State of the City

Each year the Guelph Chamber of Commerce hosts a Mayor’s State of the City breakfast.

2018 State of the City Address

Mayor Cam Guthrie – Friday, February 2, 2018


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Introduction

Thank you Kithio, and thank you to the Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event for many years. Your contributions help make Guelph the great city it is.

I’d like to also thank the sponsors, and specifically Bell. Just two days ago was #BellLetsTalk Day and the efforts put in by Bell towards Mental Health have been outstanding. It’s not only the financial contributions, I believe Bell has helped kick start the much needed conversations around mental health within our community and with each other. So thank you Bell!

I’m thrilled to be here to present my 2018 State of the City address.

I want to acknowledge members of Council here in the audience today:

  • Andy VanHellemond
  • Dan Gibson
  • Cathy Downer
  • Mark MacKinnon
  • Leanne Piper

I also want to acknowledge members of the City’s Executive Team who are here:

  • Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Derrick Thomson
  • Deputy CAO for Infrastructure, Development, and Enterprise Scott Stewart
  • Deputy CAO for Public Services Colleen Clack
  • Deputy CAO for Corporate Services Trevor Lee

Also in attendance is our Member of Parliament Lloyd Longfield and Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. Our Member of Provincial Parliament Liz Sandals could not make it today but I want to publicly acknowledge her, especially at this time after her announcement that she will not be seeking re-election. The three of us have worked so well together over these past years and we’re untied in making Guelph better every chance we get.

Saving the best to last, I want to thank my family for being here today. I am beyond blessed to have such a supportive family. My parents Frank and Karen along with my children Anakin and Adelaide and of course, you know her as the 1st Lady of Guelph, my beautiful bride of almost 19 years, Rachel!

I encourage all of you to have those phones out and tweet, Instagram, Facebook or whatever it is you do for the next hour. Did you know that #GuelphProud trended across Canada as one of the top hashtags during and after last year’s State of the city? Let’s make that happen again! I want all eyes on Guelph; I want others to be jealous of what’s happening in our city!

Before I dive in, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the indigenous territory we are gathered on. This is an acknowledgement that I offer at the beginning of each Council meeting.

As we gather, we are reminded that Guelph is situated on treaty land that is steeped in rich indigenous history and home to many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people today.

As a City we have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land on which we live and work.

Today we acknowledge the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation on whose traditional territory we are meeting.

This is my fourth State of the City – and the last one for this term of Council. It’s hard to believe!

I am privileged, honoured and grateful to be your Mayor during these exciting times. When I look back on the term so far, I’m very proud of how far our City has come.

The yardstick has leapt forward on a number of projects that have been talked about for many, many years.

On several files, the course has been corrected and longstanding issues have been addressed.

The City’s finances are in good shape. Services have been improved, and the infrastructure gap has finally been dealt with.

Each year for my State of the City I take stock of what transpired over the past 12 months and present it to you. I also try to come up with a memorable theme to leave you with.

In my first year, 2015, I talked about moving from “me” to “we.”

In 2016, I took us through a “job evaluation,” outlining the expectations, successes, focus areas, and future goals of the city.

Last year, my theme was “#guelphproud.”

This year, as I was racking my brain for a good, memorable theme, I happened to be out thrift shopping. Some of you may know, I am a huge fan of thrifting and I always like to find a good deal. I always say “Hey, if I’m thrifty with my own money, that means I’ll be thrifty with yours.”

I happened to be at the Salvation Army store and the cashier said, “I have something for you.”

It was this board game called “Guelph on Board.” [Hold it up]. Someone saw me in the store, secretly bought it for me and then asked the cashier to give it to me before I left. To this day, I don’t know who it was who bought it for me.

Does anyone remember this game?

It was a fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club back in 2004.

The playing pieces were Guelph icons like the Basilica of Our Lady, Locomotive 6167, and the University of Guelph Gryphon.

The squares on the board were local businesses and landmarks.

Some of those landmarks are still the same today – for example, the River Run Centre and Norfolk Manor Retirement Home.

Some have since closed, like Guelph Place Banquet Hall.

Some have changed – like West End Bakery, which moved up Wyndham from its location on Douglas Street after the Gummer Building fire.

Like the real Monopoly game, Guelph On Board has “Chance” cards. I got a kick out of some of these.

One says: “Hooray, you become Mayor of Guelph for a day. Pay each player $10 for the celebration lunch.”

Another says, “Oops, you didn’t sort your garbage properly. Go back 3 spaces.”

Once I saw this game, I knew I had my theme for this year’s State of the City. I decided to create my own, updated Guelph Monopoly board.

This morning, I want to put my presentation in your hands.

You’ll notice you each have a set of dice on your tables. I’m going to randomly pick a table and ask someone sitting at that table to roll the dice. Whatever you roll, that’s the square I’ll land on – and that’s what we’ll talk about. The only rule is – if we happen to land on the same square twice – we’ll move to the next square. Is everybody with me?

Baker Street

In a little over a week, Council will receive the business case for a new main library.

If the business case is approved, the library will be the anchor in a major redevelopment of the Baker Street property – a prime piece of downtown real estate that is not living up to its potential, to say the least, as a parking lot. There is extensive private sector interest in this redevelopment. As was announced this week, we had 47 interested parties and 10 have submitted early proposals.

I am going to be totally honest with you. A few years ago, I was not shy about publicly questioning whether this city really needs a new main downtown library. But since becoming Mayor, I have come to see the new main library as not just a want – but a need in our community.

As many of you know I like data, metrics and numbers. I have always appreciated the saying “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Well the library wins hands down. Library services are some of the most well used services in our entire city. With more users coming on stream every year and more items being used than ever before. The current main library is inadequate in almost every way – from size, to accessibility, to parking. I took a tour of the current building a couple of years ago and to be blunt – it’s a disaster and not living up to its full potential.

I’m not afraid to admit, I’ve changed my mind on this one. And so this term of council has finally got the ball rolling on this project that has been talked about for many years.

It’s important to remember though, this is not solely about a library – it’s about building up Baker Street into an economic engine in the heart of our downtown core. Estimates so far have new taxes, new revenue, coming into the city at well over $1 million dollars a year, where it currently contributes close to zero. Remember too that the Library is not fully paid for by taxpayers but with close to 30% paid for through development charges – and hopefully, fingers crossed, with other levels of government pitching in for this project.

Folks, we cannot delay any further on this opportunity. We must seize it now to harness the private sector interest, and turn an underperforming asset into one that gives back to the whole community.

I want to be the first one to make the first ask in this room and to all of Guelph, if you’re interested in ways to explore partnering with the Library on this new project, reach out to the Kristen at the Library. Perhaps you can help furnish a room, buy equipment, or more – If ever there was a community project to rally around, this is it.

I encourage everyone to read the library business case – which is available on the library’s website – and my own blog at www.mayorguthrie.com and let me know what you think.

Building partnerships

In 2017, the City committed to a new way of doing business.

We are making it easier for you to do business with City Hall.

And we’ve put it in writing.

There are four pillars to our pledge:

  1. Get to “yes” – We’ll work together with you and our community to help make your plans a reality.
  2. The tools you need – We have new systems to make the process clear and easy.
  3. The right team – We’ll get the right people working on your project.
  4. Listen, learn, lead – This is our commitment to continuous improvement. We’re going to keep improving how we do business together.

We have heard from businesses that they have seen huge improvements. And our own performance measures tell the same story: development applications and completed more quickly, with fewer internal or client meetings and fewer revisions.

The culture shift at City Hall is significant. We are saying to business, “Your success is our success.”

We are working together with businesses so that they can do what they do best – invest in our city, grow their business, and create good jobs for the people of Guelph.

Rolling out the carpet for the business community is vital, but rolling it out for those in need within our community is important too. We’ve introduced a single-application process for residents who use our programs – such the affordable bus pass, the fee assistance in recreation (F.A.I.R) Program and animal licensing. We’re also allowing support workers the ability to pick up passes and more.

Chance card – Waste collection for condos

The City of Guelph is extending waste collection to your condominium. You will no longer pay twice for waste collection – once in your taxes, and once in your condo fees. Congratulations! Collect $170.

It is estimated, based on anecdotal evidence from condo boards, that they will save about $170 per unit, per year with City waste collection.

We have experience that backs up that number. In 2016, the City brought waste collection to three local condos – and they reported savings of $177 per unit, per year.

This has been a longstanding fairness issue that has been going on for the past 10 years – and became even worse when the City moved to the cart-based collection system. I am thrilled that in the 2018 Budget, Council approved the funds to address this issue for once and for all.

Chance card – Street lights

Guelph is switching each of its 13,119 street lights to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Give yourself a pat on the back for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 464 tonnes per year – the equivalent to taking 98 cars off the road. Congratulations! You save $14.2 million over a 15-year period.

This project will pay for itself in 6 years.

Energy and maintenance cost savings will incredible.

The new LED control technology will give staff centralized control of street lighting – allowing staff to identify burned out lights, lights that stay on in the daytime, and to dim and turn off lights when they are not needed. No more calling the City to report a burned-out light on your street!

The technology also offers smart city opportunities, if the City decides to invest in them in the future – including smart parking, transit and emergency vehicle intersection priority, and remote water meter reading.

Clair Maltby

The South End is growing, there’s no question. I feel like I am there almost every week cutting the ribbon on a new business. Most recently I was at the new Longo’s grocery store – which created 180 new full and part time jobs in our city.

Did you know, the boundaries of Guelph actually extend further south, all the way out to Maltby Road? That area, called Clair/Maltby, is the last unplanned and undeveloped greenfield in Guelph.

We are currently in the Secondary Plan process on these lands.

In 2017, Council approved a blueprint– called a “conceptual community structure” – that defines this area as primarily residential with a range of housing types, schools, parks, and trails.

The next step is technical studies on things like water, wastewater, and storm water, as well as a comprehensive environmental impact study.

Thanks to the excellent work of our Planning staff, we have shortened the planning timeline for Clair/Maltby by about 12 months. You heard that right! We are a year ahead of schedule!

Community Chest

Federal and provincial funding

A Community Chest card – my favourite! Let’s see what it says.

Congratulations! Your municipality has successfully applied for more than $27 million in federal and provincial funding over the past two years. Collect $27 million and get building!

This funding is being invested in a wide range of priorities –roads, Transit, bike lanes, facilities, equipment, programs for seniors, asset management planning… and the list goes on.

And this doesn’t even include our annual federal and provincial gas tax allocations. In 2017, our federal allocation was $7.5 million. Our provincial allocation was $2.8 million for 2016-17 and $2.9 million for 2017-18.

