Civic Centre Renovations

Yesterday, City Council debated the replacement of the windows and cladding of the Civic Centre. I’m not surprised that this project has attracted quite a bit of public interest and that there are some misconceptions about why it is happening, which I would like to try to clear up.

To begin with, I want to make it clear that the renovations are not happening for aesthetic reasons. It’s being made because the current state of the windows and cladding present a health and safety issue. An asset review study that was done in 2014 recommended making the replacements as soon as possible, but no later than by 2018. It is a project that has to happen and we would be negligent to try and postpone it any longer.

The Civic Centre will be 42 years old this year and it is starting to feel the weight of those years. Extensive work was done on the roof last year. I think just about all of us understand that roofs wear out over time and eventually they have to be replaced. In this case, the replacement of the windows and cladding is similarly necessary.

It is also important to understand how we will pay for the project. We are going to use long-term debt to pay for the majority of the costs to replace the windows and cladding. To me, this is a prudent decision because the City carries exceptionally low debt and we are still in a very favourable environment for interest rates. Furthermore, an annual stream of funding has already been identified within the 2017 budget to finance the loan. This project is not increasing the budget or increasing your taxes.

The City is required by the province to have an asset management plan. The plan guides how the City makes needed repairs and upgrades to its buildings and facilities over a 25-year horizon. There is an annual allocation within the budget (approximately $2.3 million) that funds the asset management plan. This is money that is used to make repairs, improvements, and replace equipment. A portion of this annual amount will be used to finance the loan.

The point I want to stress is this: if we did not have to replace the windows and cladding at the Civic Centre, the money in the budget that is going to finance the loan would be used for other projects and other repairs to City facilities, because that is its dedicated purpose. We would not have any additional money to lower property taxes or to provide extra services.

I know we are still in the midst of a difficult economic climate, so I understand some of the outcry about what the City’s “priorities” should be. However, to that I will say this: taking care of the things we own as a City has to be a priority too. Because I think experience has taught us by now that we don’t gain much by stalling decisions for another day. The options generally boil down to paying today or paying more in the future—and often suffering problems in between when we decide to kick things down the road.

Throughout this Council term, we’ve been looking for opportunities to divest the City of old buildings and property to thereby lower our asset management costs. Our recent decision with respect to the Steelton Seniors Centre is a good example.  By relocating the Steelton Seniors Centre (from an old, inaccessible building) to the fully-accessible Northern Community Centre, we have helped the City forego more than a million dollars in future renovation costs.

However, I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that our municipal government could function without a City Hall, so it is important that we commit enough funds to make sure the one we have stays in reasonably good working order. The building is, after all, a reflection of our community and as such we can’t let it fall into disrepair.

Lastly, I appreciate that some people are disappointed by the proposed change in the building’s look.  We have to keep in mind that over 40 years have elapsed since the cladding and windows were first installed.  Materials and technology changes and in this respect, Council has to defer to the architectural and engineering experts.  In the end, I am confident that we will have a visually appealing and modern looking building that will continue to be one of our city’s distinctive landmarks.

-CP

Ste-Foy

This was going to be a different post. Then on Sunday January 29th the mosque attack in Ste-Foy, Quebec City happened.

As is well known now, this hateful crime has taken a tremendous toll. Those killed, injured and subjected to this extreme violence were husbands and fathers, friends and colleagues. They were part of the fabric of their community in Quebec City and they were a part of the fabric of this great country. The loss of these lives and the hatred that motivated it is senseless –  making it hard to understand.

No country can hope to be immune from the problems of the world, but it is still shocking to see such a reprehensible act happen in our country.  The only comfort we can take is in the response that has come in the aftermath of this tragedy, from across Canada, from around the world, and from within our own community.

As a nation, we’ve mourned in unison for those lost in the attack and for those left bereft by their loss. We’ve seen Canadians stand in solidarity with our country’s Muslim community and we’ve seen kindness and empathy be extended to our own small but growing Muslim community in Sault Ste. Marie. We’ve seen countless people raise their voices and take action to show that they care; to show that they will not abide hatred happening in our midst.

To be sure, there is more work to do here, just as there is more work to do everywhere. However, I feel resolute in my conviction that ultimately we are going to do it.

The promoters of hatefulness and bigotry seem to be having a moment right now. But it’s a moment that’s going to pass. Because for every racist, bigot, or xenophobe there are hundreds more of us who are tolerant, compassionate, and welcoming. Our voices are louder, our will is stronger, and our collective might is much greater than anything the forces of intolerance could hope to marshal. Matched against us, the beliefs they espouse are not going to take hold and their attempts to sow fear and division are not going to succeed. They’re not going to win.

