At the recent mayoral luncheon in front of the Lindsay and District Chamber of Commerce, City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham laid out what he believes are the top 10 ways the City is moving forward to the assembled business leaders.
1 – Roads
“Roads are our number one issue and challenge,” says the mayor.
“We now spend $50 million a year on our 5,400 lane kilometres of road network. We spend 90 per cent more on roads than we did 10 years ago and 50 per cent more on winter control.”
Letham says 35 cents of every tax dollar brought in goes toward roads. The City of Toronto only allocates five cents of every tax dollar to roads, showing the challenge of maintaining this many roads in a single tier municipality with a small tax base.
“Roads are a challenge with the changing climate and we need to change the way we do business. Over the next few years, it will improve.”
2 – Downtowns
Letham says new infrastructure in the downtown is needed, including roads and sidewalks. These were last done in early 1900s.
Peel and Russell in Lindsay are already being worked on for this year, with Kent Street’s downtown slated for next year.
“You told us that our downtowns were important as hubs in our communities and we are giving them the refresh they deserve,” says the mayor.
“These are our important social and economic hubs for the next generation, so be assured that is why we didn’t rush this,” he says, referring to the many public consultations that were held, some as early as 2013.
3 – Community Improvement Plans
Letham says “never has more money been available to enhance our downtown communities.”
He mentions the Million Dollar Makeover plan, revitalization committees, and the many volunteers bringing ideas forward.
The grants and low interest funding opportunities met with “great success” in the initial Million Dollar Makeover uptake, he notes, with a second intake scheduled for this summer.
“The whole city was considered a Community Improvement Area by council. Letham points out the monies can be for affordable housing above a business, and can be for greater accessibility.
He says partners like Kawartha Lakes Community Futures Development Corporation “continue to show leadership by investing in our communities.”
Council has invested an additional $100,000 in this year’s budget for new and expanded grants.
4 – Creative Economy
“Arts, culture and heritage is not a special interest group,” says the mayor, taking this frequent criticism head on, “unless a $27 billion economy and 300,000 jobs is considered of special interest.”
“The municipality is investing in this real and exciting tourist-driving economy and the best is yet to come.”
Letham says arts and culture is gaining momentum, with a newly-formed working group exploring the terms of reference for a feasibility study of a cultural centre and hub in Kawartha Lakes.
Council has approved an extra staff person to look after the heritage file.
“We need to keep the excitement going on this, (from) live theatre, new ideas coming out of the Academy Theatre, arts trail, museums across the city…this is how we become a complete community, by offering something for everyone.”
“Keep your eye on this one,” he told assembled business leaders, “it’s going to take off.”
5 – New Workforce
The mayor says Lindsay and Kawartha Lakes in general are attracting people from the Greater Toronto Area, “young, vibrant entrepreneurs with new and exciting ideas and jobs.”
“Economic development has focused on bringing the people here who will invest in our community in tech and green initiatives,” says Letham.
6 – Residential Growth
New residential developments are popping up all over the city, notes Letham, including some smaller developments in rural hamlets and larger ones in urban centres.
“Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon and Lindsay continue to lead the charge with well over 1,500 homes currently in the immediate system for development. This growth with that new workforce is very much needed to maintain a healthy community,” says Letham.
7 – Commercial and Industrial Growth
Along with that residential growth, says the mayor, is the need for the commercial and industrial economy. By targeting incentives for development charges in the next by-law to stimulate jobs and the commercial and industrial tax base, the City hopes to see positive change.
“This is crucial and I believe we need to aggressively put a plan in place moving forward. The next few years are critical to take the pressure off the tax base and our water and wastewater users by increasing the base,” says Letham.
He points out that young working families need jobs and small businesses need employees – and that everyone needs attainable housing.
“I believe the time to pull out all the stops and be aggressive is now,” says the mayor.
8 – Relationships with other levels of government
There has been great improvement in this area, says Letham, “although it is hard to stay ahead of this provincial government and their new ideas.”
He says City of Kawartha Lakes is now looked upon “as a progressive leader in the province and I can now confidently stand in front of you and say we are ahead of many other municipalities in the province when it comes to the business of the city.”
9 – Large projects, parks, and more
The mayor says many major projects have gotten underway, such as the big investment in Logie Park as a gateway into Lindsay. The park will see the return of its lilacs, plus other enhancements, such as a splash pad that will become a skating rink in the winter, three large play structures, a pavilion, flag garden, waterfront lookout, bus parking, heated accessible change rooms and washrooms, and an accessible display of lilacs throughout the park.
Bobcaygeon Beach Park will be turned into “a world class park the whole city will enjoy,” says the mayor, with docking, day activities, band shell, a child-friendly area, and more.
“We are finally creating things instead of just fixing all the time.”
The mayor also mentions the Grand Hotel redevelopment, phase 2 at Adelaide Place, and the sale of the old Fleetwood building that has been sold and which will be ready for manufacturing again.
There are also plans for the old Trent Rubber property beside Fleming College, and “I believe a Walmart will be coming soon.”
Plans for a Kawartha Lakes business incubator are also underway, with increased broadband and cell gap coverage coming.
10 – Financial Sustainability
Letham says several years ago the City borrowed $25 million as part of its long term financial plan to help close the gap. It was a 10-year fixed loan, with a low interest rate. The City has been paying back $2.5 million a year in principle and $400,000 in interest, which was all built into the City’s long term operating budget.
“This will save us in the long run as we are able to catch up faster and fix things before they break for a change. It is good business to utilize our ample debt capacity over 10 years to catch up on what we have been neglecting for a long time,” says the mayor.
Given that the City’s financial relationship with the province is changing weekly, the mayor says, “it’s clear municipalities need to be more resilient, self-sufficient, sustainable and stable.”
He says the City’s core review has prepared them for this. The mayor points out the City is receiving $725,000 in transitional funding from the provincial government this year and a one-time federal gas tax payment of $4.6 million.
While that may sound like free money, he doesn’t see it that way.
“Some see this as an opportunity to increase spending and add services. In my opinion that would be a huge mistake right now. This funding must be used to become less dependent on other levels of government.”