Official City of Brantford Mayoral Website
  • RESIDENTS
  • BUSINESS
  • DISCOVER
  • YOUR GOVERNMENT
  • myBRANTFORD

2014 State of the Community Address

PRESENTED BY MAYOR FRIEL

January 13, 2014 - Council Chambers, City Hall

It is easy for me to be positive about Brantford.

We have worked together as a team. 

Many members of this council have shown themselves to be strong and competent leaders.  Identifying the issues that matter to them and their constituents, identifying problems, finding solutions, and, most importantly, building partnerships and coalitions that bring everyone together to share in the process and the success.

As hard-working a core of Councillors as it has been my pleasure to work with; so many hours put in, not just around the committee or Council table, but also out in the community, putting hundreds of hours in working with groups and attending events.

This has been a very effective Council that has accomplished a great deal.  When I was putting together this speech and listing all of the things that we saw come to fruition this past year, and the many more that will continue to benefit the City in the year, and years, to come, I was overwhelmed.  

This has been a hard working Council of doers, who rolled up their sleeves, and got to work.  It wasn't all about taking credit or basking in the glory, there were no grandiose schemes, just hard work and sound problem solving.

I have been Mayor for four terms, and since my first election in 1994, it is fascinating and exciting to see how much Brantford has changed.  We are recognized leaders within the Province and the Nation for a number of areas: 

  1. the development of civic pride and unity through the creation of public space - Harmony Square; 
  2. revitalization through education - post-secondary partnerships designed to create physical and cultural change, and to serve as the foundation for new creative synergies meant to change our economic future; and
  3. the integration of a casino within the community, and using the hosting fee to drive economic and physical change in the city.

This past couple of years, we have had numerous contacts and visits from other communities and levels of government to learn more about what we are doing, and to try to understand how to mirror our incredible success.  Brantford, this past year, has been a noticed influence-maker within the province - Brantford, for the first time in decades, is not the community with its hand out, we are the community that is sought after to show the way.

We accomplished this together.  We accomplished our goals because we are a collaborative community that has known hard times and understands what it takes to persevere and go forward - don't forget, our motto is Industria et perseverantia - "by industry and perseverance."

Let's take a look at the highlights of this past year

To help us focus, I want to frame this review on three themes: families, jobs and services (services, because it is always of the most interest, has a great deal to do with taxes and how tax dollars are spent within the community – dollars, and value for dollars.)

Let's talk about services and taxes first...

I had another Mayor point out to me this year at the AMO conference, that if the average tax payer in your community, say a family of four with two teenagers – which is myself, had all of their telecommunications services (internet, home phone, television, cell phones, etc.) bundled with one company - then they will pay more for their home telecommunications than they do for the taxes on their home. 

The biggest issue in Brantford is managing a tumultuous history of deindustrialization that caused dramatic changes in our tax structure, and has taken many years to get a handle on so that this Council can start to find the balance between services, and value for the tax dollar. 

Although it doesn't register with many people, the key determinant for tax levels in Brantford is that Brantford is a single tier municipality - and Brantford is in essence the only true single-tier municipality in the Province.  Single-tier means that we are a separated City, without a regional government, and without an upper-tier level of government like a County - Brantford is a City not a County.

So the pot of tax dollars that we collect is all we have to manage all of the services in the City.  The process is entirely transparent, right down to knowing the voting record of each member of council on each budget item.

In Brantford during the last four years (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 - proposed) we have seen a total budget increase of 10.71% which translates to a total residential percentage increase (on an average home) of 8.31%.  (This is based on the current estimates committee proposal of 0.76%)

In comparison, Brant has seen increases across three years (2011, 2012, 2013 – we do not have 2014 projections yet) of 20.43% budget increase, and 14.19% impact on the average residential taxpayer.

The last two years of this mandate saw the first time we have proposed budget targets across multiple years.  The tax rate for 2013 and 2014 was identified and agreed to in 2012; the 2014 rate was proposed as 1.54%, and staff came back at 1.48% and with the assessment growth we saw this year we are at 0.76%.  I proposed multi-year budgeting targets in 2012, because it allows staff to have a longer term view for planning budgets, and as was clearly demonstrated, should result in lower annual increases.  For example, a council could set a target of 7% across a four-year mandate, and realize the greatest possible value for each tax dollar.

The tax increase amounts demonstrate a financially stable community, with a highly evolved budgeting process.  

