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The Municipality's Role in Shaping Kingston's Future

This Article is By: Harvey Rosen    On  Sep. - 15, 2006

THE MUNICIPALITY'S ROLE IN SHAPING KINGSTON'S FUTURE

Text of Remarks by

Harvey Rosen

Mayor of the City of Kingston

 

To: The Kingston Technology Council

Friday, September 15, 2006
The Harbour Waterfront Restaurant

Given that the Kingston Technology Council has just had its Annual General Meeting, which is a time for review and for planning the year ahead, I especially appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today about how our municipal government --- the City of Kingston --- is positioning itself for the future…. A future that includes knowledge-based enterprise.

In particular, I want to share with you some thoughts on why I believe that our municipal government must play a leading role in creating the kind of community in which these types of organizations will want to establish themselves and grow.

I mean a community that is healthy both socially and economically.

The two are inseparable and they are both essential to the KTC’s membership.

We can only claim to be a socially healthy community if our citizens can find and afford decent housing, if our children get a good start in life, if families feel safe in our neighbourhoods, and if they can access vital services like health care, education, or recreation.

Similarly, we can only claim to be an economically healthy community if our citizens can find work; if our young people can stay here to pursue their dreams; if our innovators and entrepreneurs take the temperature of our business climate and find it warm and supportive, and if those who want to invest here know we are open to new ideas and new arrivals. These two components of community health --- social health and economic health --- come together in that somewhat elusive concept: quality of life.

I would argue that local government bears a large share of the responsibility for creating and maintaining a community’s quality of life.

Of course, we don’t do it alone.

Our local institutions, private businesses, not-for-profit organizations and associations, and even individual citizens are part of the effort.

But consider this: the City of Kingston spends at least 225 million dollars a year providing a wide range of community services.

That’s just our operating budget; we spend another $60 million on utilities.

Our capital budget is more than $100 million a year.

Council and staff have a responsibility to allocate those resources wisely for two reasons.

First because it’s taxpayers’ money.

And secondly because the way we allocate those resources affects our quality of life… today and tomorrow.

Yet in my own experience, this is where elected officials face one of the greatest challenges: balancing the costs of efficient, effective service delivery today with the need to invest now for services that will only begin to deliver benefits years down the road.

Historically, we have perhaps given too little attention to addressing that second need.

For the most part, our current Council is justifiably proud of what we have accomplished in three years.

I hope that pride is shared by our staff and of course by the community.

We should not forget that in the midst of all the momentum established in the past 33 months, Council and staff felt the loss of our CAO, Bert Meunier, more deeply than many would realize.

That they moved forward at all through that difficult period is a tribute to the staff and ultimately to Bert. Bert understood, as Council does, the challenging financial circumstances of local government.

We are expected to deliver more and more services, with only the municipal property tax base and some cost-shared provincial funding as primary sources of revenue.


And in a community like Kingston, where so much of our property is publicly-held and does not generate property taxes, the residential tax base carries an especially heavy load.

This must change.

And the only way we can change the situation is by increasing the level of economic activity by private firms whose commercial and industrial taxes then relieve some of the burden from residential taxpayers.

That won’t happen overnight, certainly not in a single budget year, but we are making progress.

For instance, building permit activity in 2006 is running well ahead of last year and it’s not all because of City projects!

In fact, two-thirds of the value of building permits issued for the first six months of 2006 was for non-City projects, and we expect that more than half of the permits issued in the second half of the year will be private sector and institutional activity.

That provides jobs for our people, places to live and work, and of course, cultural and recreational services for our leisure hours.

It will also increase our municipal tax base.

Housing starts were up by 41 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to last.

When you realize that across the province, housing starts declined by 4.9 per cent in the first half of the year, you realize that Kingston has momentum on this front as well.


And it’s a good mix of single family homes, semi-detached, and multiple unit buildings.

I have been quoted as saying that if elected to a second term as your Mayor, I would keep the community’s feet to the fire, pushing for action on those priorities which we agree are the foundation of Kingston’s economic and social health.

These are priorities of not next year or perhaps even a year from now, but three, five, ten years down the road.

And I will tell you, I was not misquoted. I will do just that!

What does all this have to do with knowledge-based enterprise?

Those of you who follow the thinking of people like Richard Florida on the rise of the creative class, or Professor Meric Gertler[1] on the development of innovation clusters know that quality of life is a major determinant of choices that people and organizations make in deciding where to establish enterprises and grow their ideas.

It is particularly important to the types of top-notch talent we want to be able to attract to Kingston, whether those people are working in a start-up technology company or one that is well-established, at one of our three post-secondary education institutions or any of our hospitals.

But building a strong, healthy community is about more than attracting business from beyond our borders.

It is also about growing our own; it’s about keeping our brightest and most talented people here.

It’s about interesting work… safe, friendly neighbourhoods… places where you can raise a family…access services to keep them healthy… places that offer a multitude of opportunities for cultural and recreational pursuits when the school or work day is done.