I can’t stress enough how important this funding is. It allows us to invest in much-needed infrastructure and services – without placing the whole burden on the local property taxpayer.

The federal and provincial governments promised to invest in infrastructure and municipalities – and they are living up to that promise. I want to thank our local Member of Parliament, Lloyd Longfield, and our Member of Provincial Parliament, Liz Sandals.

I also want to note the hard work of City staff who put a lot of time and effort into funding applications – that work is paying off.

Guelph Hydro/Alectra

As many of you know, in December Council voted to merge Guelph Hydro with municipally-owned utility Alectra Inc.

For me personally, this was one of the biggest decisions I’ve had to make during my years on Council.

The electrical utility landscape in Ontario (and across Canada) is in a period of massive change. In 1996, Ontario had 307 electricity utilities. Today, that number has shrunk to roughly 70.

Guelph Hydro is an extremely well-run utility. The question for me was – should we merge now when we come to it from a position of strength? Or should we wait and risk being left behind?

There is no way I would have hit the “yes” button if I did not believe the merger would have multiple positive benefits for Guelph. Those benefits include:

  • Fewer rate increases. Rates will go up less than they would if Guelph Hydro continued to operate alone. The merger will allow customers to avoid an estimated 5% rate increase in 2021, and another estimated 5% increase in 2026.
  • Higher dividends. Guelph is expected to receive $10 million more in dividends over the next 20 years. We’ll also receive a special dividend of $18.5 million in 2018.
  • Local crews. Guelph will be home to Alectra’s Southwest Ontario operations hub for 10 years.
  • New technologies. Guelph will be home to a new Green Energy and Technology Centre that will focus on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy.
  • A seat on the Alectra Board.

Out of 130 Guelph Hydro jobs, 30 will be addressed through retirement and voluntary separation if possible; another 30 will be offered positions outside the city; and 70 will stay in Guelph.

This decision was more than a year in the making. Council listened to a huge amount of feedback from residents and businesses. We listened to technical experts. We asked a lot of tough questions – about jobs, about customer service, and about the culture at Alectra for employees.

It wasn’t an easy decision. But I think history will show it was one of the best ones Guelph City Council has ever made.

Guelph Innovation District

In December, Council voted to submit an Expression of Interest to the Province to acquire real estate located in the Guelph Innovation District.

It’s a 243-acre parcel of land that includes the former Wellington Detention Centre and Turf Grass lands (not the former Correctional Facility lands).

The City will then conduct its own Request for Proposal Process to select a developer who will be able to fulfill our vision for these lands.

That includes creating an urban village with innovation-sector businesses, good jobs, and exceptional residential development that fits with the natural landscape.

It’s a bold move. The City is taking on the risk of acquiring the property up-front. But Council is confident that the risk will be rewarded.

This is an extraordinary piece of property. Most municipalities would be ecstatic to have a piece of developable property like this within their urban boundary. As a city, we’ve been talking about these lands for many years. This is an untapped opportunity. I am thrilled that we are finally moving the ball forward.

Guelph Police Headquarters

The three-year renovation and expansion of Guelph Police Headquarters is more than 60% complete.

This is the first large capital project to go through a new project management office and process – which was set up under this term of Council in response to the Urbacon fiasco that plagued the construction of City Hall.

I am pleased to report it is tracking on-budget, and it’s moving in the right direction for being on-time, after some minor delays.

This much-needed project will bring our police service more space, better security, a parking garage, and up-to-date equipment. We are providing our police service with the facility and the tools to do their job in our growing city.

The current police headquarters was built in 1959, and expanded in 1989. Not only has our city grown and changed a lot since then – but policing has changed and become more complex as well.

A perfect example is the police service’s role in the substance use problem.

I am often asked what the City is doing to address substance use, especially in our downtown, and especially in light of the opioid crisis. So last October, I held a community forum to talk about it.

Our Police Chief was there and he had the line of the night: “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this.”

Of course, our Police Service has an important role to play in making arrests and seizing illegal drugs – that hasn’t changed. But they also play a role in education, prevention, and in helping connect people to the supports they need. They are at the table with other agencies in our community, working together on collaborative solutions to this complex problem.

We just approved four new officers for the Guelph Police Service, and two of those officers will be dedicated to the downtown. This is going to make a difference in some of the issues we’re seeing. And again, those officers do far more than make arrests – they build bridges, they build relationships, and they become a familiar and trusted presence in our downtown.

High speed rail

Two years ago, a Guelph station stop was not on the table in any discussions about the Province’s proposed high-speed rail line.

Many scoffed at the idea and people said it wouldn’t work. The headline in the Guelph Mercury said “High-speed rail line likely to skip Guelph.”

Not so fast. I like a challenge.

Together with the Chamber of Commerce, our MPP Liz Sandals, and the University of Guelph, we spent more than a year making the case to the Province for a Guelph stop.

I brought a resolution to Council calling on the Province to include Guelph. We met with David Collenette, the Province’s special advisor on high speed rail. We wrote letters and made phone calls.

Actually, I’m sure they got tired of hearing from us! But when Mr. Collenette released his report – a Guelph stop was in it.

This is a game-changer for our city. It could cut travel time between Guelph and downtown Toronto to as little as 39 minutes – and to Pearson International Airport in as little as 23 minutes.

Let’s let that sink in for a minute. 39 minutes to downtown Toronto. 23 minutes to Pearson.

This is about way more than avoiding gridlock on the 401. Think about the options it will open up for talent attraction, for start-ups, for attending meetings and conducting business in Toronto or Waterloo Region. The other week I had a meeting at Queen’s Park and sat in traffic for close to three hours. Think of how the game changes if I could reliably get to Toronto in less than 40 minutes.

The Province is currently in the preliminary design and environmental assessment phase, and has said the high-speed rail line will be operational by 2025. In the meantime, they are still moving ahead with their promised delivery of two-way, all-day GO rail service, with a stop at Guelph Central Station.

This isn’t really about transportation – it’s about unleashing our economy. It’s about functioning as one large economic region – the Innovation Corridor – instead of as individual municipalities competing against one another.

I’m ready for this. Guelph is ready for this.

Our city was part of the Toronto Region’s bid for the new Amazon headquarters – the only Canadian bid to make the short list. Of 238 cities, only the Toronto Region and 19 U.S. cities are still in the running.

The Toronto Region bid highlighted the University of Guelph’s world-renowned agri-food expertise as a particular strength, in light of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and their interest in the food sector. It also highlighted Truleaf – a 50,000 square foot vertical farm facility currently under construction in Guelph. The bid even mentioned the Hillside Festival as an example of our area’s incredible culture.

We knew from the beginning that Guelph doesn’t have the size or capacity to be the location of Amazon’s next headquarters. But we were proud to bring our strengths to the table as a partner in the Toronto Region bid.

In March, Toronto Mayor John Tory will be coming to Guelph to be the keynote speaker at the 2018 Regional Economic Summit. Mayor Tory has been a strong advocate for commuter rail and the Innovation Corridor, and a good friend to Guelph – and I’m thrilled he is bringing his message to our city. I know tickets are now on sale through the Chamber – and I hope to see many of you there.

Property tax

I am proud that in the 2018 Budget process, Council passed the lowest budget increase in four years, with a 2.95 per cent increase.

That increase includes operating, capital, and 1% dedicated to the half a billion dollars in infrastructure our city needs.

This Budget is not only affordable, it’s sustainable.

For too long, there was discussion, hand-wringing and the kicking of cans down the road about our infrastructure gap. This Council has done something about it. In addition to dedicated funding for infrastructure, we have embarked on a new, comprehensive asset management plan to make sure we are replacing the right infrastructure at the right time – to get the most bang for your buck.

In 2017, the City maintained our AA+ credit rating for the fifth straight year.

During this term of Council, we have built up our financial reserves. Our Tax Rate Contingency Reserve has been built up from $1.6 million to a forecasted $6.5 million in 2018. We have increased our affordable housing reserve from $429,000 to $880,000. And, we paid off $14.3 million of debt in 2017.

The city is experiencing healthy operating surpluses – including a $1.2 million surplus in 2015, a $3 million surplus in 2016, and a projected $2.4 million surplus for 2017.

We are also looking within City operations to find all the efficiencies we can.

I’m proud that for the first time ever, this term of Council has directed the Administration to conduct service reviews. These are a comprehensive look at whether we’re delivering the right services in the right way.

In 2017, we undertook the first service review, of our Solid Waste operation. Initial findings are that in 5 out of 6 areas, Solid Waste is in line and cost competitive with comparator municipalities. In particular, curbside collection performs very well – exceeding most of the comparable municipalities.

Yet the review also showed that the cost to process recyclable material at the Material Recovery Facility is significantly higher than in other municipalities. So that is the area the rest of the service review is now focusing on – to find solutions and make improvements to that aspect of the business. The final report is expected to Council in March.

It is thanks to the detailed service review process that we were able to identify this issue. While it’s fair to be disappointed with the performance of our recycling operation – I certainly am – it also shows that the service review process is working. This is exactly what it was meant to do.

Careful management, finding efficiencies where we can, and prioritizing the “need to have” items like infrastructure – these are all improving our bottom line, and will continue to do so.

South End Community Centre

The South End Community Centre has been long-awaited and long-anticipated. Whenever I speak to youth groups or at town hall meetings, I get asked “when is the South End Community Centre going to be built?”

In 2017, the City hired an architect to complete the detailed design work for the facility. Once we have a detailed design, we will be in a position to apply for infrastructure grants and other opportunities.

The Centre – which will be located immediately south of Bishop Macdonell High School – will be 150,000 square feet and will include two rinks, an aquatic complex, walking track, multi-use gym, and programming space.

If we stay focused and keep moving forward with this project, we could be cutting the ribbon in 2021.

The south end has completely taken off during the years we’ve been talking about this community centre. I think we can all agree that it’s high time we move forward.

Transit

There was lots of good news about Guelph Transit in 2017.

Ridership has increased dramatically – 44% compared to 2016 – and we did it within the existing budget.

We revamped routes, including launching a new “99 Mainline” route that runs every 10 minutes and takes you from the south to the north without having to change buses.

In 2017, we received more than $10 million in federal and provincial funding for new buses, fare boxes, shelters, equipment, a new Transportation Master Plan, and upgrades to the traffic signal control system that co-ordinates traffic signals along major streets.

I cannot recall an investment this large in Guelph Transit infrastructure, ever. It is going to radically improve the system for everyone.

