Tillsonburg District Chamber of Commerce welcomed Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar Tuesday morning at Carriage Hall for the annual Mayor's Breakfast.
In his 30-minute presentation Molnar gave a brief overview of several Town issues, opportunities and accomplishments ranging from a year in review to the 2018 budget, and news about job creation to strategic direction.
He touched on the town's Community Strategic Plan, a process initiated last term and ratified in 2015. It's an important part of the decision-making process, he said, and used on a daily basis.
"It's used for every staff report that comes before Council. It's a measuring stick that we use in our business plans and budgets.... are we following on the goals and objectives in the strategic plan - opportunities as defined by the stakeholders in this community? It was adopted by Council, but really it's your plan."
Molnar said a community focused approach to Budget and Business Plan deliberations was based on four specific principals.
"To maintain or enhance our existing service level, to reduce tax-supported debt, to use assessment growth to support the mandated asset management plan, and to address to address key initiatives as identified in our Community Strategic Plan.
"The process was intense, it was transparent and open," said Molnar, "and even protracted at times. However, I am proud of Council's ownership of the process and thankful for the quality of information, once again, received from our corporate team."
The net impact to requirement from taxation was a variance of 1.95 per cent. And overall, 0.3 per cent reduction from the 2017 budget representing $23 less in taxes per average household.
"We continued to focus on our capital infrastructure, which to me is extremely important.
"Our investment in capital this year is over $12 million, up from $5-7 million in 2017, which again is significantly higher than other year throughout this mandate. I think it's an extremely important area to focus on - the reinvestment now..."
He noted Council's continued aggressive reduction of long term debt.
"Back in 2015, that $10.3 million is now, in 2018, at $7.5 million and will show further reduction through to 2019 and through 2020."
Investment into energy savings initiatives are key, he said, both at the Tillsonburg Community Centre, which saw a $2.5 million investment, and the LED street light program.
"Both of these projects, which total close to $4 million, will be paid for by operational savings in our hydro and electrical expenses."
He highlighted some significant road construction projects, including Concession Street East, and north Broadway, in partnership with the federal and provincial governments (including recently approved funding of $975,000 from MTO as a King's Highway Connecting Link after three years of negotiations).
Molnar re-emphasized the town's Community Engagement Policy, which he said truly holds Council and senior management accountable to the community stakeholders, and demonstrates Council's commitment to an open and transparent governance model.
"I think it's an extremely important reflection of this Council, to be open, transparent and listening. Personally, I'm proud of the volunteer advisory committees, proud of the relationships we have with the BIA and the Chamber, and indeed, the general public. There have been times where decision making has taken even longer than it should - or could - but it's ultimately resulted in dialogue, and better and more educated opportunities coming from the general public."
He cited a meeting on April 9, which would include discussion on an overall comprehensive plan on Quarterline Road, giving the community an opportunity share their ideas and information.
"It's been a year of success in a lot of ways, but I also want to share that there are challenges. Every day, it's a whole new ball game when you get up and you go to the office. And I think part of the challenge that we have as a growing, caring community is that we try to do so much. Not that we need to be every thing to every body, but I'm going to suggest that we've had a very aggressive Council, we set high expectations, and part of that's going back to ensuring that we provide the opportunity and feedback from all members of the community.
"We set a business plan, we support it with a responsible financial budget, and then - quite frankly - we get out of the way and support the initiatives that we've given our senior leadership and our management team, the responsibility to enact. When March and June, yes there will be changes and opportunities along the way that we need to be flexible to... but we don't change our priorities. Those are in our CSP (Community Strategic Plan) and those are in the direction that we as a community gave to resolution when we adopted our business plan."
After negotiations, delays in developing serviced industrial land are out of the way, he said, leading to construction from Wise Line Metal Sales and Xcel Fabrication and Design, attracting more than 100 jobs to the community.
"The EA and design of the new Highway 3 Industrial Park is nearing completion with funding in the 2017 and 2018 budget for the roadwork necessary to provide access to this new addition of serviced industrial land.
"It's important for growth. It's not just about ensuring that we have the opportunity for investment, expansion of existing facilities, and being an attractive market... we do not have a 400 series highway running by our community. We have to smarter, leaner, more creative. But boy oh boy do we have people both in this room and across our community in the private sector that have demonstrated they are leaders, they are thinkers. They have brought technologies and visions that are now leading edge. And we have to again support that, facilitate it, and most often 'get out of the way.'"
Molnar touched briefly on the new Town Hall initiative, which included the formation of a committee to provide information and guidance to Council and potential direction. And physician recruitment and retention, including the success of attracting three family physicians and pending applicant.
"While this has been successful, we face retiring physicians, pressures on other health care specialists and changing demographics that will continue to pressure the demands on our local health care service providers."
Molnar discussed transit in town, streamlining building and development opportunities, downtown development (attraction and retention), industrial expansions (including Inovata, NHK, Marwood and Tillsonburg Custom Foods), and the impact of recent SCOR and SOMA initiatives.
"While we continue to work together to protect the values of Tillsonburg," said Molnar, summing up, "we are acutely aware that current economic reality, both provincially, globally and south of the border will introduce many new and unique challenges. We do not operate in isolation from our neighbours and as a community we need to be engaged and flexible to adapt to changing economic conditions.
"It is with the same vision and resolve that the partners here this morning have demonstrated in the past that our community will be well served well into the future. I personally look forward to continue to work closely with the Chamber over the next year, as we deliver on our mandates and make Tillsonburg... 'A place to build your future,' where we all strive to be connected, enriched and inspired."