On these counts, Kingston has a lot going for it: extraordinary heritage, a waterfront that is the envy of many, green spaces, education and health care services of the highest calibre.

But we also have some significant challenges.

I’ve already mentioned one of them: an insufficiently diversified tax base that will allow us to pay for all the services our citizens demand and expect, whether at home or work.

I would argue that the second major challenge to establishing the climate in which knowledge-based enterprise particularly will flourish is public infrastructure.

The municipality has an absolutely central role in making sure the infrastructure needed for social and economic health is here in spades.

Early in this Council’s term, we agreed on a small number of priorities designed to start to address our infrastructure backlog.

These came to be known as the Group of Seven.

Virtually all of them support a higher quality of life than citizens can claim today.

And all of them will be much sought by the creative class.

Let me describe where I think each of these projects fit in the City’s efforts to make quality of life a real competitive advantage for Kingston.

At 115 million dollars, the upgrade to the Ravensview sewage treatment facility is the largest single capital project undertaken by the City of Kingston in its history.

In addition to being a major step forward in our efforts to be more environmentally responsible, it will also allow sufficient capacity for economic expansion in the central City and Kingston East, and provide an immediate economic stimulus through the construction phase.

I know I speak for all members of Council when I say that we are exceedingly proud to be taking this step toward protection of the water quality all along the St. Lawrence River.

Once finished, Ravensview will be one of the largest Biological Aerated Filter installations in North America for secondary treatment.

This is biotechnology --- one of the innovation clusters of special interest to the KTC!

Ravensview will be state of the art in North America.

Instead of being embarrassed by what we are doing to part of our environment, we can be proud of how we are protecting it.

But that’s only one of the reasons the project is special.

The other is the major support we got from both provincial and federal governments for this work; 50 million dollars worth of this project is being financed from these sources.

And not a penny is coming from municipal capital reserves!

This project started under a previous Council and I congratulate them for having the foresight to get things in motion.

Isabel, I know you put a lot of time and effort into this project and it is bearing fruit. Thank you!

I want to point out that there are several local connections in the implementation of this project.

Two of the firms with integral roles in it have offices right here in Kingston: engineering firm, J.L Richards, and process specialists, XCG Consultants.

And I know that our local alternative energy cluster, SWITCH, has pushed for inclusion of a new cogeneration facility utilizing biogas to produce electricity and heat.

And we’ve listened.

What a terrific way to showcase the municipality’s leadership on the clean energy front.

Construction is also under way on the new Regional Sports and Entertainment Centre just north of Princess Street in our downtown.

When it opens in December 2007, Kingstonians will no longer have to leave town to take in a performance by top Canadian or even international stars.

In fact, we’ll be inviting others to come to Kingston to enjoy the city and the sports and entertainment events available here.

Do not underestimate the drawing power of a facility of this type for keeping or attracting young people, helping our institutions attract talented faculty, researchers and other professionals.

Not everyone is an elite athlete or an entertainment star, or wish to go to see them in action.

We want a place to go to watch local stars (primarily our kids!) play a game of hockey, learn to figure skate, speed skate, play lacrosse or indoor field hockey.

We want a place to hold community events, a place to mark important social occasions.

That’s what the new Multi-Plex is about: local sports and community events.

Those people who work in knowledge-based organizations are just as concerned about these services as the rest of us.

How quickly we forget why we chose a new facility over renovations to the old… when we started this project, we knew that some of our local teams were embarrassed by the quality of our community rinks.

In fact, the situation is so bad that league convenors were starting to warn us that we might not even be able to stay in their leagues because of the quality of our facilities!


From day one, I’ve thought that we should put the multi-plex where the largest concentration of families are… and that’s Kingston West.

I am extremely pleased that this project will now move forward in that area and that we can then focus on turning our old community rinks to new purpose.

We will have recreational facilities in those neighbourhoods… ones that provide a broader range of safe, healthy programming for our young people.

Kingston is blessed with an extraordinary array of talented artists and performers.

And we have been able to attract a variety of touring acts to perform at the Grand Theatre.

But most of them have struggled to perform well in an increasingly inadequate facility.

And the audiences for those performers have found the Grand increasingly inadequate as well.

Make no mistake; artistic and cultural performances such as those offered at the Grand will be much sought by knowledge workers along with our other citizens.

With Council’s decision to invest in the Grand, that is going to change and we are going to do it right!

Sure, we’ve had a hiccup on the implementation front, but we’re going to put that behind us and move this project through to completion.

The Grand will be a jewel in an extremely vibrant arts and cultural scene, complementing our other venues for amateur and professional productions and community-wide festivals.

The revitalization of Market Square was one of the first of the Group of Seven projects to get under way.

There are several aspects of this project of which we should be particularly proud.

First, every aspect of Phase One construction was finished on time and on budget --- staff deserve a lot of credit for this!

Second, the community was heavily involved with this project.

The City partnered with community groups such as the Downtown Business Association, the Cataraqui Region Archaeological Foundation, and of course the market vendors who were displaced to Clarence Street, while the work was going on.