Of course, Transit is a complex system that has its share of challenges. It’s not perfect. Over the past year there’s been a major culture shift, where Transit is making an extraordinary effort to listen and respond to feedback. We saw this a few weeks ago in their response to the outcry over removing printed schedules and maps from bus stops. Criticize Transit all you want for removing the schedules – they themselves admitted this was a misstep – but you have to give them credit for listening and putting the schedules back up in under a week.

For me, by far the most important and exciting news about Transit is the service review that is happening this year – and in fact is already underway.

Some have said we need to pause the service review until we find a new permanent General Manager. Some have suggested we need to “throw more money at it!” This is nonsense, and not how government should be run. A service review of Transit has been needed for the last 10 years. There have been many studies and plans for Transit over those years – but never a full service review.

Throwing more money at Transit is not going to solve core issues. Not having the willingness to explore all options to better its service is a disservice to riders. We owe it to Transit customers to build the Transit system our city truly needs, today and tomorrow. I look forward to engaging Transit customers through the service review process.

Wilson Street Parkade

Many people are surprised to learn that parking inventory in downtown Guelph has not increased since 1983.

1983! It was a time of Miami Vice. Boomboxes. Kids playing with Popples.

Well, good news.

Construction on a new parkade for Wilson Street will begin soon. We’re going to have 496 parking spaces on Wilson – up from the current 86.

Council voted to add two more floors of parking to the project by moving up funding that had been allocated for a future parkade on Neeve Street.

The parkade will be built by a well-known local developer – the Newton Group Ltd. It’s going to have green features like bicycle parking and EV hookups.

I can tell you, when I get to cut the ribbon on this new parkade – I’m going to party like it’s 1983!

I assure you: this is not about building parking for City Hall employees. It’s about supporting the economic development of our downtown – and actually catching up to the incredible growth and development that has taken place in the past few years.

A couple of weeks ago, the scaffolding came down from the Petrie Building, and we got to see its amazing restored façade for the first time. Let’s watch a short video of the scaffolding coming down. PLAY VIDEO.

The Petrie building has now been combined with the building next door.

These buildings used to have two businesses in them – the Apollo restaurant and Dino’s sporting goods.

The new building has six businesses – including a brew pub, a restaurant, a bridal shop, an advertising firm, a software company, and soon a financial services company.

We need more parking to support businesses like these. It’s the number one message I hear from businesses and the Downtown Board. The Wilson Parkade is going to help fill that gap.

End of Monopoly board

That concludes our trip around the Monopoly board.

Now, I’d like to switch gears a bit and take a look forward at the year ahead.

One of the major projects that is going to define our year in 2018 is the Community Plan.

Public engagement on the plan will take place throughout 2018, and then the Plan will be developed and brought to the next Council for endorsement.

The Community Plan is going to chart our city’s course for the next 10 years. It’s going to help us define, together, what our city is – and what we want it to be.

It’s going to drive and inform the priorities, plans, and strategies that will be coming out of City Hall in the months and years to come. These include:

  • The priority list for the new term of Council
  • The City’s Corporate Administrative Plan (strategic plan)
  • The next economic development strategy – what comes next after Prosperity 2020.

And that’s just a start. In your business, your workplace, your neighbourhood, your volunteer work, your experience of living and working in Guelph – the Community Plan is going to impact you in the years to come.

So, we want you to help shape it.

The Community Plan team is here this morning – Can you all wave, so that we see who you are? [Community Plan team will have an information table at the back.]

Please pay them a visit on your way out – they have materials and information that you can take back and share.

On your tables, you each have a card where you can finish this sentence: “In 10 years, my Guelph will…”

Some of the things to think about are:

  • What would make Guelph an even better city to grow your business in? Or an even better city to live in?
  • What do you want Guelph to be known for? We’ve been called most caring, safest, smartest, even the most romantic!
  • What’s in the way? And how can we get there together?

You often hear politicians talk about “vision.” I actually try to avoid using that word, because it’s become so over-used.

But when I think about the Guelph of the future – I see a city where everyone has the chance for a good job, a home they can afford, access to healthy food, and opportunities for their kids. A place where the word “poverty” is no longer in our vocabulary, and no one is left behind.

I see a Guelph where it’s safe and easy to walk, bike, or take Transit to work – in all corners of the city.

A city that is leading the way on addressing climate change.

And yes – I see a Guelph that does have a grocery store in its East End!

On that topic – the City has launched a review of the commercial policies in our Official Plan. While it’s too soon to know the outcome, this review could have an impact on what land is available for grocery stores in the East End.

Thank you for playing Monopoly with me this morning.

When I look at our own Guelph Monopoly board, I’m incredibly proud of what we have accomplished together – and what we will continue to accomplish.

There have been a lot of #guelphproud moments for me in this term of office. All of them involve people working hard to make Guelph the best place it can be. People pouring their heart and soul into their businesses, their employees, their families, their neighbourhoods, their volunteer work.

So I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you, for all you do to make Guelph a better place. Thank you for continuing to make us #guelphproud.

Thank you very much.

2017 State of the City Address

Friday, January 27, 2017
Delta Guelph Hotel and Conference Centre


State of the City infographix


Good morning, and thank you all for coming to my third State of the City as your Mayor.

Thank you to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event every year.

Thank you to Bell for sponsoring the event.

I’m thrilled that ticket sales from this event will benefit KidsAbility – a local organization that’s doing great things.

I’d like to recognize the Councillors in attendance (ask them to stand):

Also I’d like to recognize some key City staff in attendance:

Thank family in attendance:

Before I dive in, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the indigenous territory we are gathered on. This is an acknowledgement that I now offer at the beginning of each Council meeting.

As we gather, we are reminded that Guelph is situated on treaty land that is steeped in rich indigenous history and home to many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people today.

As a City we have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land on which we live and work.

Today we acknowledge the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation on whose traditional territory we are meeting.

Thank you again!

We are at the halfway point of this term of Council. The last two years have been an incredible journey. I don’t know about you, but I have found the time has flown by.

I estimate I’ve attended more than 500 community events in the last two years.

From the first one – a flag-raising with our local Métis community – to the most recent one – a soup fundraiser for a local group called The Seed Hub– I have spoken with thousands and thousands of people.

These experiences have driven home for me that we have a lot to be proud of in this city.

As I prepared for today, I kept coming back to that sense of pride.

So, I decided to make this year’s State of the City theme,
“Guelph Proud.”

I’ve even created a Twitter handle – @GuelphProud – and the hashtag #guelphproud, which I encourage you to use whenever you have good news to share.

I also made #guelphproud buttons, which you’ll find on your tables. Let’s all take a moment and put on our buttons to show our pride in our city. Perhaps you’ll hear something within my presentation today that makes you proud, then tweet it out and use the #GuelphProud

When I was elected your mayor, I wanted to bring a renewed focus on addressing what I call the “front porch issues.”

The broken sidewalks – the red tape for businesses – more commercial opportunities for jobs. It’s about using municipal tax dollars for municipal issues – the issues that really make a difference in people’s lives.

Two years in, I am proud to say that these issues are at the top of the agenda.

There are three key areas where this change can be seen:

  • A new tone both inside and outside City Hall;
  • A focus on infrastructure that makes life better; and
  • A focus on efficient and affordable programs and services

A new tone:

Tone isn’t something you can easily measure on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t make headlines. But it’s critically important.

One of my top priorities upon being elected was to start mending the broken relationship between the City and the County of Wellington.

I am proud to report that – for the first time in seven years – the City of Guelph has officially re-joined the County’s Social Services committee. This means that our City finally has a voice in the social services that are delivered in our community, and which we help fund. It also means that we have taken a major step in repairing our relationship with the County.

A true #guelphproud moment!

One of Council’s key achievements this year was the hiring of a new Chief Administrative Officer – Derrick Thomson. The CAO is the only employee hired by Council. Finding the right person is crucial – because the CAO heads up the City administration and is responsible for the City’s budget and all its employees.

Derrick has taken a number of key steps as CAO. He has filled a number of vacancies in senior management – in many cases by promoting from within. Along with the Executive Team, he has brought in a new Corporate Administrative Plan – one with clear focus and priorities around services, people, and resources.

I want to thank Derrick for all the work he has done to bring in a new tone at City Hall.

There’s also a new tone around the Council horseshoe.

Not only in how we are interacting with each other, but in how we each interact with those whom we represent. As Mayor, and as a Council, we are setting a new standard for accessibility – holding Town Hall meetings; attending hundreds of community events; and being active on social media.

We’ve replaced our old Standing Committees (which had 4 Councillors and the Mayor) with a new Committee of the Whole structure that includes the entire Council.

This means that every member of Council is part of the discussion and debate at the Committee level. And it means that people delegating to Committee can present to everyone at once. It’s more efficient and it’s more transparent, as these meetings are televised.

We’ve also brought in new and improved processes for the City budget and along with revised reporting on reserves and variances.

At last year’s State of the City, I talked about how, when I became Mayor, I also became a member of the board of Guelph Municipal Holdings Incorporated (GMHI). I shared that, after only one meeting, I felt changes were needed immediately.

I said we had made some changes to improve GMHI’s performance – but I also promised there would be more to come.

A lot has happened since then.

Last May, just a week after last year’s State of the City address, Council received a public report with a full accounting of GMHI and its group of companies – a level of transparency we’ve never seen before.

Based on the information in that report – in July, Council decided not to move forward with expanding the two district energy plants located in the downtown and at Hanlon Creek Business Park. Instead we would only continue to operate them “as-is.”

In October, Council shelved GMHI and created a new structure where Guelph Hydro reports directly to Council as shareholder. This provides a clear line of sight between Hydro and the City.

This has taken a lot of time and effort – but I’m proud that we now have a foundation for better governance and better operational and financial performance. We are now positioned to manage our City assets in a way that realizes the best value for our community.

One of the biggest changes of the past two years is a new, positive tone with the business community. Guelph is clearly now a city that is open for business.

We’ve ticked a lot of the right boxes in the past couple of years. We’re setting records for building permits and construction values; we’re selling land in the Hanlon Creek Business Park; there’s more private sector development downtown than we’ve seen for decades; and we’re finally seeing movement on the old IMICO property and on the Clair-Maltby greenfield lands.

This is all good news. But the most striking thing is the change in tone. And I’m not the only one saying it – I’m hearing it again and again from the business community.

Guelph was recently chosen as the Canadian headquarters for a biotech firm called Synexis. When asked “why Guelph” at the announcement, the CEO talked about the world-class research strengths at the University of Guelph; our city’s excellent location; and – this made me particularly happy – the support and co-operation he received from City Hall. And I quote: “The business environment here is what we were looking for.”

And that’s not the only example.

