As we head into 2014, the images of the “Ice Storm 2013” are fresh in our memory.
The potential risk posed by extreme weather events, a result of climate change, on infrastructure – like our electricity and storm water systems – is recognized.
The Community Energy Initiative is part of our response. This work is both mitigating our contribution to climate change, by reducing our energy use and green house gas emissions, and helping us adapt to a changing climate by increasing local energy security.
Just a few weeks ago, we laid the first pipe of a thermal energy system and 2014 will see us grow this new utility.
The Community Energy Initiative is an excellent example of how you can do more with less – in this case using less energy and building a more secure and resilient community.
Our storm water system will be the focus of attention in 2014 as we take our successful approach to water and wastewater management and apply it to this system.
Both our water and wastewater systems are debt free and we are beginning to close the infrastructure gap. Water conservation and efficiency programs avoid millions of dollars of new infrastructure while optimization of the wastewater facility has effectively doubled the value of our investment in this infrastructure.
Both are excellent examples of doing more with less – we contain costs and deliver better outcomes for our community.
The ice storm also brought some balance back to our discussion of overtime. On social media, it was good to see residents express their support for public sector employees who working through the night to clear our streets and sidewalks.
The City budgets every year for overtime so we can mobilize the people and equipment – when we need them – to keep our community safe.
Yet, we know can’t just keep increasing the overtime bill to respond to climate change. That is why the audit of overtime is more than timely. We need to do more with less.
Only the highest and best use of overtime dollars should be authorized and zero-based budgeting for overtime in 2014 will deliver the transparency and management practices to ensure this.
When we renewed our economic development strategy during the depths of the recent recession, we did two things. We positioned our city to respond to the economic recovery and to do more with less through partnerships. The City does not have the resources, nor are we always the best positioned, to achieve all the opportunities identified by the update. Our success in implementing the strategy over the last several years has been built on collaboration.
I recently asked the Chamber of Commerce to participate in a review of our partnerships over the last few years – what worked well and what can be improved – to identify partnership priorities for 2014.
The strongest pillar of our economic strategy is currently the downtown. We have been working on the strategic planning and policy underpinnings for the last three years creating an strong investment environment –we have seen $85 million in private sector investment with more on the way.
The transformation of our downtown into a vibrant central business district is projected to increase the assessment base 3 to 4 times – dollars that will benefit the entire city.
This is an interesting example of doing more with less – in this case, doing more with less land. The intensification of development in the downtown is a direct outcome of a growth strategy that is leading us to grow in a more compact way within our existing city boundaries.
We are fortunate that the divisive politics of Toronto have not been seen in Guelph – specifically I am talking about the pitting of the urban core against the suburbs by those wanting to advance their own political fortunes as the expense of strong city building.
Our growth strategy also includes multi-use nodes in the north, south, east and west to ensure we build a well connected and liveable city for all residents. We are seeing those nodes develop in the south and once again in the west with the opening of Costco. All the planning is in place for the east end to support commercial development and private sector investment. Work on the Guelph Innovation District will also play an important role in the development of the east end community.
While the economic development of the downtown will continue in earnest in 2014, we will also turn our attention to the needs of all neighbourhoods through an Urban Design Summit in the spring.
I was extremely pleased by the positive reaction to the concept of a Canadian Innovation Super Cluster and the release of the business case for two-way GO train service. People have had enough with traffic congestion and they are looking for leaders with gutsy solutions.
Guelph has led efforts to develop a regional integrated transportation strategy and our recent partnership with Kitchener and Waterloo to advocate for two-way rail service has positioned us to be part of the solution.
At home, our attention will also be on our parks and trails in 2014 to increase the value of our most cherished city amenities. We have doubled our bike lanes in the last few years and will continue to open up our parks and trail systems to pedestrians and cyclists. We will be engaging neighbourhoods in building a new relationship with their local parks.
I was recently asked by a reporter – how much can Council do in an election year? The answer is lots. Not only have we set much into action during a very busy term, we still have almost a quarter of our mandate ahead of us.
This is a hard-working Council – focussed on delivering results to the community – and I expect nothing less in the months ahead.
And yes it is an election year and the 2014 election will bring some changes with the introduction of internet voting during the advanced polls. Concern has been expressed because Guelph has been at the epicentre of the “robocall” scandal. Unfortunately, the reality is that whatever system is put in place, there are always a few that will mislead and break the law to advance their political agenda. The best antidote is an engaged and informed electorate.
All the best in 2014,
Mayor Karen Farbridge