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State of the City Address - May 2019

Mayor Mitch Panciuk’s State of the City Address

May 29, 2019

It is my incredible honour to have been elected the 76th Mayor of Belleville. Since the election, I have also come to realize just how privileged I am to be working with the members of this Council.

We are an interesting team, with many different backgrounds and viewpoints, but I can tell you unequivocally that every Councillor you elected cares deeply about this City, and about making it better for everyone. I have enjoyed getting to know, and to working with, each member of our new City Council. I believe you are seeing us work together respectfully, in a way that allows for differing opinions, and with full appreciation of the job that all members of Council were elected to do.

Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we disagree.  But that’s democracy at work, and I like to think any debate we have engaged in has been healthy, honest and productive.  I believe each member of Council is committed to working together, for what is best for the City of Belleville.

Six months ago, we as the Council-Elect stood before you to outline what we had heard during the election campaign and our individual hopes for what we thought we could accomplish this term. As I reflect on the last six months, I am struck by how much work we have started, and how much this Council has already accomplished.

We appointed the members of our important City Committees after receiving a record number of applications. So many applications, in fact, that we were disappointed in having to say “no” to so many worthy citizens who put their names forward.

We appreciate the tremendous level of interest from our community in serving, and to those who were not accepted I want to say “thank you,” and rest assured there will be other opportunities for you to become involved.

We made changes to the traditional New Year’s Levee, moving it from January 1st to the 1st Saturday of the year, in order to afford more people the opportunity to attend.  We added new activities to make it a more inclusive and family-friendly event.

In previous years, the Levee was typically attended by Belleville residents, along with dignitaries from neighbouring communities.  Normally we had about 100 people come out and we hoped that, by making these changes, we might double our attendance this year. Over 600 people joined us that day and to say that we were overwhelmed is an understatement.

This year’s New Year’s Levee wasn’t just the Mayor’s Levee – each member of Council had the opportunity to introduce themselves to our community. This was another departure from tradition, but one that we all thought was long overdue being that it had been an election year. The feedback from all who attended was overwhelmingly positive. Please make plans to join us on January 4, 2020, as we continue this new tradition.

Council has also deliberated and passed the City’s Capital and Operating Budgets for 2019 including having to correct a little blip last week courtesy of our Provincial Government and a likely sign of more to come.

We held a Housing Summit to begin to address the critical shortage of rental accommodation in Belleville.  A review of both our Strategic and Official plans was started in order to update them and clarify our collective vision for the City of Belleville over the next 20-25 years.

Last month, I was honoured to host the first ever Belleville Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, bringing together the leaders of our many faith communities and thanking them for their invaluable contributions in providing services to the less fortunate, and helping make Belleville a better place to live.

This initial inter-faith event was very well received, and I will continue to do this while I am your Mayor.  My hope is that the important contributions these organizations make to our community will continue to be recognized by my successors.

Council doubled the funding for the Social Infrastructure Fund to about $300,000/year. Now Belleville can do even more to support the many organizations and individuals who help disadvantaged members of our community.

We opened an overnight warming centre this winter financially supported by this fund and we look forward to doing much more to make Belleville better for all of our residents.

We also increased the Senior’s Low-Income property tax credit to help people remain in their homes longer. This credit is now $500/year, and we hope to raise this by an additional $100 each year for the remainder of this Council term.

Last week, we brought attention to the wide variety of performing arts and artists we have in Belleville. Our first-ever Mayor’s Week for the Arts was a resounding success, recognizing and celebrating our local arts community.

The City of Belleville was well represented at both the ROMA and Good Roads Conferences in March, and in April I was extremely privileged to lead a 12-member delegation to our Sister City of Gunpo, South Korea. It was in September, 23 years ago, when we (Belleville) received our first visit from representatives of Gunpo City in South Korea. It had been six years since representatives of Belleville last travelled to Gunpo.  During that same time, we received two visits from them. We believed the time had come to revisit our Sister City.

What we experienced in South Korea was amazing.  It is a highly-developed country, with people who are tremendously friendly and welcoming. We met with the Ambassador and officials at the Canadian Embassy, and even had the chance to meet with members and staff of the Gunpo City Chamber of Commerce.