At the ribbon cutting for a new headquarters for NSF International, the local developer who managed the project went out of his way to praise City Building staff for their help, co-operation, and problem solving. He said it was the first time in his 30 years as a developer in Guelph that he has ever given such high praise to City staff!

The City also received high praise at the ribbon cutting for a new, expanded Integrated Metal manufacturing plant.

To quote the company president: “It’s nice to see how the City of Guelph works so well with industry, to get this done in such a quick fashion. The City of Guelph really came through. I’m really proud to tell everyone about this.”

A #guelphproud moment indeed.

We are turning the ship around. A change like this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of a lot of hard work from the City’s executive team, staff, council and the development and business communities. We are going to continue to stay on this path. A path of excellent customer service and a culture of continuous improvement.

Infrastructure that makes life better:

Over the past two years, the City has tackled a number of long-overdue infrastructure projects that address the “front-porch” issues.

We’ve got a $15 million renovation underway to modernize the Victoria Road Rec Centre. The often talked about South End Community Centre is actually now proceeding to detailed design – a key step in getting shovels in the ground.

We are finally fixing all the sidewalk trip hazards.

We’ve built a multi-use path on Woodlawn Road that’s been needed for a long time, so that people can walk or bike to work in the north end of the city. These investments allow people choice when it comes to their transportation needs.

One of my proudest moments as Mayor was opening the City’s first skatepark. The park attracts about 125 people a day on weekends and holidays. It was a long time coming. I actually advocated for a skatepark in 1997 – it’s true; I even have a Guelph Tribune newspaper clipping with a picture of me protesting City Hall!

We’ve made significant progress – But in all honesty, this just scratches the surface of the City’s infrastructure needs.

To date, our best estimates have been that we have about a $200 million dollar infrastructure problem in this city.

During this term of Council, we made a commitment to solidify our corporate asset management plans around the $4.1billion dollars of assets that we’re responsible for. These plans will establish when to repair or replace. And to make sure we get the maximum value from your tax dollars.

We will have more definitive numbers coming forward to Council and the community this spring, but from what I have gathered so far, I would not be surprised if our infrastructure deficit is actually double those original estimates.

Every year that we ignore this problem, we’re only making it worse – and more expensive for every one of us in the long run.

So that’s why in this year’s Budget, Council decided to do something about it.

Council approved a base operating and capital budget increase of 2.13 per cent – one of the lowest in years – in the first unanimous budget vote over the last four terms of Council.

And then Council established a new, dedicated infrastructure fund, which will be paid for through a 1 per cent levy.

One of the most common complaints I hear from people is that they don’t mind paying their share – they just don’t know where their money is going. Well, in this case, you now know that these funds are 100% dedicated to infrastructure. Period.

The fund will also allow us to take advantage of federal and provincial funding programs.

Who knew a year ago that the new government would pledge funding of $83 billion in infrastructure across Canada.

In order for Guelph to get our share – we need to have funding in place, we need to be ready to go.

As an example:

Let’s say there is a $10 million bridge in the city that has to be replaced.
The federal and provincial governments offer to give us $7.5 million towards it.
That means the City needs to fund the remaining $2.5 million.
If we don’t have it – they will give their $7.5 million to someone else. And when they do, 100% of that burden will still be upon our local taxpayers’ shoulders to still fix that $10 million dollar bridge.

Guelph has now received more than $19 million in federal and provincial funding for water, wastewater, transit, and roads – for example, Metcalfe Street and York Road.

We have more applications in the hopper, so you can expect to see a lot more construction around the city over the next year or two.

Another key change in this year’s Budget was tackling the historic funding shortfall for storm water that amounts to $4 million every year.

I know that storm sewers and storm water ponds are not the kind of things that make headlines. But as a former insurance broker- I know that flooded streets and flooded basements are a huge problem. And it’s a problem that Council could no longer ignore – especially with the increased amounts of severe weather events that we’re experiencing.

As we are dedicating more funds to infrastructure, Council has also put the foundation in place to ensure every penny will be spent wisely.

We now have a Project Management Office that tracks every complex capital project and ensures transparency through regular reporting to Council and the public. This was a key recommendation that came out after a third-party review of the Urbacon city hall construction, and it is this term of Council who implemented it. Another #GuelphProud moment.

Efficient, affordable programs and services:

In many ways, programs and services are the heart of local government. They are what make our city tick.

For example:

6,000 people came out to free events at Market Square last year. There were more than 3,000 people at the live-screening of the Tragically Hip show. Hundreds more came out for Aboriginal Day, John Galt Day, and family movie nights. We gathered in our public space to seek comfort after the Orlando tragedy and to make our voices heard when it came to local water issues and just recently the Women’s March. We celebrated the lighting of the Christmas tree while donating food and clothing to those in need.

Guelph welcomed more than a thousand athletes and coaches, and engaged more than 600 volunteers, when we hosted the Special Olympics Spring Games. This was thanks to an incredible effort from the Guelph Police Service, who coordinated the event. A #guelphproud moment for sure.

We opened up Guelph to food trucks this term through new licensing and zoning rules. We’ve licensed 31 food trucks already – that’s essentially 31 new local businesses.

We solidified a new 10-year commitment from the Guelph Storm. This is not only good news for Storm fans – it’s good news for restaurants, hotels, and shops. And it’s good news for dozens upon dozens of community organizations. If you’ve ever bought a 50-50 ticket at a Storm game, you know what I mean.

We’re getting four new paramedics to improve response times in Erin – a decision Council made in this year’s Budget.

We offer free transit, museum, and rec passes for refugee families to help them get settled in our city.

We’re also modernizing the way we deliver services in the digital age, with a new portal that lets you access more than 40 digital services.

For example – you can sign up to receive text, phone, or e-mail reminders about your waste pickup day, and which bins to put out. You can use an app to report a noisy party, a parking problem, and much more to Bylaw officers – and track your complaint through to its resolution.

Our goal is to make your life easier – and you’ll see more and more services come online over the next two years.

Moving forward, Council has approved a new service review framework to ensure the City is offering the right services, at the right level, and in the best and most efficient way possible. This is the first time such a framework has ever been put in place in our City. A #GuelphProud moment indeed.

The first three reviews will be Solid Waste, boulevard maintenance and Transit. Solid Waste has already begun.

I am confident that looking within will generate results. And, many people and businesses that I discussed the infrastructure levy with, wanted to make sure an internal service review framework was in place before asking the community for more.

A couple of months ago, executives from local manufacturer DENSO reached out to me when they heard the City was doing service reviews. They offered to take me on a tour and share their expertise in service reviews and continuous improvement.

One piece of advice that stuck with me – was to always ask “Why?” 5 times.

If the line is slowing down – ask why.

If it’s because a part is not performing right – ask why.

If it’s because maintenance didn’t happen – ask why.

If it’s because it wasn’t inspected – ask why.

If it’s because the system for scheduling inspections and maintenance isn’t adequate – fix the system.

We need to do more of this at City Hall, and our service review framework is a good start.

Looking for savings within is important, yet looking for greater revenue generation can’t be ignored either. For example – when I was first elected, I pushed for the City to collect on outstanding court fines. Two years later, after implementing a collections program, our courts department has now recovered more than $260,000.

Looking ahead:

We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in the first two years of the term. But I’m even more excited about what the next two years will bring.

One project to watch closely is the Civic Accelerator, which the City launched with a number of partners – including Innovation Guelph, the University of Guelph’s CBASE, Canada’s Open Data Exchange, and the Chamber of Commerce.

Often we will hear politicians say “we need to run government more like a business.”

Through the Accelerator, the City is doing just that – inviting startups into City departments to find new solutions to some longstanding, complex problems.

The first problem is water leaks in homes and businesses that go undetected until the next meter reading – wasting huge amounts of water and money.

To solve this problem, a company called Alert Labs has come up with a “Fit Bit for your water meter” that sends real-time data, including alerts about any leaks, to your phone.

The second problem is how to make sure residents and businesses know about new developments planned for their neighbourhood – before shovels go in the ground.

To solve this one, Milieu Technologies has developed a web and mobile app that automatically connects citizens, City planners, and developers – ultimately leading to better outcomes for everyone.

Next month, the City is hosting a “demo day” to share the results of these collaborations, and how they may or may not be part of City programs moving forward.

The Accelerator is important not just for the solutions it will bring – but for the fact that Guelph is one of a very few cities in the world (San Francisco and Amsterdam are the others) that has invited the private sector in to City Hall to work together on solving problems.

This is a revolutionary approach. If the results are as positive as I think they are, we will be doing more of it.

Another thing to watch over the next few years is the growth of the Innovation Corridor that stretches from Toronto to Waterloo – bolstered by the Province’s commitment to two-way, all-day GO train service with a stop in Guelph.

What does Guelph bring to the Innovation Corridor?

The success of the Accelerator is creating a launching pad to encourage new, civic-technology sector businesses in our city. That will be one area of focus to watch for.

We also bring established, world-renowned strengths in agri-food and agri-innovation – strengths that begin with the University of Guelph and its 150-year history as Canada’s food university.

This year, the U of G was awarded nearly $77 million in federal funding – the largest federal research investment in its history – to develop high tech information systems for food sustainability.

It’s the perfect marriage of a legacy of excellence in agri-food, and the innovation to find new solutions in the digital age. It’s the perfect example of the unique value proposition that Guelph can bring to the Innovation Corridor.

Another #guelphproud moment.

2017 is going to be a special year. It’s Canada’s 150th birthday, and Guelph’s 190th birthday.

In this special year, I am proud to announce that Guelph will be part of a national challenge called “3 Things for Canada.”

As Calgary Mayor – Mayor Nenshi – challenged me, I am challenging every Guelph resident and business to give a gift of three things – three acts of service. The three things can be as simple as shovelling a neighbour’s driveway, or as involved as volunteering for an organization that is changing the world.

The possibilities are endless. If you’re looking for ideas, I encourage you to contact the Volunteer Centre – they can connect you with organizations that need your help.

If every Canadian does three things, we will create over 100 million acts of service as a 150th birthday gift to our country.

“Three things” is a national challenge – but as soon as I heard about it – I just knew that it was a perfect fit for Guelph.

How do I know this?

Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first two years as Mayor, it’s this:

Guelph isn’t about roads and pipes, bricks and mortar. It’s not even about programs and services.

It’s about people.

It’s about the kids who open lemonade stands in the summer and give the money to charity.

It’s about the waste collector who got out of his truck to help a child say goodbye to her pacifiers. And the Transit driver who got out to help an elderly passenger get onto the bus.

