Midterm Reflections

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December 6, 2012

Last year, I wrote about my thoughts one year into this Council term. In reviewing the commitments I made in my election platform, I am pleased to say that I have made great progress with my colleagues on Council in most of them. In addition to those successes we have achieved together, here is a brief selection of some of the continued progress made in this second year:

  • The Northdale Land Use and Community Improvement Plan study concluded in June, with its recommendations being unanimously endorsed by Council. Though currently under appeal, the new plan was endorsed by the special project committee, which included student and non-student residents, landlords, realtors, developers, and university administrators.  We also received an IBM Smarter Cities grant. Worth $400,000 in services, their expertise will allow us to change the stories we have told about this troubled neighbourhood in ways the land use study alone cannot accomplish. I look forward to the fantastic projects that will come forward to breathe life into the new plan over the next several years.
  • We have kept and will keep tax increases low, including property tax rate increases of 0.78% in 2011, 1.09% in 2012, and a proposed increase of 0.51% in 2013. This is after the storm water phase-in costs are transparently transferred out of the operating budget and into its own utility as promised. These rates are consistently lower than Kitchener, Cambridge, and the Region. Council also approved a plan to provide credits for people managing their storm water. I have and will continue to scrutinize the current and future budget proposals to make sure we have found the right balance between serving community needs and the capacity of our residents to fund those services.
  • On April 1, the low-density Rental Housing Licensing By-law approved last year came into effect. We have seen more than double the level of compliance we expected in the first year. As many as 80% of all first inspections by the Electrical Safety Authority failed. Along with our risk-based comprehensive inspection regime, the licensing program is allowing us to bring these properties into compliance with fire code, building code, and zoning regulations, making them safer for our neighbours who rent.
  • I have engaged a number of neighbourhood associations on the issues that matter to them. Beechwood II’s special area levy, which allows the neighbourhood to sustianbly fund their tennis court and pool facility, has moved from a pilot to on-going implementation and Beechwood South residents will consider a similar levy by ballot early in the new year. I have also engaged other residents in Beechwood on rental housing issues, empowering them to work with our staff to maintain and improve their quality of life.
  • The much anticipated Clair Lake and Clair Creek rehabilitation project is now well underway, with substantial completion next year. Though a technical error by our consultant underestimated the cost of the dredging required, the Clair Lake Community Task Force, comprised of local Beechwood residents, reviewed our options and decided not to constrain the project to lower its budget impact. Unlike 38 years ago, we are making sure we dredge enough sediment to allow the lake to last a long, long time.
  • Recognizing the increasing mental health challenges facing our high school and university population at the key age of onset for many mental illnesses, I have continued to move forward on the priorities identified in the Town and Gown Mental Health Summit I convened last year. I will provide more information when we have something to announce, but I can say that the first-ever summit on mental health has forged new and deeper partnerships that are working hard to build a more connected, supportive community for those experiencing mental health challenges.
  • On poverty and inclusion, despite resource constraints, we have funded increases in our facility rental discount budget, allowing for more affordable youth access to sports and facilities. We have also increased our fee assistance program for low-income families. I continue to be supportive of SHOW, which has providing housing for many of our fellow residents, and look forward to supporting their future efforts to expand and share with the people of Waterloo that homelessness continues to be a problem in our city.
  • Our new neighbourhood matching fund has allowed neighbourhoods to fund innovative, local projects that build community. This program matches modest city dollars with their own fund raising or personal labour to achieve even bigger things.
  • Finally, economic development has become a key priority of Council, as we cannot afford to rest on our past successes. An economic development reserve fund has been created to provide a funding source so we can leverage future opportunities as they arise. Our Mayor has been on very successful international business trips with Canada’s Technology Triangle to China and India, the latter of which I assisted by making a key initial contact, who in turn connected the City to Indian business leaders looking to invest and expand into North America. I hope for good news in the coming years, as we have built the relationships and laid the foundation for future investment and growth.

The last two years of this Council term will continue to present challenges for us to manage. I will continue to look for your input and involvement as we work to make our City an even more vibrant and inclusive community that supports all of our residents. Feel free to contact me about the issues that matter to you by emailing me at jeff.henry@waterloo.ca