What lies ahead for Kitchener City Council
The Overarching Issue.
For anyone who has been following the provincial news, it will come as no surprise that city and regional councils have to immediately begin preparing for the inevitable reduction in provincial funding that will affect many key services including community, public health and emergency services programs. Think affordable housing, public transit and child care to name a few.
Depending on how the province’s planned efficiencies play out, region-wide we could be looking at preparing for some fairly serious belt-tightening. Knowing the provincial government's intentions and goals, it would be irresponsible not to take a proactive approach to minimize any potential negative impacts.
It is important that we take some time now to determine how new funding challenges can be overcome, and be prepared to take advantage of any new opportunities presented by our provincial government tier.
City Wide Imperatives
Here in Kitchener, we are in the beginning stages of a housing crisis situation. Homelessness is on the rise. Public safety is an increasing concern as is poverty and addiction. On the other end of the spectrum, we are also starting to face gentrification and traffic volume and parking issues that we normally think of as only touching cities like Toronto or Vancouver. Millennial, and all middle class income earners, are struggling to enter the housing market. The extreme lack of adequate licensed childcare spaces adds hardships and renders Kitchener a less desirable place to live and work. City and Regional councils will have to find ways to alleviate all of these problems -- without increased resources to do so.
These are problems most residents acknowledge, are deeply concerned about, and believe are important areas our city must work to alleviate using every tool and resource available. Preparing for the inevitable reductions in provincial funding does not mean we can afford to ignore the growing problems all of our communities are facing.
The Effect on theWard Councillor - Resident Relationship
As city council candidates, we can, and sincerely do, put forward our ideas, hopes, and dreams so residents can better understand how we think, and how we will prioritize, the issues concerned residents in turn bring to our attention. I certainly intend to work as closely as possible with all residents, groups, and stakeholders to find consensus on matters that affect Ward 4 and our city at large. I pledge to faithfully advocate for the priorities residents relay to me, and will faithfully keep residents informed about what is happening in council, city hall, and the region. Yet, having said this, I also pledge not to avoid talking to residents about the elephants in the halls of our government that ultimately affect our all lives. The sweeping provincials changes are definitely the elephant lurking in the background of municipal affairs discussions. Hence, this blog post. I cannot in good conscience lead residents to believe that if we just talk -- everything will magically get fixed.
This upcoming term isn't going to be easy for elected representatives or the people served. We are looking at some real fundamental changes in provincial government priorities. It is neither fair nor reasonable to say they will all be negative for municipalities, as time goes on we could find some real opportunities coming down from the provincial tier. The point is, all we know so far, is what we can't expect from on high. The theory goes if you plan for the worst, all your surprises will be good ones.
The Good News
In the short term, both the Region and the City have a rainy day fund that will help offset some of the potential shocks, as we focus on finding opportunities to incorporate adjustments into planning and delivery. Our city and region will have to work closely with all elected MPPs in our area to make sure we have open communication that will lead to provincial policies, programs, and projects that will help ensure Kitchener will continue growing a strong, healthy economy, and people focused traditional and social infrastructure development.
We've dodged the worst of the threats to our auto sector with the new USMCA (NAFTA) agreement; for now the federal government is still committed to directly supporting municipal emission reduction efforts to some degree regardless of the provincial reversal on Cap and Trade. Ultimately, if we as a city and region take an independent approach, focusing regional and municipal resources on investing wisely in traditional (hard) and social infrastructure, we can reasonably expect at least modest economic growth, in excess of dollars invested, will result. A healthy local economy is key. Ensuring Kitchener is the kind of place where people and local businesses can thrive means consumer and investment confidence.
The province is speaking clearly. It expects municipalities to find efficiencies if municipalities want provincial investment. Coincidentally, Kitchener residents and businesses want that as well. The difference is the province mostly wants to see the right numbers on a spreadsheet, residents and businesses want to see dollars spent wisely on making sure services are optimized with supports clearly in place and easily accessible. If councillors stay focused on making the most of what we have to get things done right, residents will feel more secure and confident. When people feel confident they tend to, in the course of living, working, and playing, actively support the private sector -- businesses that will in turn boost the very revenues the province wants to see from municipalities. Revenues available to our city for continued growth, maintenance, and sustainability.
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