It’s about Jim Estill and the dozens of groups and individuals who have sponsored more than 200 Syrian refugees – making national headlines for being a welcoming and caring city.

It’s about one Syrian newcomer – Walaa Allaf – who, when he heard about the fires in Fort McMurray, collected donations and personally drove them from Guelph all the way out to Alberta.

It’s about organizations like KidsAbility that help thousands of local kids with special needs reach their potential.

It’s about groups like Bridges Out of Poverty, who I’ve mentioned in previous State of the City addresses, who support people as they change their lives.

It’s about everyone in this room – business leaders; entrepreneurs; employers; volunteers; and corporate citizens.

It’s January – the time of New Year’s resolutions.

So here’s a resolution: Let’s resolve to never take our city for granted.

Let’s pledge to be grateful that we live in one of the safest, most liveable, prosperous, and welcoming cities –in the world.

Of all the cities in the world – we’ve landed here, together, in Guelph.

Let’s keep celebrating our successes. Let’s keep working together to make our city even better. And let’s resolve to be #guelphproud.

2016 State of the City Address
Friday, May 6, 2016

Guelph Chamber of Commerce

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Good morning.

I’m thrilled to be here to present my annual State of the City address.

I’d like to thank our sponsor, Bell Canada.

I’d also like to thank the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, who have hosted this event for many years. We are fortunate to have an incredibly active Chamber of Commerce in our city.

Supporting Special Olympics Spring Games

I’m very pleased that for this year’s State of the City, the Chamber is donating a portion of the proceeds to the Special Olympics Spring Games. In case you hadn’t heard, later this month Guelph will be hosting more than 1,000 athletes and coaches from across the province for the Spring Games. The Games have been organized by the Guelph Police Service, and we have more than 600 volunteers signed up to help. By purchasing a ticket to the State of the City this morning, you are supporting that incredible event. Thank you!

Acknowledgements

I’d like to take a moment to recognize the Members of Council in attendance.

I’d also like to recognize members of the City’s Executive Team.

Finally, I want to thank my family, who is here today.

As I began thinking about themes for my State of the City Address, I thought of the analogy of an employee’s performance evaluation.

Right now at City Hall, at this very moment, it’s what is affectionately known as PDP season: PDP stands for Performance Development Plan. This is a time of year when City employees are meeting with managers, reviewing performance, and setting goals.

I’m sure many of you in this room have similar processes in your own businesses.

As Mayor, I work for you

So I thought, for this year’s State of the City, why don’t I present a performance assessment to my boss—all of you!

Unlike most performance reviews, this isn’t about what I’m doing as an individual. As I said in my State of the City last year, it’s not about me. It’s about we—the collective accomplishments and goals of City Council and administration.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some categories:

  • Expectations: what do citizens and businesses expect of their local government?
  • Successes: what’s going well? What results are we seeing that met or even exceeded expectations?
  • Focus Areas: what needs work? These are the areas when progress has been slower than expected—and where we need to turn some attention in the year ahead.
  • Future Goals: what is our big-picture outlook for the next five or ten years? We need to know where we’re going so that we can set a path to get there.

Mayors meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

A few weeks ago, I was in Ottawa for a series of meetings with federal officials as part of the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario.

Our group of mayors had the chance to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and he said something that really stuck with me.

He said that governments at all levels have a tendency to focus on activities instead of outcomes. I couldn’t have agreed more with his statement.

Focusing on outcomes

Governments are very busy—announcing, designing, and administering new programs; following endless processes; gathering input; and writing reports. We tend to talk a lot about what we’re doing.

The question is, are we getting the outcomes we want?

We need to stop talking so much about what we’re doing, and start talking more about what we’re accomplishing.

As I said, this struck a chord with me. Certainly I know the City of Guelph is guilty of this at times—as are most government organizations. But we are also making a conscious effort to shift our focus to measurable outcomes, and this is a priority for me.

That’s a theme I’ll be touching on more throughout my presentation this morning. So let’s get to it.

Expectations

Every four years, our city holds one of the biggest citizen engagement exercises you can have. It’s called a municipal election.

The thirteen members elected to your City Council came in with a wealth of feedback that they heard on the doorsteps during the election campaign.

In addition to the doorstep feedback, I felt it was important to shape this term of Council by establishing a shared term agenda—a road map for what we wanted to accomplish this term.

Together, the shared term agenda, the doorstep feedback, the City’s Strategic Plan and work plans form the expectations part of the performance evaluation.

This is what we are expected to deliver on—based on what we have heard from you.

The list will be no surprise to most of you in the audience; many of you have probably already heard me talk about these before. It includes:

  • Respect for taxpayers. This includes value for money and efficient and effective services.
  • Transparency and accountability.
  • Supporting growth and development across the city, including downtown.
  • Relationship-building with other levels of government.

I will return to what I said at the beginning—people’s expectations are around outcomes, not activities.

Citizens don’t want to talk about what colour to paint the cracks in the sidewalks—they just want the sidewalks fixed.

Businesses aren’t that interested in our plans to improve processes—they just want efficient service in getting their permits and approvals.

None of the items on the list are what you would call low-hanging fruit. They’re not going to happen overnight.

But I am proud that we have significantly moved the needle in the right direction on all of them.

This morning, I’d like to talk about where we’ve made progress—and where we still have some work to do—in each of these areas.

Successes

So, what’s going well?

One of the major things we can be proud of is that Guelph is leading the country in employment.

I know the low unemployment rate makes it harder to attract talent—and I’ve heard that from a number of local businesses.

But I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received from other mayors and reporters from across Canada asking, what’s your secret? What makes Guelph such a great place to start and grow a business? How can other cities duplicate Guelph’s success?

Global News asked me that exact question. I told them I couldn’t reveal it—it’s like telling the secret spice in the KFC chicken!

Of course, there’s no secret spice. There is a combination of factors that are working together exceptionally well. The business and community leaders in the room today are a huge part of our success.

As Mayor, I will continue to roll out the red carpet for business. If a business wants to build in Guelph, I will be there with my golden shovel to help dig the first hole.

Last year was the City’s second busiest year ever for building permits; 2,659 building permits issued, to be exact. Only 2004 was higher. The construction value for these permits was the highest ever recorded, at $500 million. The number of new residential dwelling units created was the second highest ever recorded.

Yet we’re not going to rest on our laurels—we’re going to keep the momentum going. We must keep the momentum going!

In addition to providing jobs in our community, strong commercial and industrial growth helps relieve the burden on the individual property taxpayer. And, tax dollars from new and growing businesses help pay for City services and capital projects like the future South End Community Centre and the new Silvercreek Skatepark.

Let’s turn to accountability and transparency.

This is something I heard about on the doorsteps, and in the year and half since being elected your Mayor.

We are moving the needle significantly on this, through something called Open Guelph.

Citizens are looking to have meaningful influence on City priorities and directions. This means more than simply delegating at a Council meeting when a proposal or recommendation is already on the table. It means helping the City to solve problems, or even helping to define what the problem is.

It also means putting citizens in the driver’s seat and allowing them to decide when and how they want to interact with the City.

Now let’s talk a little more about transparency.

This term, I made a change to Council procedures for closed or in camera meetings.

Under this new procedure, before going into a closed session, I always announce in open session what we are going to be talking about in the closed session.

After the closed meeting has concluded, Council comes back out into open session and I report on any directions that were made.

Since becoming Mayor, I now had the opportunity to sit as a director of Guelph Municipal Holdings Incorporated. After only one meeting I felt changes were needed immediately. With the help of administration and council direction, we made positive changes to its structure.

These changes will make the company more transparent and more accountable, and improve Council’s oversight of the its operational and, more specifically, its financial performance.

For example, quarterly reporting to City Council was not required before, but I have now added this as part of the Shareholder Declaration.

There will be further improvements and further information regarding Guelph Municipal Holdings Incorporated in the months to come.

Our next major theme is growth and development.

I am constantly out doing groundbreaking ceremonies and ribbon cuttings in all corners of our city. The growth, investment, and job creation is amazing to see.

I know the east end has been waiting for commercial development for a long time. In fact, just yesterday I had a meeting with Loblaw’s in my office. I can’t announce a new grocery store this morning—I wish I could—but I can tell you that we continue to hold discussions with Loblaw’s on this issue.

We are also moving ahead in 2017 with a comprehensive commercial review to identify opportunities in our city. York Road may just be one of those opportunities! This way the residents of the east end can get the commercial development that is so sorely needed.

Let’s shift now and talk about development in the downtown.

Since 2012, we’ve added more than 1,000 housing units downtown, and more than 100,000 square feet of office and commercial space is in development.

We’ve leveraged more than $150 million in private sector investment.

The corner of Gordon and Wellington has been completely transformed with a busy new shopping centre. Condominium projects are selling out. The Metalworks development is taking shape along the banks of the Speed River. Acker’s Furniture is being redeveloped as a community hub space with 10 Carden. The Petrie Building is finally getting restored. There are new high-rise apartment opportunities on Yarmouth.

And we are building a parkade on Wilson Street.

There are a few exciting big-picture results behind all this progress.

When I see cranes in the sky, I see jobs. I see more people living downtown. I see the spinoffs in retail and services that follow.

Most of you are aware of our Places to Grow targets of adding 6,000 people and 2,000 jobs to our downtown. There has always been concern that Guelph would lose its character as it grew bigger. Our downtown is an example of how we can not only keep our character, but make it even better—while growing at the same time.

People aren’t moving downtown because Places to Grow made them do it. They’re moving downtown because it’s a vibrant and appealing place to be.

Another big-picture outcome is our local tourism economy. This term, we initiated a strategic tourism initiative in order to start to realize our city’s potential as a tourism destination. And what has been identified as our key tourism asset? Our historic downtown.

If we can meet our Guelph’s tourism potential, it will open the door to significant new investment, jobs, and business growth.

I want to turn to relationship building.

I’m proud that one of my first orders of business upon being elected Mayor was to work to repair relationships.

Relationships with important stakeholders such as the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the County of Wellington.

I have a good relationship with Warden Bridge and it’s a great asset as we work on areas of common interest such as economic development and shared services. We have taken steps to re-establish the City’s membership in the County’s Social Services Committee so that our city has a voice at the table in the important matters of housing, child care, and social assistance.

Moving forward, we know that the answer to disagreements with the County and others is not to launch lawsuits. It’s to come to the table with an already strong, positive relationship, and work things out.

I am also building relationships with mayors from across Ontario and Canada through the the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario and a new southwestern Ontario Mayor’s Group in which I was chosen as Vice-Chair.