LED streetlights a bright idea

At night, whether you’ve been walking, driving, or looking down on Sault Ste. Marie from a higher vantage point, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a different glow around the City than there has been in the past. In 2015, City Council directed the Sault Ste. Marie PUC to undertake a conversion of the City’s streetlights to LED fixtures. There are slightly more than 9,000 streetlights in Sault Ste. Marie, so making the switch has been a big undertaking, but the job has now almost been completed.

For a variety of reasons, the last few years have been a good time to move to LED lighting. The old High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) streetlights that have now been replaced were first installed more than 25 years ago and were near the end of their working lives. Compared to HPS, LED streetlights use dramatically less power—about 50% less—which is significant in today’s era of climbing electricity prices. The LED fixtures also have a lifespan of 20 years, versus about five years for HPS lamps, meaning that they will be replaced far less frequently which results in lower maintenance costs.

Putting in new energy-efficient lights also allows for the fixtures to be outfitted with modern technology. The new lights come installed with wireless adaptive control modules. These allow lighting levels to be adjusted remotely to further reduce energy consumption. They also enable malfunctioning lights to transmit information about problems wirelessly to the PUC, thereby reducing the time needed to dispatch repair crews.

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From the perspective of the individual citizen, the new LED lights also bring practical improvements. The new lights provide a cooler, more natural light. This cool white tone makes for better illumination and visibility of objects at night. The lights also focus their light tightly and more directionally than the old HPS models, so there is less light dispersion up into the sky or on to nearby properties.

By making the change when we did, we were also able to take advantage of an incentive offer from IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator – the Crown Corporation that operates Ontario’s electricity market) that offset approximately 10 % of the costs of installation.

In all, the move to LED lighting for the City’s streetlights has resulted in a better quality of light, is good for the environment, and will yield significant monetary savings over the long term. It is a project that I was happy to support and I am glad to have seen it brought to fruition during this Council term.

For more on the project, please visit the Sault Ste. Marie PUC’s website.

– CP

Decreasing the municipal burden in Sault Ste. Marie

How do you calculate the relative affordability of local government from place-to-place within a province such as Ontario? For residential taxpayers, one of the important measures to look at is something called the “municipal burden.”

While property taxes are the biggest part of the municipal burden, water and sewer costs are also an important part of the equation. When you add together property taxes with water and wastewater costs, you have what is referred to as the “total municipal burden.”

Each year, the BMA Municipal Study collects financial and spending data about a large cross-section of Ontario municipalities. BMA calculates the municipal burden for residential homeowners in each community by taking the average cost of residential taxes and adding the costs to use 200 cubic meters of water annually.

How does Sault Ste. Marie rank?

The 2015 BMA study calculated that Sault Ste. Marie’s total municipal burden was $3,669—$2,830 of that being property taxes and the remaining $839 being water and sewer charges. In absolute dollar terms, we actually trended low for the total burden, ranking 19th lowest out of 98 participating municipalities. The file linked below has the full rankings, sorted by the total burden.

BMA Study, Ontario Municipalities – Total Municipal Burden 2015

The good news is that according to the 2016 BMA study, the total municipal burden in Sault Ste. Marie actually dropped between 2015 and 2016—falling from $3,669 to $3,423. That is the 5th lowest total out of the 102 municipalities that provided data for the 2016 study.

BMA Study, Ontario Municipalities – Total Municipal Burden 2016

Much of the improvement in Sault Ste. Marie’s municipal burden figures from 2015 to 2016 is the result of changes to our water and wastewater rates. Both City Council and the PUC Board took steps late in 2015 to decrease water costs for residents and businesses in Sault Ste. Marie. City Council made the move to decrease the sewer surcharge from 100% to 62% for residential users—bringing it to the lowest level since 1982.

water-costs_2016

The PUC board also did its part to help ratepayers. The board elected to forgo increasing water rates in 2016 and instead opted to keep them at the 2015 level. This was done at a time when many other municipalities were increasing their water rates by as much as 7 per cent.

As a percentage of household income, Sault Ste. Marie’s municipal burden in 2016 stood at 4.2% – the lowest it has been since we began participating in the survey in 2005. The chart below shows the changes since 2009.

muni_burden

When it comes to keeping the cost of local government affordable for residents, property taxes understandably get most of the focus. However, it bears remembering that water and sewer charges are a significant part of the equation as well. I’m pleased that both City Council and the PUC were able to make decisions that have had a positive impact for citizens, the significance of which we are now starting to measure.