But the estimates process is not the only element of developing mature taxation policy, because it is also essential to have the highest possible value for each tax dollar.  To this end, we also worked on completing major philosophical shifts within the functioning of the corporation.  

Two years ago we saw the implementation of the Tax Payers Bill of Rights and the single most extensive "value for money" consultation process in our history, and one of the boldest consultations in Ontario.  

We developed and approved a broad based Public Consultation policy, which clearly defines the most effective processes possible for engaging the public in the decision-making for Brantford.  

The Customer Service policy also came into effect, and we have been working diligently to ensure that a customer focused approach to all of our services is of paramount importance to all of our staff.  The public has the right to know that everything we do, we do for the citizens of our community.

Council is implementing a Human Resources Master Plan, meant to rationalize our hiring, training, compensation, and retention practices within the Corporation.  We need the best and brightest, and we need our staff working toward constant improvement for all municipal services, we need total value for each dollar spent.

Also, we are in the process of reviewing our Communication Strategy, and this is proving to be one of the most significant undertakings of the 21st century.  It's a different world for getting information out to our constituents.  

People are turning away from traditional media, and from adhering to specific times or locations for information, and are turning to the digital medium, which is much more fluid and individual.  

We need a communications strategy for the 21st century. It is imperative that we drive the process that creates effective communications strategies - for emergency and non-emergency situations alike.  We have just seen so many examples of this over the last two weeks within communities in Southern Ontario, where it is key for municipalities to have the ability to communicate during an emergency, as well as the ability to share information pertaining to the results of those situations, right down to the processes of the problem.

We need to open up our structure to allow greater access to information - data analytics and open source data is the wave of the future.  Brantford needs to be a leader in all areas of communication, and be prepared to accept the philosophical and structural changes necessary to succeed.  

Let's shift gears and talk about a job strategy for Brantford.

Brantford has had remarkable success with job development in 2013; we saw a dramatic decrease in the total square footage of empty industrial commercial space.  New developments at Mabe and Ferraro started operation and the assessment growth has been felt for the 2014 budget.

The unemployment rate from January 2013 was 7.8%, and the January 2014 report (which came out on Friday, January 10, 2014) has Brantford's unemployment rate at 5.1% - the lowest of our comparator groups in Southern Ontario.  (The monthly rate is based on a three-month rolling average – so everyone understands.)  In one year, we successfully dropped well below the provincial and national averages, while in January 2013 we were trending above in both categories. 

A number of key initiatives are focused on creating jobs for the 21st century, new approaches, new philosophies - all capitalizing on the new mood of positivity in Brantford.

In 2013 Council agreed to support a rebranding initiative for the entire City.  When dozens of citizens and stakeholders got together at the quarterly Mayor's Luncheons, it was made clear from the community that it was time to create a bold venture in rebranding Brantford.  

A citizens committee was approved by Council, as were the resources to bring in an expert marketing team.  The work has been completed and will be presented to the task force and Council this month.

A new and exciting look and energy for Brantford to move forward into the global economy. 

Also growing from the Mayor's Luncheons was a desire to change the philosophical direction of our economic development approach to something that is more in keeping with where the jobs are going to be in the 21st century.

Harken to the quote by Wayne Gretzky, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

To that end, Council approved a commitment of resources to create Smart Brantford. Smart Brantford is part of the International Intelligent Communities Forum, and the focus of this important initiative is to get the entire community involved in changing the nature and the economic foundation of Brantford.  

If we want higher paying, full-time jobs that are part of the future, and therefore, creating long-term employment opportunities, we need to collaborate and make the changes fundamental to our success.  

The five pillars of Smart Brantford are:

  1. Digital Inclusion 
  2. Knowledge Workforce
  3. Innovation
  4. Marketing and Advocacy; and
  5. Broadband Connection

A task force was struck, and dozens of community citizens, stakeholders and Councillors are involved in advancing each of these pillars within our community.

2014 will see a Smart Brantford push that will engage all of our citizens to make our future all about being smart.

GO Transit running from Brantford is the desire of many commuters who travel toward the GTHA.  It is essential that we make inroads with GO so that we can be better able to compete and attract hundreds of more families to move to our community.  