Our relationships with the Federal and Provincial governments are also going very well, and I continue to build ties with our MPP Liz Sandals and MP Lloyd Longfield, as well as through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

I have met with many Ministers, provincial and federal officials, and members of all parties to keep Guelph’s needs top of mind.

These relationships bring tangible results to our community. Just one example is $2.6 million in Provincial funding we received for the reconstruction of York Road.

We have heard from Queen’s Park and Ottawa that more infrastructure funding opportunities are coming—and the City is ready to jump on them.

I would be remiss if I talked about relationship building without talking about relationships on Council.

Many of you may have seen headlines about our divided Council.

There’s no doubt that the elected members of City Council bring different ideologies and viewpoints to the table.

There’s no doubt that in some key areas, such as setting tax rates during budget season, that there is disagreements. There are differing thoughts about the best way to accomplish our goals for the city.

But let’s keep this in perspective.

Most of the time, Council is not divided—in fact, most of the time we’re unanimous! Here are just a few examples of unanimous votes:

  • Updating the Community Energy Initiative
  • Getting caught up on the backlog of sidewalk repairs
  • Adding separated bike lanes to Woodlawn Road
  • Consolidating and reviewing City’s reserves
  • Directing staff to prepare better reports for council, and the public, on budget variances

We have also adopted every Planning application that came before us this term, with the exception of the proposed student housing development on the site of St. Matthias church on Kortright Road.

So the business of the City is getting done—and getting done well.

As a Council, I think we all know we have some work to do in coming together as a team for the good of Guelph.

I’m sure you’d all agree that our city does not have time for gotcha moments or political games. There are simply far too many opportunities and challenges to be met.

So let me be very clear. I am absolutely committed, as I always have been, to working together with Council to get things done for the people and businesses of Guelph.

However, as your Mayor, I will NOT shy away from stating my opinions, and I will CONTINUE to act upon the mandate I was given by the voters of this City.

Focus Areas

I’ve talked about how we have moved the needle significantly so far this term. But there’s no doubt, there is still more to do.

As Mayor, I am working hard to create a culture of learning from our mistakes.

As you know, this term of Council inherited the Urbacon fiasco. I felt it was important to act quickly on this issue. Staff retained an outside, third party to do three things:

  • First, confirm the numbers and give a final accounting of what this actually cost the taxpayers.
  • Second, provide recommendations to prevent a similar situation from happening again. One of those recommendations was establishing a Project Management Office—which has already been done.
  • Third, report back to Council on whether to pay back the reserve that was used for the court settlement.

These actions helped close the book on Urbacon.

We have already seen a positive example of the results of that work: the renovation and expansion of the Guelph Police Service headquarters.

This is the first complex capital project that is benefiting from the City’s new project management standards. This includes a comprehensive business case, as well as better governance, oversight, communications, and reporting as the project gets built. It is being supported by the City’s new Project Management Office.

The Guelph Police Service headquarters is one of 270 capital projects the City will plan, design, and build over the next 10 years. And every one of those projects needs to be managed with the same high standards.

We need to be brave enough to continue to learn from mistakes.

Recently, Council learned of a $2.6 million negative variance in the Solid Waste budget due to a recycling opportunity with Michigan that failed to deliver the revenues that were expected.

The staff report that came to Council gave an honest and frank assessment of flaws in the original contract from a risk management perspective. The City’s Internal Auditor made 16 recommendations that will help ensure this does not happen again.

We haven’t closed the book on this yet. A focus for this year will be to implement the auditor’s recommendations, make sure we learn from our mistakes, and move forward with our eyes open.

One of the key issues we will need to tackle this term – is the infrastructure deficit.

Guelph is an old city with a lot of old infrastructure.

Our water, wastewater, stormwater, and transportation infrastructure is valued at $2.1 billion dollars. We have an a $165 million backlog, plus an annual infrastructure gap of $23 million.

The City administration is doing a thorough review of options for addressing the gap. As a Council, we will need to decide how to proceed so that we can ensure Guelph has the infrastructure we need, at a cost taxpayers can afford.

On the stormwater side, Council has approved a change that will see stormwater being funded from user fees, instead of from property taxes.

Stormwater infrastructure has been under-funded for years, and this new model will help raise the funds we need to make it sustainable. As someone who was an insurance broker for 16 years, I can say confidently that flooding is an issue that can no longer be ignored. To protect businesses and property, I believe this is the right thing to do.

Another area of focus this term will be the Baker Street property.

Until now, the city vision for this site has been focused on a new library, a new downtown college campus, and residential development.

This vision may very well come to life, but it hasn’t for several years. I knew that allowing more opportunities for the private sector to cast their vision on properties like this was vital for our downtown.

So I am pleased to report that just recently Council approved a recommendation that will swing that door open to go out to the private sector this fall.

The development is still two or three years out. But we have some work to do—and Council has some decisions to make—before we get there. We can all agree, this prime piece of downtown property should be much more than a parking lot.

Another important area of focus when it comes to growth and development is the Integrated Operational Review—known as the IOR. I talked about this to you all last year.

As many of you know, the review’s aim is to improve the building, planning, and economic development processes to make them easier and more seamless for the development community.

A lot of positive things have come out of the review. Twenty-three recommendations to be exact. It has moved the needle in the right direction in terms of making the City more efficient, accessible and responsive. There is a lot of good work to be proud of.

Having said that—I have heard from many in the development community that the review has not achieved enough results, fast enough. They feel that there has been a lot of focus on activity—and not enough on outcomes.

I can tell you, I, and the City has heard this message.

I’ve had a number of conversations on the topic with the City’s new Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Infrastructure, Development, and Enterprise, Scott Stewart.

Scott recognizes the development community as a partner that he needs to move from the sidelines, to part of the game. He says he wants to hear from developers about what issues are actually solved, and what issues continue to cause them grief.

And—this is a big one for me – Scott talks about “getting to yes.” We recognize that the City is a regulator, and sometimes the answer might have to be no. But let’s not start there. Let’s work together to see if we can find a way to get to yes.

In July, a status report will be brought to Council that I understand will begin to wrap-up the project and transition it to creating a culture of continuous improvement.

In my view, this is a positive step. We need to stop focusing on checking off mission accomplished on a list of tasks, and start realizing that the work of improving service and changing culture is never really done. We need to continually push ourselves and challenge the status quo to get better with improved outcomes.

I plan to report on this effort next year when I’m before you again presenting the 2017 State of the City. I’m confident we will have moved the needle even further when it comes to effectiveness, efficiency, and working together.

Future Goals

Moving on now to the future goals segment of the performance review.

This is where we get to gaze into the crystal ball and think about what’s next five, 10, or 25 years from now.

Many of you may have seen this map before.

It makes the case that the Toronto to Waterloo Region corridor really has the potential to be Canada’s Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley has 4.3 million people and 387,000 tech workers. Our innovation corridor has 6.2 million people and about 200,000 tech workers.

What do they have that we don’t?

An efficient commuter rail service.

I recently was with Toronto Mayor John Tory and heard him talk about this.

He pointed out that at both ends of our corridor, we have the talented people, we have the educational institutions, we have great companies. But we’re trying to connect them with what he called a stage coach and a couple of lanes of outdated highway.

If we can solve the fundamental transportation issue and connect people and startups all along the corridor, we will create thousands of jobs and immense economic prosperity.

That’s why I have been at the table with the other municipalities along the corridor to advocate for all-day, two-way GO train service. The Province has committed to this in successive Provincial Budgets. They are doing the necessary behind the scenes work (such as purchasing land and upgrading track infrastructure) to make it a reality.

In the meantime, the Province has committed to adding more GO trains in the morning and evening commute times.

So, what does Guelph bring to the innovation corridor?

We’re not trying to copy the other guys—we’re carving out our niche and building on our strengths.

Our strengths in agri-tech, agri-innovation, and clean tech are recognized across Canada and beyond.

I have visited local companies like RWDI, NSF-GFTC, and Life Learn. These businesses could go anywhere, but they’re choosing to stay and grow in Guelph. They make an incredible contribution to the innovation and knowledge economy in this province.

Looking to the future, Guelph wants to carve out another niche for itself—as a leader in civic technology.

Civic tech is technology that’s making government more effective. As governments around the world seek to use new digital tools to engage with citizens, they need the private sector to help develop those tools. It could be data access software; voting technology; or tools to support citizen feedback or decision-making.

In 2015, this was a $7 billion industry in North America.

We’ve already got excellent local companies working in various forms of civic tech, like Enpar on water treatment technologies or Merak Systems and Midnight Illusions on software design and civic apps.

But the City can and should play a bigger role in encouraging the growth of this sector.

This summer, our Open Guelph initiative is piloting the Civic Accelerator, a program that will open up the City of Guelph to companies, entrepreneurs and start-ups with innovative ideas to better serve Guelph citizens. The accelerator builds on the experiences of similar civic innovation projects in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Montreal.

The Civic Accelerator is a partnership between the City and Innovation Guelph, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, the University of Guelph’s Centre for Business and Social Enterprise (CBase) and Canada’s Open Data Exchange. And in fact, our partner, the U of G, just received a $10,000 award from the McConnell Foundation for the Civic Accelerator.

Guelph is already making a name for ourselves as a leader in open government. Our plan is to also make a name for ourselves as a hub for civic technology development.

Before I conclude, I want to share one more example on the theme of focusing on outcomes rather than activities.

Supporting Circles Guelph Wellington

In last year’s State of the City, I issued a challenge to all the business leaders in the room to commit to doing something about poverty in our community. I highlighted the work of a local group that is doing some tremendously innovative things to eliminate poverty—a group called Circles Guelph Wellington.

I thought I would take this opportunity, one year later, to report back to you.

After last year’s speech, Circles Guelph Wellington was contacted by a number of organizations—including Guelph Hydro, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, Intrigue Media, Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre, and Rotary Club. They have since conducted training for Guelph Hydro and done work with other organizations as well.

Circles participants have achieved some significant outcomes over the past 2 years:

  • 31% have exited the Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program system
  • 25% have increased their level of education
  • 43% have gained paid work experience. One participant—a single mom with 5 children—has gained full-time employment.

I want to congratulate all the businesses who took up my challenge last year. I want to congratulate Elaine and Louise, who run Circles and who are here today. And most of all I want to congratulate Circles participants who have worked hard to change their lives.

This summer, I will be hosting a symposium at City Hall to talk about poverty, and Circles will be our guest speaker. I will be inviting the business community to attend, so watch your inboxes

Conclusion

This week, as Kithio Mwanzia mentioned, I had the honour of hosting Guelph’s first-ever Mayors for the Day: Lexi and Amy. They did a fantastic job.

