Connecting people, government

This column appeared in the Burlington Post on January 18,2012 and is available online.

January 18, 2012

One of the principal issues in the last election was community engagement.

I have always believed Burlington was a very engaged community. The community groups and volunteers epitomize this culture.

What needs some work is the connection between residents and local government. As a local government we are challenged to connect and communicate with residents. Part of this challenge is due to our location within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. While many forms of media exist locally, the focus is often centered on the larger Toronto communities.  Burlington, along with other GTA communities is lost in the shuffle.

So how can we improve our connection with the community in this environment?

Certainly all my colleagues on council are working to keep residents informed. There are regular newsletters, town hall meetings and open houses to give residents an opportunity to connect. The city website provides access to a tremendous amount of information. We are always looking for ways to improve access and you will see continuing changes this year.

The city publishes City Talk three times per year and distributes to all households. City Talk is informative and covers many issues. All committee and council meetings are available online on the city website. We are introducing some new technology this year that will allow easier access to specific points of the webcast so you can go to specific discussions rather than sorting through hours of meetings to find what is relevant to you.

Council recently approved a new E-Government Strategy for the city. This strategy is intended to create and improve web-based services. We want to deliver the level of service the private sector does in terms of 24-hour access and the ability to do business with the city online, such as getting permits, paying bills and seeing the status of applications.

We are also looking at how we can improve using social media. We are trying to get information to you in every form possible.

I have formed a Mayor’s Community Roundtable and meet regularly with community groups which represent the many interests of the community. This includes sports, culture and the many social services provided by community groups. We are also trying to connect these groups so we all know what others are doing.

In my inauguration speech I quoted an old African proverb, “If you want to go fast – go alone; if you want to go far – go together”. We have to continue to work at being connected in order to go far.

January 2011 Progress Report

 

Aldershot Stadium: I received a call from the Tiger-Cats on December 24, 2010 and had a meeting with the team representatives and Councillor Craven on December 27, 2010. The Tiger-Cats proposed that the stadium in Hamilton was not moving forward and that they would like Burlington to move forward with the Aldershot site at 1200 King Road.

As we see now with the funding from the Province, the stadium was likely to be “free” – not requiring any City Capital Funding. The City would, however, be responsible for maintenance spending which could well have been in the $2 million range per year. In the end, the City could not simply by-pass the required approval processes and meet the Pan Am timelines as well as complete the appropriate public consultation process.

Budget: Council continued to have extensive budget briefings. The previous Council directed staff to deliver budget options of a 3.5% and 2.5% increase. Through deliberations in January, council will be provided with options to consider for a tax rate increase less than 2.5%. The budget will be deliberated by Council and will be reviewed with citizens at public meetings in the first week of March with approval in early April.

The Regional budget was approved in January with an increase of 1.4%. This included an increase of 4.4% in the Halton Regional Police Service budget and a staff compensation increase of 2.25%. Water usage rates increased by 4.1%.

Audit Committee: The Audit Committee increased the Citizen representation from two to four and will also be expanding performance audit activities.

Pier: The City has taken action with regards to the performance bond and will be taking additional action in February to move this project forward.

Mayor’s Roundtable: The inaugural Mayor’s Roundtable was held on January 27, 2011. Over 20 community organizations were represented. This session was certainly a positive experience. The commitment of community groups for the betterment of our City is obvious. We will be moving forward with future Roundtables which focus on specific community needs and helping to create opportunities for community groups to work together.

Freeman Station: Council is supporting a Citizen Committee to look at any and all options to find a suitable use and location for the station.

Niagara - GTA Highway: The province provided a proposed amendment to the Region Official Plan Amendment 38 which expanded the potential transportation corridor for the conceptual Niagara-GTA Highway, which included some specific marking for consideration across the escarpment and through Lowville. The City and Region are completely opposed to a new highway crossing the escarpment. In Burlington, there is additional concern that a third highway would effectively extend the urban boundary and put extensive rural land at risk.

Meetings have taken place at the political and staff level and I am optimistic the specific issue of showing a transportation corridor in the Regional Official Plan can be dealt with in a positive manner.

Strategic Plan: Council continues to work towards a Strategic Plan which will be the area of focus after budget approval. Council engaged Dr. Chris Bart to do some preliminary work with Council. Dr. Bart heads up McMaster’s Corporate Governance Program. This was part of a Committee meeting on January 20, 2011.

State of the City Address: On January 20, 2011 I had the opportunity to speak to the Chamber of Commerce and update the community on the State of the City. The address is available on the Mayor’s City web page.

Two months after the inauguration, I am feeling more and more comfortable being mayor and everything that entails.  While there is certainly lots of activity, I am focused on several key items over the next few months.

  • Getting resolution on a clear direction for finishing the pier.
  • Delivering a budget which provides the services the community wants and expects and that we can afford;
  • Updating and enhancing the governance practices which will help us have a high performing City and Council;
  • Developing a Strategic Plan and ensuring full public consultation.

Budget 2011:

  • Report of the Proposed 2011 Capital Budget & Forecast, February 15
  • Report of the Proposed 2011 Current Budget, February 22
  • Public Consultation, March 1-5