This trip also contained an unexpected but wonderful story.  Next month, Hanon Systems, formerly known as Halla Climate Control, will celebrate their 30th anniversary here in Belleville. They have two plants here in our City. While in South Korea, I wanted to personally thank the President and CEO of Hanon, Mr. Jay Son, for their contribution to our community over the past three decades. This was the first time Hanon had received a visit from City of Belleville representatives, so I was incredibly pleased to be able to represent us at this meeting.

What I didn’t know was that Mr. Son was one of the first-ever Plant Managers for our Halla Climate Control plant. I also learned our facility was the first-ever plant Halla opened outside of Korea. Today, Hanon Systems employs over 22,000 people at 74 different manufacturing and engineering sites across Asia, India, Europe, Africa, and both North and South America. That global expansion, in a total of now 22 countries, started right here in beautiful Belleville, Ontario. A former plant manager from here in Belleville has worked their way up to the very top of this multi-national company. Mr. Son will be travelling here in June to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their Belleville plant, and we are looking forward to helping them celebrate this milestone for Hanon, and for Belleville, next month.

It has been a very busy start to this term as we hit the ground running after being sworn in on December 3rd, and we haven’t stopped. There is still so much to do.

What has made this work so rewarding for me, personally, and I believe has had the same impact on the other members of Council, is a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm that has emerged about the future of the City of Belleville. So, I want to focus on two areas which I believe best reflect this renewed sense of optimism:  the future of our Downtown and the state of development and business expansion in our community.

Downtown Belleville

Things are definitely looking up for downtown Belleville and that is good news for everyone.  The heart of our City is poised for a major transformation and a significant role in the future of Belleville.

When a downtown area underperforms and when buildings sit vacant, an increased burden is placed on the residential and commercial tax payers in other parts of our City. The Belleville Downtown Improvement Association was created to help promote and revitalize the downtown area.

For those of you who don’t know, businesses within the designated Downtown area pay a special tax levy, which the City collects, and then turns over to the BDIA to support their mission. Unfortunately, the BDIA also has a history of underperforming.  Last term, we saw even more dysfunction and turmoil than we’ve been used to, with mass Board resignations and high staff turnover. Businesses and residents were becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation. Something had to be done.

Having previously sat as the Council representative on the BDIA board, I was all too familiar with these issues.  So, as Mayor-Elect, I asked for the opportunity to speak directly to the membership of the BDIA at their Annual General Meeting last November. I challenged the organization to find a way to get beyond the self-inflicted problems that seemed to continually plague them. I highlighted the once-in-a-generation investment of $35 million dollars made by the City of Belleville in revitalizing downtown infrastructure and I pointedly told them things had to change. It was now the BDIA’s turn to step up, take advantage of those investments and help revitalize downtown Belleville.

It was not an easy speech to deliver. But it was something I felt needed to be done.  It was a frank message and was well-received by most members. To their credit, the BDIA took this message to heart, and began taking action to rebuild the association so it could achieve its mandate. A new, more inclusive Board was elected. The financial levy paid to the City was returned to pre-“Build Belleville” levels, the Board’s bylaws and operating procedures were revised for the first time since the 1980’s and recently they announced the hiring of a full-time Executive Officer, Marijo Cuerrier.

I want to express my sincere thanks to the new BDIA Board for their hard work over the past six months. They are doing extremely well, have a clear direction, and have earned the full support of City Council as they move forward.

Council has also taken other, significant steps to help rejuvenate the downtown core. In January, we announced the purchase of the former Cabaret Adult Entertainment facility from the Speigel family. Unfortunately, this had become an eyesore and not something we wanted in front of our City Centre. We have some great ideas about how to turn that area into a wonderful public space right in front of our historic City Hall which we look forward to sharing with you in the coming months.

In February, we included in our Capital Budget an investment of $150,000 for the new concept of downtown Pop-Up businesses, to make better use of our amazing downtown trails and the riverfront property we all own.

In April we announced the successful bidders for this year’s Pop-Up opportunities:  Brick Oven Pizza, Cruising Canoes, Doug’s Bicycle, and Golden Scoop Ice Cream. Our plans had to change due to the Bay of Quinte flooding issues at Victoria Harbour so we are relocating them to Riverside West Park and expect them to open for business on June 7th. In spite of the changes because of the rising level of Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, we are very optimistic this program will be a great success. We look forward to expanding these opportunities in future years.