I also held two Mayor’s Town Halls with students, one at Centennial and one at St. James.

Let me say, Guelph is in good hands—we have a generation of smart and talented leaders ready to help make this city even better.

As I met with the students, and toured with Lexi and Amy around Guelph, I was struck by how much we have to be proud of in this city. It was fun for me to have the chance to see the city through their eyes.

Sometimes, there’s a temptation for all of us to get caught up in the details of trying to solve problems and resolve issues. I go back to the performance review analogy, where the employee worries whether they have met all their goals and checked off all the boxes.

But a performance review is also a chance to take a step back and appreciate all that has been accomplished throughout the year, and all the good work that is to come.

I don’t like making a lot of promises, but I can promise you this: I will always be a Mayor for everyone. I will always keep my door open. And I will always be willing to listen to all opinions.

I am honoured and blessed to be Mayor of this great city. And I am honoured to work together with all of you to make our city even better.

Thank you.

Contact the Mayor

 

2015 State of the City
April 24, 2015

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Good morning.

I’d like to thank the Chamber of Commerce for hosting the annual State of the City address.  This event has a long history in our city, and I’m proud to be here to deliver my first State of the City as your Mayor.

I want to thank everyone in the audience today for coming out for breakfast to talk about our city. It’s great to see so many business and community leaders here.  You help make this community tick and I look forward to working together with you over this term of Council.

I am now just over 100 days in office as your mayor.

Many have wanted to know what I had spent my first 100 days doing.  And they all wanted to hear about what I want to accomplish over the next four years.

In response to the first question – I spent these first days creating relationships. I was meeting, talking, listening, and getting to know members of Council, staff and other stakeholders within our city.  Many stakeholders are here in this room today. I also spent time getting to know fellow mayors across the Province. This included reaching out to our closest neighbour, The County of Wellington. I am pleased to report that a solid relationship has been built with them.

Council also spent many hours in orientation sessions learning policies and processes. And, of course, we tackled the City Budget – holding six Council meetings on the budget (seven if you count the final meeting, which took place after the first 100 days); hearing from 54 delegations; and digesting more than 600 pages of Budget documents. This doesn’t include the avalanche of emails and phone calls from citizens giving us their input too.

I have said before that during an election campaign, it’s all about “me.” Whether running for councillor, or running for mayor, you’re standing on people’s doorsteps asking them to “vote for me”. But once elected to government, it’s all about “we.” I am working with 12 other elected people on behalf of our community. And I am working with professional staff who are providing their best advice and recommendations. It’s only by working together as a collective “we” that we can make positive change for the city of Guelph. That’s the tone I set out to accomplish within the first 100 days of this term of Council. And it is the tone I wish to maintain over this term.

The second question people were asking – what I hope Council accomplishes this term – is, to me, the more important one.

SOTC-1That’s what I want to focus on this morning.

Shortly after being elected, I sat down with a student reporter from the University of Guelph for a “get to know your new Mayor” interview.

He asked me why University of Guelph students should consider staying in the city after graduation. What does Guelph have to offer?

I said that almost anything you could be looking for, you will find in Guelph.

It’s a cliché to say that Guelph is a great place to raise a family. But it’s true.

That is why my entire family is here. With roots that go back to 1919 as my great grandfather started Guthrie’s Bakery downtown on Quebec St.

It’s a great place at every stage of life – from childhood, to young adulthood, to retirement.

It’s a great place to grow up, to go to school, to build a career, or to start a business.

It’s a great place for newcomers, and for lifelong Guelphites.

And I want it to continue to be a place where my own children choose to stay in Guelph.

We have a wealth of arts and culture, music, restaurants, sports, recreation, parks and green spaces. We have a lot of amenities you wouldn’t expect to find in a city our size.

In short, Guelph has the liveability thing down pat.

My vision and my challenge over the next four years is to ensure that while Guelph is liveable – it is also affordable.

Because if you can’t afford to raise your family here – if you can’t afford to run your business here – the rest doesn’t matter.

We can have the best parks in Ontario; we can be world leaders in X, Y and Z – but that is not going to help us if people can’t afford to be here.

Some would have you believe that we face a choice: We can be a great city with high taxes; or we can be an affordable city with few services and amenities.

I reject that.

I believe Guelph can be a great city that is also affordable.

This morning, I’d like to give you some highlights of how – together with my colleagues on Council and the City’s administration – I believe we can get there.

Integrated Operational Review

Integrated Operational Review

The best way to ensure Guelph is affordable is by attracting jobs and investment.

When I moved into the Mayor’s Office, I found a gold shovel. It had been used for a ceremonial sod-turning and left in a corner. Upon arriving in the Mayor’s office I immediately put it in my office next to my desk, to remind myself every day that attracting jobs and businesses is my #1 priority.

In order to attract jobs and businesses, the City needs to implement the Integrated Operational Review – the work to tackle what was originally known throughout our community and beyond as the “Guelph Factor.”

I am pleased that, within the first 100 days of this term of Council, I saw a renewed momentum for the IOR.

In February, we initiated IOR stakeholder workshops with City staff. I made a point of dropping by those workshops so that those in the room – both developers and City staff – knew that I was taking this seriously.
The developers and partners in the room told me they are finally feeling that they are being listened to, and that action is being taken.

This is a big change from what I heard and from what many experienced over the past couple of years – namely, that the process was taking far too long, with too few results to show for it.

The 2015 workplan for the IOR focuses on implementation – and good progress is already being made.

The City’s development approval processes have been mapped, and we have identified opportunities for improving and streamlining processes. Performance measurement targets are also being developed.

Next steps include creating manuals to spell out roles and responsibilities and to support the streamlined development approval processes.

If you are a partner in this room today, that is involved in the IOR, I have a challenge for you. When you start to see these positive changes within city hall – tell us. Tell everyone. Write a letter to the editor, tweet it out, blog about it and call me to let me know. I know these positive changes are coming, and so do you. So let’s collectively tell our community about it.

The community will be hearing a lot more about this in the near future- so stay tuned.

All-day, two-way GO rail

All-day, two-way GO train service

Another priority to help us attract business and investment is all-day, two-way GO train service. I have always been a supporter of this coming to Guelph.

The Province of Ontario has signalled support for all-day, two-way GO rail service between Toronto and Brampton, Guelph, and Kitchener-Waterloo. And they have begun making investments in land and infrastructure upgrades to make it happen, including the construction of a new GO layover station in Kitchener.

Along with my counterparts – the Mayors of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Brampton– I will continue to advocate for this project with the Province. I have had several meetings on this already. Just last week I had an excellent meeting with the Minister of Transportation. I told him that this isn’t just about job creation, but it’s about building a complete community. With the influx of residential units being created downtown and a desire by many citizens to purchase these units, having all-day, two-way GO service is a unique selling feature for them.

Together, Guelph, Waterloo Region and Toronto employ 205,000 tech workers. In North America, this is second only to Silicon Valley, which is home to 387,000 tech employees.

The big difference is that Silicon Valley is connected by two-way commuter rail service between San Francisco and San Jose. The Toronto to Waterloo Region corridor is divided by a wall of congestion on Highway 401.

There is an excellent business case to support all-day, two-way GO train service. The backbone of the business case is the opportunity for GO service to unlock the tremendous economic potential of our region. It’s estimated that the service could spur the addition of 40,000 jobs in the Kitchener, Waterloo, and Guelph area alone.

Guelph is ideally positioned to attract start-ups and innovation-sector workers – because of our excellent University and College; our proximity to Toronto and Waterloo; and the lifestyle and liveability our city offers.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

I recently exchanged texts with an entrepreneur named Joe Lauge.

After building a tech startup in Toronto, Joe chose Guelph as the place to launch his new venture, a company called Fansi that builds social media networks for artists and their fans.

He wrote a blog post to explain why – as he said, “against all natural tech-startup inclinations” – he chose Guelph.

 

His reasons include Guelph’s affordable rent, the easy commute, and even the great restaurants and micro-breweries in this city.

And I quote:

Guelph Is Better For Tech Startups

“After being in Guelph for a full year of operations, I can honestly say…Wow Guelph! WOW!

I feel like I’ve discovered a secret others should know about. I’m confident in our ability to build a great and profitable global business….

5 years ago I’d have laughed at your for suggesting it could happen in Guelph. Now, I’m thinking that just being in Guelph might play a material role in helping us do so”

  Joe Lauge

Frozen water pipes

We had a stellar example of this in the winter, when a record number of water pipes froze – leaving a record number of households without running water.

At the peak of the issue, Guelph had 376 homes with a frozen water service.

More than 275 temporary water lines were installed throughout the issue. These lines connected people to their neighbour’s water line – but while they provided running water, it couldn’t be used for drinking or cooking.

The City also provided vouchers so people could buy bottled water, as well as free access to Laundromats and showers at City recreation facilities.

Quite frankly, this situation could have been an absolute nightmare for our city.

What is more fundamental to quality of life than having clean, running water in your home?

Talk about something that affects people – not in an abstract way, but in a real, practical, I-need-to-flush-my-toilet kind of way!

But an amazing thing happened.

“I have never had such service…”

“The service I received from your employees has been unbelievable. So kind and professional.”

“I was not only impressed, but amazed.”

“I am so impressed with all of you! Thank YOU!”

“Every city employee I came into contact with… was so very friendly, informed and always had a smile…”

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the service was fantastic from all City Departments…”

People weren’t angry at the City. In fact they offered more “thank yous” than I have ever seen in my time on Council.

Huge credit goes to the City’s Water Services department –all of these employees truly went above and beyond.

What strikes me in the many Tweets and e-mails we received is that people not only appreciated the technical response – but also the exceptional customer service and kindness they received – from the people who answered the phone, all the way to the crews who came out to do the work.

I should note that this was an inter-departmental effort, and that Water Services received support from Communications, Emergency Services, Solid Waste, Wastewater, Service Guelph, Operations, and several other departments.

“[the crew] faced miserable conditions-extreme cold weather, wet clothes, long hours (well into the evening), and angry customers. Despite these trying circumstances, in all my interactions with them, these guys were professional, polite, considerate, empathetic-in fact, actually cheerful. Most important, they were committed; determined not to stop until the got it right no matter what it took.”

Kudos To City Water Services

Huge credit also goes out to the community. This includes the families who dealt with frozen pipes with patience, endurance, and good humour. It also includes the neighbours who stepped up to help by providing water through temporary lines and by reaching out with showers, buckets of water, and all kinds of other helpful aid.

This is an example of how our City can really shine. It’s a core municipal service that people depend on. And when that service is interrupted – thanks to Mother Nature – the City and community is there to respond.