To this end, Council struck a task force to approach GO and Metrolinx, which we did, and then MPP Dave Levac arranged for he and I to meet with the heads of both GO and Metrolinx and allow us to pitch a proposal to expand the service.  In the last Council meeting of the year, we received the report from our Engineering Department outlining the approach we are proposing, and to move us forward to seeing GO service within the year.

Of course, the biggest issue facing our economic development future is the completion of the boundary adjustment with Brant.  Brantford has consistently laid out the science of our position, we have been specific with the financial impact and we have worked in such a way as to share the prosperity with our County neighbours, and remain in consultation with our Six Nations neighbours to offer them the same advantage.

Brantford bargained in good faith at every step of the process.  

It is imperative that we complete the boundary adjustment, that the land as outlined is transferred in its entirety.  The very future of Brantford is at stake, and this cannot be stated without the incredible sense of imperative that it carries.

In 2013 Council gave me, as Mayor, the authority to undertake “any and all actions” as necessary to see the successful completion of the boundary adjustment.  That is exactly what I intend to do with the support and guidance of the task force and Council.

Whenever we discuss economic development in Brantford we have to highlight the success of our focused efforts, almost 15 years ago, on attracting the food processing industry.  It demonstrates very clearly, that a targeted strategy works, and works exceptionally well.  

The kind of enthusiasm and determination that we demonstrated attracting food processing businesses, is exactly the kind of enthusiasm that we must apply to moving into a 21st century economy with the Smart Brantford initiative.

As our history has shown, when we put our minds to something, Brantford succeeds.

Revitalization through education is our mantra in Brantford.  It is what we are best known for outside of our borders.  We were collaborative, we were persistent, and we demonstrated a level of creativity that was well ahead of the curve to achieve success.  

We have continued to see growth in our downtown with post-secondary, but 2013 was unique in that we saw the completion of Conestoga College's first year in Brantford, and their increased commitment and dedication of resources going into their second year.  And, I just noticed in the Chamber’s InTouch Magazine, Conestoga is entering their third year and are excited about being able to move forward with the innovations as well. 

We also welcomed the family residency program of McMaster University to the BGH facility within the BCHSYS.  The City of Brantford played a key role in ensuring this development by committing the lion's share of the dollars to see the space renovated.

Funding health care is outside of our normal scope as municipal government, but Council saw that this opportunity was beneficial for the community and the commitment went well beyond traditional funding allocations to simply recognize - this is what is best for the community.

When I was still Mayor-elect, I was invited to the BGH to meet with President Jim Hornell as he outlined the potential of what we could do for our residents by funding a program for medical residents.  I was proud to help shepherd this partnership and funding request through Council, and I believe it will make an incredible difference for Brantford's future.

Education and family practice residency programs are about developing the tools necessary for a strong economic development foundation, but they are also just as much about developing strong families.

Let's talk about strong families in Brantford in 2013.

There are those in our community, even in positions of influence, who can't let go of the past.  A negative period of our past, which was little more than 20 years.  But let's not downplay that negative time, because there was such upheaval, turmoil and despair, that families broke apart, and cycles of decline gripped individuals and their loved ones. 

Deindustrialization is a particular process, with particular triggers and symptoms that can be identified and measured.  We can understand, and then therefore, can focus our attention to correct.

There are poor people in our community, there are poor families.  This is not all the families in our community, in fact we are predominantly - overwhelmingly - middle class. 

If we were a poor community, the poor within our community would be perpetually lost with little hope or opportunity. 

We are a rich community, and therefore, we can talk seriously about being able to help struggling individuals and families.  

We might be middle class financially, but we are rich in spirit, we are rich in caring, we are rich in collaboration, we are rich in giving, and we are rich in creativity

What have we done to help these marginalized families and individuals within our community?

The most prominent feature, and the area that we can do the most good, is in the development of the Detox Rehabilitation Centre.  The City of Brantford helped champion the development of the Centre, and our staff did a brilliant job in writing the proposal that ultimately secured the funding.

Now the operation of the Detox Rehabilitation Centre will be managed by provincial interests as this is where health care is managed.  

We identified a problem, we built collaborative teams, and we secured the funding.  This will help many individuals and families.

The Neighbourhood Hub initiative is the first step in the prosperity initiative. The concept behind the Neighbourhood Hub is that the physical presence of the schools in which we centreour attention, to attract the children and families whose lives are centred around that physical location. 

Again, we built strong and positive partnerships, and have created something that was successful before we even began. 