Just a few weeks ago, we held an Open-House to discuss the Downtown Commons development project, for the lands surrounding our historic City Hall. Once again, we had a tremendous turn-out, with lots of suggestions and enthusiasm, reinforcing this new, positive spirit that is emerging about the future of the City of Belleville.

Most recently, we announced that the Ontario Addiction Treatment Centre, also known as the Belleville OATC, or the Downtown Methadone Clinic, is slated to move from Front Street to a new location at 125 Church Street South – the former Medigas building. This move will allow the new owners and operators, Baymark Corporation, to be in a larger space that meets their growing needs, creating better access for their clients by being closer to the bus terminal, and having the necessary parking that just does not exist at their current location.

There are additional signs that we are at the cusp of a new era for Downtown Belleville. New residential units in Century Village are sold out, and we expect construction on The Pinnacle residential project to begin soon.

There is much, much more on the horizon for our downtown core.  It’s an exciting time for Belleville, and the future of downtown is bright!

General State of New Business & Industry

Belleville has always been friendly, open and welcoming for new and expanding businesses.

After many years of stagnant population growth, 2018 saw Belleville ranked as the 14th Fastest Growing Community in Canada according to Statistics Canada. This growth is not only leading to new opportunities but also increased pressure on us to deal with our challenges.

Our new Council has an exciting and busy term to look forward to, not only because of the work undertaken by previous City Councils, but also through the openness of this new Council to seek out input and actively listen to our residents and existing businesses before making decisions.

For example, the legalization of Cannabis has brought forward many opportunities, and many questions, especially when it comes to allowing retail Cannabis stores in our community.  We set up an on-line survey over the holiday season, asking for public input. We had a record number of responses to the survey, and we made the decision in January to become a host community for retail Cannabis stores.

Staying on the subject of Cannabis, there were further announcements made by Hexo Corp. about the growth of their business. I had the great privilege of having a tour of their new site a couple of weeks ago with City Staff and I was very impressed. They are now quadrupling in size and will be taking the remaining space at the former Sears warehouse, for a total of two million sq ft. which will provide an additional 420 new jobs at the completed facility. The initial construction value of the first investment is $27.5mil with more to come. Renovations at the College Street East facility are well underway and Hexo has a bright future, which is definitely also good news for the future of Belleville.

Building on the work started by previous Councils, we also finalized the application for a 40+ acre site on Bell Boulevard West, to be anchored by a 156,000 square foot Costco Warehouse Membership Club and Gas Bar. A further 180,000 square feet of new retail development will take place over the next five years, creating 800 full-time jobs. It means about $2.3 million dollars in one-time permit and development charges, and an additional $1.3 million dollars in on-going, annual tax revenue to the City of Belleville. While we do not have initial estimates of construction value it is likely this project will set a new all-time record for Belleville by the time they are done.

There is more interest every day by those seeking to make additional investments or create new developments in our community.  Other businesses and service providers want to be in a community that has a Costco. A number of projects that were in a holding pattern are now set to go ahead and this can be directly tied to the Costco project.  The ripple effects of the Bell Boulevard development will bring new opportunities for many years to come.

Now that the planning approvals have all been granted, site preparation is underway and construction work will commence shortly. If everything goes well -- we expect them to open in the late spring or early summer of next year.

These recent announcements are the result of tremendous work done by City Staff and by multiple City Councils. The vision for Bell Boulevard West that began in the late ‘90’s is now coming to fruition, 20 years later.

Costco, additional retail, and an eventual three hotels – plus the existing Shorelines Casino -- will create a much busier Bell Boulevard West, and we need to be ready for it.

So, in this year’s budget, we funded the beginning of a project to widen that stretch of road. I have written to the provincial Minister of the Environment in order to fast-track the Environmental Assessment of this planned road work, and we have applied for funding from the provincial and federal governments to help us get this done as soon as possible.

On the other side of town in the East-End Industrial Park, Vision Transportation is expanding their operation with a significant investment at their site. This news represents $8.3mil for a 200,000 sq. ft. facility for Vision Transportation. Procter and Gamble has shared their plans for a major expansion at their Belleville plant which will include significant job creation.

College Street East has only a couple of City-owned serviced lots remaining. Our Council is committed to making the strategic investments to support continued growth in this area, which ultimately benefits the community at large.

To sum up, the general state of new business inquiries, and the growth of current businesses and industry, is already very good, and getting better every day.

I am so proud of the many things we have achieved so far as a new Council, but more importantly I am proud of how we have done it.