We need to celebrate this, and we need to build on it.

Transit

Transit

Speaking of core services that affect people’s lives – let’s talk a bit about Guelph Transit.

People rely on Transit to get them where they need to go – whether it’s school, work, or appointments. When the service isn’t working as well as it should, they notice.

It’s no secret that over the past few years, Guelph Transit has implemented a number of route and scheduling changes – and it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Riders dealt with late buses and missed transfers. The service was not as reliable and convenient as people wanted and expected.

Thanks to a significant effort from Transit staff, Guelph Transit has made major improvements. Buses are running on time. Customer service complaints are way down.

Beyond this, I am very pleased that Guelph Transit is now embarking on a major revamping of its service – which aims to make Transit more efficient and more convenient for riders.

I know what you’re thinking. We’ve changed routes before. What’s so different this time?

For one thing, these changes are based on feedback from people who use the system – including two recent surveys that asked about travel patterns and customer service. And there has been active engagement with the front line people who know the system best – the drivers.

Secondly, we will be modifying the hub-and-spoke model, offering more transfer points where riders can change buses and travel more efficiently – because they won’t always have to go to Guelph Central Station to connect to another bus.

The proposed new routes include a north-south Mainline route along Gordon/ Norfolk/ Woolwich, from Woodlawn Road in the north to Clair Road in the south. They also include a perimeter route along major roads like Victoria, Stone, Edinburgh, and Woodlawn.

Take the example of someone who lives in the Northeast part of the city and needs to get to work at one of the factories on the Northwest side. Right now, that person has to take a bus downtown to Guelph Central Station, transfer to another bus, and then ride all the way back up to Woodlawn.

In other words, they have to go pretty far out of their way.

Under the proposed routes, that person would be able to ride a bus along Woodlawn – from their home in the East to their workplace in the West.

The General Manager of Guelph Transit has said his goal is to make the changes within the existing budget. But if that’s not possible, it will be an item of discussion in the 2016 Budget process.

At one time, Guelph was a pretty small city and the hub and spoke Transit model worked just fine. Not anymore. I am hopeful that, with these changes, Guelph Transit will win back some old customers and gain some new ones. The more people we have on board, the more cost-effective the service will be.

Housing mix

 

Whenever people in Guelph talk about affordability, the subject of housing always seems to come up.

With good reason. Housing costs continue to rise in our city, even for starter homes.

There is no doubt that the housing mix in Guelph has changed over the past couple of decades. The trend since 1993 is that there are fewer single-family homes, and more townhomes and apartments being built.

There are several factors that have contributed to this change.

The City annexed land in 1993, bringing a large stock of new greenfield land on stream, which in turn created a spike in development of single-family homes.

The change in housing mix is also partly market-driven, as baby boomers and young professionals choose to live in condos that don’t require them to mow the lawn or shovel the driveway. Townhomes provide an affordable option for people buying their first home.

Some of the change can be attributed to policy changes, such as the Places to Grow legislation that mandates the City direct growth to its core built-up areas. The Province has launched a 10-year review of Places to Grow, and the City of Guelph will be providing comment as part of that process. As Mayor, I will also provide feedback as a member of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus group. I will ensure Guelph’s voice and Guelph’s experience is heard. In my personal opinion, I believe a goal of many young families is to eventually own a detached home, with a backyard to throw the ball around with their kids. If there is a way to accommodate more of this type of housing within our growth plans, I think we should.

Over the next few years, Guelph will also be doing background studies and community engagement to support its next 5-year Official Plan review. This will include looking at growth in the City beyond 2031.

Corporate re-organization

Corporate re-organization

I can’t talk about affordability and liveability without talking about efficiency in the City’s operations.

The City has taken a number of steps to make the administration more streamlined and effective.

In November, the City was reorganized into 3 service areas instead of 5.

In February, a further realignment reduced the number of departments and the number of senior-level decision-makers.

The changes are meant to make the organization more effective and responsive to the people and businesses of Guelph.

An important ally in the drive for more efficient municipal government is the City’s Internal Auditor.

Internal Audit

Internal Audit

The Internal Auditor brings a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluating and improving the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance processes.

Our Auditor recently presented her 2014 Annual Report to Council’s Audit Committee.

Her team completed 9 internal audits in 2014 – including value-for-money audits; follow up audits; and system validation and assessments. An impressive achievement. What’s even more impressive is that City management agreed with 98% of the recommendations put forth in the audits.

In addition, the Internal Audit team conducted 7 risk management assessments and 5 business process reviews in 2014.

Audits are an important way to identify cost savings and optimize resources. The cumulative total of all audits and reviews since the function was established in 2012 is a potential $3.7 million.

The Internal Auditor has just begun an operational/ value-for-money audit of residential waste collection. It will look at process, cost, alternative service delivery models, and comparisons to other municipalities. I look forward to her report, because it will give a clear picture of what it takes to collect your bins from the end of your driveway each week. This kind of data is vital to Council’s decision-making process and our accountability back to the very people in this community who pay for it.

To quote from the Internal Auditor’s Annual Report:

“The [Internal Audit] department continues to focus on efficiency and effectiveness of the business of the Corporation. Value to Guelph residents means exceptional service delivered at a sustainable price. The audit function continues to be a catalyst for improved business processes, efficient use of resources, increased focus on internal controls and greater transparency and accountability.”

To put it another way – it’s helping the City of Guelph be affordable and liveable.

 Employee engagement

Employee Engagement - Employee Mohsin Talpur shaking hands with Mayor Cam Guthrie

Of course, the job of building an efficient, effective, and responsive municipal organization doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the CAO and Executive Team (with a little help from the Auditor.)

The City has more than a thousand other allies in that effort – they’re called municipal employees.

These are the front-line staff who know City services and programs inside and out. The people who drive the buses every day. The ones who come out in minus 30 weather when your water line is frozen.

The City is tapping into this well of knowledge and ideas in a number of ways.

Last year, employees identified a number of front-line efficiencies and improvements.

One of the proposals, from an employee in the Engineering Department, helped the City earn an Employer of Excellence Award from Conestoga College. His idea was to offer paid placements for internationally trained professionals – providing them with Canadian work experience, while benefiting the City through their knowledge and skills.

That employee, Mohsin Talpur, is here this morning – Mohsin, can you stand up to be recognized?

Other proposals from employees included new methods for collecting court-imposed fines, and improvements to sidewalk snow clearing equipment. In total, 19 ideas were implemented.

I believe employees should be empowered to keep bringing their ideas and innovations forward.

That’s why I’m pleased that the City has launched a series of roundtables, where different City employees will work together to find new, on-the-ground solutions to help improve how the City delivers services.

The roundtables will break down silos and improve processes. They will provide a way for employees to keep bringing their good ideas forward.

That employee who managed to put a smile on someone’s face when their water line was frozen and they couldn’t flush their toilet? Maybe he can suggest ways to improve customer service in all areas of the City. Maybe he can help all employees deal with difficult situations.

Employees are a great resource in building a liveable and affordable city – and I’m glad the City is tapping into that resource.

Council’s shared agenda

Mayor Guthrie and 12 members of council posing in Council Chambers

Making Guelph an affordable place to live, raise a family, and start a business is not going to be achieved in one Budget night – nor will it be achieved in 100 days. It’s not going to be achieved by waving a magic wand.

There are many competing priorities – infrastructure needs; program and service expectations; the demands of growth.

Council is in the process of developing our shared agenda for the term. This will be an important foundation for the next four years. It will guide departmental work plans and performance measures for the organization.

An example of the planning work for the council agenda in chart form

We met on Monday to discuss the shared agenda. We have a good list of common items (which were put forward by 4 or more members of Council); shared items (which were put forward by 2 to 3 members of Council) and unique items that were identified by just one member of Council.

There aren’t too many surprises on the list. It includes things like downtown parking, traffic, taxation, infrastructure, business attraction, and the south end rec centre.

For most of the items on the list, work is already underway. For example, staff are working on a parking master plan that will come forward this summer.

On Monday night, Council approved the list in principle and decided to send the items to the appropriate standing committees for further discussion.

As a Council we understand that the City cannot be all things to all people. We are going to have to prioritize. We are going to have to throw out the old, false choice of being liveable OR affordable – and come up with ways to be liveable AND affordable.

Fortunately, there are 13 people around the Council horseshoe who are dedicated to this city and to serving the people and businesses of Guelph. That came through loud and clear during our shared agenda discussion.

Circles Guelph-Wellington

Circles Guelph-Wellington

This morning, I’ve talked about affordability in the context of the average taxpayer and homeowner, who may find that taxes and other costs are going up faster than their wages are.

But I am mindful that there are also people in Guelph living in poverty – people for whom affordability is a major, daily challenge. People who might have to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.

This morning, I want to issue a second challenge to all the business leaders in the room to commit to doing something about poverty in our community.

I recently met with a group called Circles Guelph Wellington. They have a very innovative series of programs that are tacking the complex issue of poverty in our community.

Bridges out of Poverty educates people from the middle or upper classes about what it means to live in poverty, and helps people to see poverty in a different light. Getting Ahead is a program that helps people of low income learn about their own strengths and the resources available to them. Circles brings people from both programs together, creating relationships across economic boundaries and helping people move from poverty to sustainability.

You can find out more about Circles at www.circlesgw.ca. I want to thank Circles GW and all their volunteers for the excellent work they do.

And I want to take this opportunity to thank the many organizations and volunteers in Guelph who do tremendous work on a wide variety of issues in our community. You play an important part in making Guelph the great city that it is.

One of the things I’ve been asked a lot in my first few months in office is, What it is like being Mayor?

My answer is that being Mayor has exposed me to so many wonderful people, and important challenges and great opportunities that lie ahead for our city. Every day, I get to think about and work towards making Guelph even better.

It’s a privilege to do this job. I appreciate the trust the people of Guelph have placed in me.

In my short time in office so far I have met and spoken with so many people about our city:

Premier of Ontario

Premier of Ontario

Officials from the United States Consulate

Officials from the United States Consulate

Local businesses and entrepreneurs

Local businesses and entrepreneurs

Volunteers and students (who continually ask me for “Selfies”).

Volunteers and students (who continually ask me for “Selfies”).

Every one of them has remarked on how impressed they are with Guelph and all that our city has to offer.

I am looking forward to continuing to work together over the next four years. There are a lot of important issues ahead and a lot of stakeholders to be involved along the way. With my Council colleagues, with the City’s staff, and with people just like you – “WE” will help make Guelph all that it can be.

Thank you

Thank you

@camguthrie
mayorguthrie.com