I championed the Neighbourhood Hubs initiative because it is time for us to start thinking about new ways for how we commit our resources, and how we view the circumstances of those in our community who struggle to see hope and opportunity.  

The old ways are the status quo, and the status quo is just managing - it doesn't solve problems, it only delays new problems from arising. 

Brantford is creative.  Brantford is collaborative.  Brantford solves problems. 

Another major initiative that will affect all families in our city is the Safe Brantford initiative.

After the completion and presentation of the report of the Crime Prevention Task Force, Council agreed that the Mayor would convene a blue ribbon committee comprised of leaders of social agencies and strategic organizations: Chief and Deputy Chief of Police, Chair of the Police Services Board, President of Brantford Chamber of Commerce, Director of Victims’ Services, City Manager, CAO of Brantford Community Health Care System, Senior Executive Officer of Laurier University, Chair of Criminology Department, Laurier University, Superior Court Judge, and others

Safe Brantford is a community-wide initiative that is meant to meet the causes and incidents of crime head on, and through the hard work and dedication of the whole community we will make a difference.

This past year City Council funded Brantford's first K-9 unit - simple but effective.  Good value for your dollar.

2013 we opened a major new expansion of the John Noble Home - care and concern for our elders is where more of our investment has to be directed in coming years.

Greenwich Mohawk is an interesting scenario for discussions around families, because the business that operated from this property from the 19th century onwards, built homes and families, and where they lived and prospered from the work.  Now families in that neighbourhood are concerned with living adjacent to derelict and dangerous buildings that were a constant drain on any positive feeling you could have about your community. 

This Council in 2013 ensured that the funding was allocated, and the buildings were finally taken down.  I first started talking about brownfields in my 1997 campaign and to see the buildings come down after 16 years is a dream come true.  I know that it is a dream come true for Councillor Marguerite Ceschi-Smith as well.

Now we move forward with cleaning the property and returning the land to positive use for families, the neighbourhood, and the community as a whole. 

We also made investments into arts and culture in 2013 in a remarkable way.  This year we saw three new pieces of public art dedicated to the community and meant to engage all of our families.  

The first dedication was for the Children's Memorial Park at St Andrew's Park on Brant Avenue.  This piece of art, made with the input from dozens of children in our community, is dedicated to the memory of all the children taken from their families far too early. 

The second dedication was for the new, and more appropriately named Walk of Fame monument adjacent on the corner across from our remarkable cenotaph. Meant to honour the dozens of citizens who have made a difference for our city, or on the national or international stage, it is a powerful piece of art that will be a tribute for years to come. 

The third dedication was of the Wayne Gretzky statue at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.  This is truly a statue dedicated to the Great One, but most significantly for Wayne, it is dedicated to all the great families in our community and that visit our wonderful facilities from out of town. 

The statue is of Walter and Phyllis and a young Wayne, looking up at what could be - and actually is.  It is a tribute to the parents who support their children and their families every single day of their lives.  

While discussing the Gretzky statue, let's now turn to the event that was a day of great pride and enjoyment for families, and the whole community of Brantford - the official opening and dedication of the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre for the people of Brantford.

We were honoured to have Wayne, Walter and their whole Gretzky family there in attendance, as well as Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Goodyear.  

The Gretzky Centre opening was the event highlight of the year in Brantford, and it was heartwarming to see dads and moms sharing their memories with their children, many of whom weren't even alive when Wayne was playing. 

Now this state of the art, $64,000,000 complex is operational, and tens of thousands of young people and families will join together and share moments whether it is on the rinks, in the pool or on the fields.  

It has been said that Brantford is "starting" a renaissance, that we are "beginning" a revitalization - in truth the revitalization started 20 years ago as champions and advocates within our community came together, addressed our problems, found solutions and created a positive foundation for the future.

We collaborated, we persevered, and through hard work and creativity, we changed Brantford for the better.

Brantford is not starting to be revitalized, we are showing the way to other communities how we revitalized.  

Now is the time for Brantford, all of our citizens and families, all of our organizations and businesses to join together and to start to really think about where we will be in the future.  

Now is the time for Brantford to start to dream again. To dream big, and not to be dissuaded by fear of ridicule.  

We have a stable platform for us to dream, we have the tools in place, and we have never been better positioned to start to think about our community in new and exciting ways.  

Brantford has always been where the impossible was made possible, and it will happen again - but only when we start to dream.  

Thank you