Municipal elections are important milestones in the life of our community.  It’s an important reality check for politicians.  If already elected, we get to learn if we’re doing a good job. Citizens have the ultimate say, and their vote not only shapes the agenda for a Council’s term, but also gives those of us whom you select the confidence to move forward.

This past election, the message was, quite simply, “We want change.”  You wanted us to chart a new course for the City of Belleville, and you want us to do it together.

Each of us who you selected to Council heard that message of change. And it wasn’t just about changing views on certain issues:  You wanted a change in process, a change in style, a more collaborative and engaged local government that brings people together, conquering our biggest challenges by working together in partnership.

That was the whole intent of holding a Housing Summit - working together with stakeholders in partnership. This was also why I recently convened a meeting of City Council and the Public School Board and you can expect more of this reaching out as we go forward.

Since the election, I have spoken with many people who are proud of Belleville, and proud of many of the things we’ve accomplished in the past.  I have also spoken with many people who are frustrated with how long it takes to get some things done in our City.

They are right to be frustrated.  And given the growth we are poised to experience, and the importance of the issues we need to deal with, we no longer have the luxury of being slow and inefficient.

No one is saying we want to be reckless and make hasty or dangerous decisions, but we need to make good decisions, and make them quicker.  We can no longer drag out debate and approval processes when it comes to proposing, planning, approving, and completing projects. With the increasing costs of materials, time, and labour, efficiently completing projects is of the utmost importance, for both the City of Belleville and for the private sector. It’s time to focus on getting things done, responsibly and effectively. 

It’s time to focus on the immediate needs of our community, on building a solid plan for the future, and most importantly on making sure we, as your City Council, deliver. Our budget priorities and our actions demonstrate this resolve.

While our first priority is dealing with the current housing crisis, we have many other items to work on over the course of this term – issues we heard during last fall’s election.

You want us to repair our roads, build more amenities to attract families, support arts, culture and heritage and encourage the growth of our local arts community.  You want better options and access to health care, safer streets, and improvements to some of the services we provide.

You want us to help grow the local economy, improve public transit, and provide more resources for our vulnerable citizens. And you want us to do it responsibly.

It’s a tall order – but we, as a Council, are up to the challenge.  We hope in the past six months you’ve seen the broad brush-strokes we have already put on our City’s canvas and how it responds to what we were elected to do.

We have much more to do and you have my commitment that this Council will do everything in its power to address all these items. It’s about building our future together with safe, responsible growth.

This year, you will see progress on proper restroom facilities at Zwick’s Park. You will witness the official opening of several municipal infrastructure upgrades and we will achieve substantial completion of our new Police Facility. We look forward to FINALLY handing over the keys to the new building and have tentatively scheduled that move-in and ribbon cutting for the first quarter of next year.

I’d like to finish off my first State of the City Breakfast by talking a bit about what I often spoke about in the fall election – working together.

The City of Belleville and the Chamber of Commerce understand the value of working together as we contract your organization to assist with Visitor & Information Services as well as five community events each year. It has been beneficial for both of us and the residents and businesses we serve. I am pleased that we renewed these contracts for a further four years this week.

All of us on Belleville City Council recognize that you, the members of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, create and sustain businesses which provide employment, products, and services for our residents. And you pay taxes – lots of taxes – which helps the City of Belleville provide the essential services our residents rely on.

On behalf of myself, and the other members of City Council, we sincerely thank you for all the contributions you make to our community each and every day.

We want you to know that we also recognize our responsibility to conduct our business while assisting, and not interfering, with your ability to make those contributions. Working together we can accomplish many great things over this next four years. We need a better Belleville for tomorrow and a more vibrant and inclusive community that our children want to remain in. We need to build this improved City responsibly, in such a way that the future Belleville remains affordable.

As the Head of Council, the CULTURE and BEHAVIOUR of your City Council starts with me.  I believe in a collaborative style of leadership and it’s what you can expect for the rest of this term.

Today’s breakfast is called the State of the City address and I am happy to report that the State of our City is STRONG. 2019 will be a year where we will continue to make improvements to our quality of life, where we will continue to modernize our City Council and municipal services, and where our work will result in better prospects for our future.

Our City is STRONG. Our future is BRIGHT. Opportunity AWAITS us. Together, we will ensure that we achieve the brightest future for our City.