–         CP

Community Orchard officially inaugurated

On November 16th, 2016, Sault Ste. Marie’s first community orchard was officially inaugurated. Located at the Algoma District School Board’s Etienne Brule site, the orchard will eventually include 48 apple trees and 30 sugar maples. A total of 24 trees have been planted so far, with the remainder to come in the spring of 2017.

The establishment of the orchard was made possible thanks to a grant from CN Rail’s “From the Ground Up” program. Sault Ste. Marie was one of 25 communities across Canada that was awarded a grant in 2016. The successful application was developed by Tori Prouse of the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Planning Department.

orchard

(Left to Right: Mayor Provenzano, CN’s Drew Redden, DSSAB CAO Mike Nadeau, ADSB Chair Jennifer Sarlo and Raymond Carriere of Communities in Bloom perform a ceremonial tree planting.)

The orchard is another positive development at the west-end site, which has become a community hub since the closure of the former Etienne Brule elementary school. The building now houses the Urban Aboriginal school program, a daycare, and several programs that have been developed in partnership with Ontario Works and other social service providers. In addition to the orchard, the property is also home to a playground, a Hub Trail spoke, and a community garden.

Though it will take a few years for the trees to mature and begin bearing fruit, in time, the orchard will be a fantastic community resource for citizens to enjoy.

Dr. Roberta Bondar honoured with commemorative coin

In 1992, Sault Ste. Marie’s own Dr. Roberta Bondar made history when she became the first Canadian woman and the world’s first neurologist in space. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Dr. Bondar’s groundbreaking mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery, the Royal Canadian Mint created a special limited-edition commemorative coin.

The coin, entitled “A View of Canada from Space” was publicly unveiled at a ceremony held at Sault College on November 1st, 2016. Dr. Bondar was in attendance, along with many of her friends and family members, as well as Mayor Provenzano, MP Terry Sheehan and Royal Canadian Mint President Hanington. Governor-General David Johnston (another Sault native and a childhood acquaintance of Dr. Bondar) offered well-wishes via video.

Read Mayor Provenzano’s address from the event.

2016-11-01-20161101-royal-canadian-mint-roberta-bondar-coin-unveiling-ka-0167 (Left to Right: MP Terry Sheehan, Mint President Sandra Hanington, Dr. Roberta Bondar, Mayor Christian Provenzano and Sault College Aviation student Oliver at the coin unveiling)

The coin itself was designed by Canadian artist Alexandra Lefort. It features a unique, convex shape and is believed to be the world’s first curved coin. It also includes glow in the dark effects that depict a view of North America at night as seen from space, with a particular focus on Canada. Dr. Bondar’s name, mission anniversary and the emblem of the space shuttle Discovery are inscribed on the outer band.

Made from 99.99% pure silver, the coin has a face value of $25 and is available for purchase from the Royal Canadian Mint website. A limited run of 8,500 coins have been minted. One of the coins is currently on display in the Civic Centre lobby (2nd level).

Over the course of her storied career, Dr. Roberta Bondar has always remained a steadfast champion for her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. Congratulations again Dr. Bondar on this well-deserved honour!

Honouring Ron Francis

One of Sault Ste. Marie’s greatest athletes was honoured on October 5, 2016, as lower Bruce Street was officially renamed to “Ron Francis Way.” Ron and his family were on hand for the occasion and Ron addressed the crowd, speaking about his pride of coming from Sault Ste. Marie.

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(Above: Councillor Paul Christian and Mayor Provenzano listen as Ron Francis speaks at the street dedication on October 5, 2016.)

Ron grew up in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie, playing hockey as a youth before working his way up to the Soo Greyhounds as a teenager. At the age of 19, he was drafted in the first-round (4th overall) of the NHL draft by the Hartford Whalers

During his 23-season NHL playing career, Ron became a two-time Stanley Cup champion. He is presently 5th all-time on the NHL scoring list and 3rd all-time for games played. In addition to several all-star nods, Ron also won the Frank J. Selke trophy, the King Clancy award for leadership and humanitarian work, and the Lady Byng Trophy for most gentlemanly player on three occasions. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007 and the number 10 jersey that he wore with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise was retired.

Today, Ron’s professional hockey journey is continuing as the General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes. He has also been noted for his humanitarian work with families of hospitalized children and the Special Olympics.

Both Mayor Provenzano and Councillor Paul Christian spoke at the official sign unveiling on October 5th outside of the Essar Centre. Councillor Christian penned the original council resolution to explore ways of recognizing Ron Francis in 2015.

Read Mayor Provenzano’s remarks.

The ceremony took place just prior to an NHL exhibition game at the Essar Centre between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres. Carolina would ultimately prevail, winning 3-2 in an overtime shootout.

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(Above: The new street sign is officially unveiled.)