This collaboration has enabled us to capture historical elements of the site and portray them in a completely new way.
We have been true to the original vision of this project, and the end result is terrific.

We are well on the way to a beautiful new public space that got rave reviews --- and extensive use --- in its first winter of operation.
I am extremely confident that this will continue.

Now, it’s just not possible for a municipal official to talk about infrastructure without talking about roads, but today I’ll just touch on one of them.

John Counter Boulevard is a major east-west arterial link in the City of Kingston serving local and regional travel demand.

It is already the primary east-west route to industrial and commercial land uses in the area just this side of the 401, from Sydenham Road to Division Street.

And it runs right past both the VIA station and the bus station.

Whether you’re a student, a business person traveling in and out of the city, or a tourist coming to town to experience one of our many attractions, smooth transportation connections will be very appealing!

John Counter Blvd is slated to be a key link in the City's east/west arterial network linking to: Princess Street, Division Street and, in the future, Montreal Street…. But only if it can handle the traffic!

That’s why we are in the early stages of reconstructing this entire section of road.

This will take at least 3 years but work will proceed.

In August, Council took another step forward with another of our Group of Seven priorities by voting to purchase the old Kingston and Pembroke Railway right-of-way.

The vision for this project is to create a major urban-rural recreational trail, which could eventually run from City Hall to Sharbot Lake. Our part of that trail is 8.5 kilometres in length and it appears we will be able to conclude an agreement with Bell Canada’s real estate company to acquire the land.

The K&P Trail could provide a significant recreational boost for our citizens as well as making our community even more attractive to visitors looking for a low-impact outdoor recreational experience. For this entire project to become a reality, we will need to work cooperatively with our neighbours in Frontenac County. And we are doing just that.

I would like to talk a bit about how the City is working with other community organizations focused on innovation clusters of interest to KTC members.

On the Academic Research & Development front, much of our work with Queen’s University doesn’t get as much attention as the challenges on Aberdeen Street but it will pay long-term dividends.

For instance, we have recently transferred ownership of all property but the J.K. Tett Centre on King Street to the University for development of an arts campus that will embrace and enhance the types of community uses now on the site. And we are working closely with the University to develop an Advanced Research Institute on land currently owned by the federal government.

On both fronts, it can be said that we are working to take assets that are underutilized or even dormant and put them to new purposes, entirely consistent with the knowledge-based economy.

While the City of Kingston does not drive our community’s spirit of entrepreneurship directly, we can influence perceptions of our community as a place open to entrepreneurship.

We can do that by working even harder to improve the level and quality of service at City Hall to those with new ideas and the passion to implement them.

We are also showing leadership at Council by being forward-looking and being willing to take at least some risk in identifying and launching projects that will move the rest of the community forward.

By the way, you should know that the small business advisory service at KEDCO has really ramped up its service level and is now regarded as one of the best in the province. [2]

On the biotechnology front, I’ve already referred to the importance of the biogas component of the Ravensview project.

We were also one of the first municipalities to introduce biodiesel to our fleet operations, and we have been working with local bioremediation experts to test out new ways to clean up any leachate coming from Belle Park.

I should also congratulate KEDCO for its leadership over the last several years in helping to create a new biotech-focused organization serving the Eastern Lake Ontario Region: the Eastern Lake Ontario Regional Innovation Network… ELORIN.

I know many Kingston-based organizations are active in that network --- Parteq Innovations Inc. and Dupont Canada are just two of them.

In both bio-based industrial products and biomedical applications, I hope we will see many local successes from this important collaboration.

This community has produced some amazing innovations in the information technology sector, the most recent of which is surely ADAPCIS.

I know their resource allocation software is being introduced in hospitals from here to Halifax.

This innovation is the direct result of having tertiary care hospitals in our midst.

And it’s a good example of what we all need to do more of: look to our strengths, find the stars in our midst and help them move forward.

I am hopeful that with the support of many in this room, ADAPCIS will be one of the success stories we point to in years to come, but not the only one.

In particular, I would hope we could re-engage St. Lawrence College more fully in the local IT sector.

You’ve had some great programs there; let’s build on that legacy.

On this front as well as many others, I hope that KTC and its members will pick up the phone or stop by City Hall if there are ways we can advance this sector.

While much of the economic development work we need to do is obviously directed through KEDCO, there may be other partnerships that would be mutually beneficial.

For example, the City could be part of an “employers group” that looks for job opportunities for the “significant others” of new talent arriving in our community.

And while the policy precludes us from showing preference to local vendors in our procurement programs, we could consider whether there are ways to test new community innovations in some corner of City operations en route to full commercialization.

I’ve kept you long enough.

I am quite happy to take questions at least for a few minutes.

I know you need and want to get back to your day-to-day work.

I only hope you realize that the City does want to play a major role in creating the kind of community in which your organizations and all of our citizens can grow and prosper in the years ahead.

Thank you.

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[1] http://www.geog.utoronto.ca/info/faculty/Gertler.htm

[2] Information provided by Jeff Garrah in August of 2006; Evaluations done by the provincial government.