2017 State of the City Address

Mayor Cam Guthrie – Friday, January 27, 2017

2017 State of the City infographic

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.