategic objectives was to continue to grow the non-residential tax base....and did we ever do that!...2012 was the biggest year by far in the issuing of new building permits" a billion and a half dollars in new permits, of which residential made up less than half.
New commercial real estate hit its highest number ever "as did industrial. Just to put it in perspective last year's total building permits is TRIPLE what we achieved at the beginning of this century.
And when we are talking commercial and industrial expansion, we are also talking about taxation revenue that is coming from sources other than the homeowner. And with commercial and industrial construction we get permanent jobs once those facilities are built.
So it's all good and reflects the wisdom of assembling employment lands and building the infrastructure that is now attracting new business.
Another strategic priority is to promote economic opportunities with a focus on Hamilton's downtown core, all downtown areas and waterfronts - and look at the difference a year makes in our downtown: the construction of the McMaster Medical School and Clinic at Bay and Main is now underway.
All sixteen stories of the new Hilton Hotel across the street are up, the external cladding is now being applied and sometime later this year, perhaps in late summer, the hotel will be ready to take its first guests.
The old federal building residential project is taking shape quickly at Main and Caroline, and between the hotel on Bay and the Condos at Caroline you can see a third structure going up, a 25 story condominium building rising from the ground.
The new taxes generated by these projects will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and along with that, hundreds of new jobs to service the hotel.
By May, the downtown will finally get its long-awaited full service grocery store, the Nations gourmet supermarket in Jackson square. Urban planners have been telling us for years that a food store is a sign that a downtown has reached a critical mass when it comes to attracting people to live downtown.
The developers of the Royal Connaught have just acknowledged the new reality downtown by announcing their long awaited plan to bring the old hotel back to life as a mixed residential commercial operation. Once again, new jobs and new tax revenues.
Taxes on the site right now would be in the range of 20 thousand dollars. Taxes on comparable built-up sites are on the quarter to half a million dollars, so you can see why one of my priorities both as Councillor and Mayor has been to bring downtown properties to a much higher standard of utilization: such as the Staybridge Suites, the Caroline Place Seniors residence, the Simpson and Wigle law offices at 1 Hunter Street across from the GO station, McIlwraithe school at 50 Murray Street, and so many others.
It makes a huge difference in the ability of the Downtown Core to carry its share of the city tax burden.
Since becoming the downtown Councillor in 2004 it has been my contention that rather than being a drain on our resources and a detriment to our reputation, that the core should be a tax generator for the community and a place to live in, visit and enjoy, rather than avoid.
Tax revenues from various downtown projects are spreading all across our communities to your benefit whether you live here in Stoney Creek or in Flamborough or in Glanbrook.
In my brief time on Council we have seen assessment growth on core properties increase by almost 2 million dollars, with hundreds of thousands of dollars more rising beneath those tower cranes you see in all parts of the old City.
Improving the City's transportation system is another important strategic objective.
Council's unanimous support for all-day two-way GO Train service at a new station at James Street North is now becoming a reality.
In June we will hear the Metrolinx funding strategy for $36 Billion dollars of public transit initiatives throughout the GTA and Hamilton. The issue for council is not whether or when we will get LRT. A comprehensive transit plan is coming forward soon that will provide options for solving today's challenges and addressing future needs.
My concern as Mayor is signing on to a series of measures that will provide funds for the so-called Big Move with no guarantees that our timelines or priorities will align with those of Metrolinx.
Hamilton taxpayers would likely want assurance that money generated in Hamilton should only be applied to our transit and infrastructure requirements. The gamble we take is that should our place be down on the list of Metrolinx priorities, anything could happen in the future including change of Government and change of policy.
I've made a rough estimate that should a one percent levy be added to Provincial retail sales tax, our contribution would be roughly one hundred million dollars. I believe we should ensure that most of that money is spent on Hamilton priorities. I would also give consideration to involving the public in the decision making process.
Currently there are calls for a casino referendum, which involves outside money coming in by way of private investment. In this case it will be the public's money funding large and expensive projects.
This is done regularly in American cities with regard to major public investments such as LRT. Sometime prior to the March Break Hamiltonians should have a good idea of what is in store regarding a Casino.
Council continues to support the sustainability of racing at Flamborough as a component of our Agriculture Action Plan which was passed in 2007. However we also know that there is interest by developers in locating a facility downtown or possibly other areas of the City.
Council will have to weigh the benefits against the risks and negative outcomes from things such as gambling addiction.
Among the benefits of an entertainment-based casino-hotel development is the enhancement to the City as a destination of choice for those planning events such as conventions.
It's difficult for me as mayor to discourage a comprehensive and well-designed development opportunity on the basis that the downtown is a marginalized area in which the needy are at risk because of the proximity of gambling.
In fact, it exists today in the core and throughout every neighbourhood where convenience stores sell lottery tickets and instant lottery products such as scratch and win. Hopefully when the time arrives we will have adequate information to make a proper decision.
I want to return to the comment I made at the beginning of this talk about the need for better use of technology in communicating with our taxpayers. As I said we are 12 years into the millennium, but in some ways we still operate with a 1990's model when we provide information to our constituents.
We are aware that the city website is not user-friendly and I am pleased that our staff are working on a model not only to fix what's not working on the current site but also to leapfrog into a website accessible by people who use mobile devices. Even with our current website, fully 30% access it with a smart phone or a tablet.
But it's not just about how people access the site; more importantly its about the kinds of information they can get. I look at the so-called "open data "models that progressive governments are starting to embrace and say: why not here in Hamilton?
I don't want to get into the details of the recent setback we experienced with the Our Hamilton project, except to say that whatever went wrong with execution, the concept was and is a solid one - to try to engage with our citizens across as many platforms as possible to find out how we can deliver better service to them.
That kind of process must continue if we are going to succeed in another of our strategic objectives, that being to "improve the City's approach to engaging and informing citizens and stakeholders."
A good example of this approach is the recent casino forum. I look forward to an opportunity to discuss with stakeholders across our community how we can improve the two-way flow of information through open data and any other mechanism that takes advantage of our digital capabilities.
But I would add this caveat: as we move towards open data, those of us in government have to recognize that with open data comes the surrender of some of the power dynamic that you get when information is controlled. Open data is only as good as our willingness to trust the people who elect us and who pay the bills.
The public has a right to be upset and concerned about the recent terminations of city workers who allegedly disregarded their responsibilities as city employees. Failure to carry out work assignments by employees means wasted taxpayers money when little or no value is produced for the City and its residents.
The City Manager stated this morning that the situation is precedent setting, but many of us feel it actually has given us the opportunity to review and repair the kind of culture that may exist in which such behaviour occurs.
We also have to do a better job measuring our productivity, especially on a per capita basis. The City Manager recently told us it would take several days to determine how many employees actually arrived for work on any given day.
The investigation was significantly aided by information collected through the GPS devices attached to certain city vehicles. This is further evidence that the City of Hamilton has to take advantage of technologies that are now available to monitor performance and ensure productivity.
Although government settings are more difficult to monitor than private industry, there are 21st Century solutions available to help provide accountability to the people who pay our salaries.
It's my hope that Council will insist on a full and complete investigation to ensure that those employees who are properly carrying out their duties with a true commitment to public service are not tarnished by the transgressions of a few. However, it is important to remember that even terminated employees have certain rights which can be violated by careless public statements.
I regularly interact with City employees, often for instance having lunch at the cafeteria at the Wentworth Street North City Yard. I can tell you that they are every bit as upset about the alleged actions as any of us.
Developing productive relations with senior governments is an important strategic objective, and this is an area where we have worked particularly hard. I think it is fair to say that our relationship with both the federal government and the province of Ontario is the best since amalgamation.
Just two weeks ago, I was at the Hamilton airport thanking a Conservative federal Minister and a Liberal provincial minister for providing us with $8 million to increase our cargo capabilities at the airport.
Just ahead of that event, we had the announcement that the Province and the Feds had come up with their share of the funding for the Randle Reef remediation, a huge environmental project that we've finally landed.
This new approach to government relations is happening at the staff level as well. Just before Christmas, a meeting was convened between senior staff in Hamilton, Niagara, Kitchener, Halton and Peel to discuss a transportation vision for the future, and I can tell you that the move captured the attention of the province.
I expect to see that inter-regional approach to issues of regional concern to become more common at the political as well as the staff level. For Instance I recently joined with fellow big city mayors to present a united front to the federal government around the need for infrastructure and transit funding.
One of the most encouraging signs I have seen in our renaissance in Hamilton, and I don't think that is too strong a word.... is the increasingly close working relationship that has developed between the municipality and its centres of higher education.
When McMaster University developed its innovation centre on Longwood Road, it represented more than simply a shift in geography to a campus closer to the city core. It marked a growing integration of the interests of the university with the social and economic needs of the community.
The establishment of the McMaster medical centre will take that integration to another level.
Mohawk College continues to develop programs that are attuned to the economy of the city and Region, and continues to be engaged in the betterment of the community beyond the economic field. And through their investment in physical expansion Mohawk, McMaster and Redeemer are making significant direct contributions to the local economy.
Our educational institutions are second to none in Canada, which leads me to the thought that the best place to raise a child is the best place to educate a child, which is the acknowledged pathway to success.
Education is one of the pillars, but education without a strong economic environment will not complete the job. And when it comes to the economy look at what others are saying about Hamilton.
To start, Site Selection Magazine out of Atlanta, GA ranked Hamilton as the top investment metro in Canada. As well, for the second straight time, the Real Estate Investment Network of Calgary ranked Hamilton as the best place to invest in Ontario.
In summary, I believe that to paraphrase Sir Wilfred Laurier who said the 20th century belonged to Canada, the 21st century belongs to Hamilton.
It was a century ago that Hamilton became the Ambitious City with its focus on steel and manufacturing. Now a hundred years later, Hamilton is home to one of the most diverse economies in Canada.
In order to sustain this momentum, we as a municipal government need to provide ourselves with up-to-date strategies, technology and innovation that will allow us to be a global leader among cities.
Technology today allows those of us in government to engage the public more widely and in greater depth than ever before.
The greatest asset of a city is its residents. In the words of Shakespeare, what is the city but the people? True, the people are the city. I thank you for this opportunity.
First published on Mayor Bob Bratina's website.
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