As our summer slowly winds down, I have been looking ahead to the very heavy agenda council has for the fall. On top of a very full slate of the usual business of council, we are anticipating receiving several significant reports that have been in process for some time and are just now coming to fruition. These will put the meat on the bones of some important conceptual directions such as growth and affordable housing and represent extensive research and consultation.
Brandon Area Planning (Brandon, Elton, Cornwallis) has been working diligently on a growth management strategy that it will be presenting to council this fall. This is a fundamental framework for our area’s future development and we have appreciated the participation and advice we have received from the public.
The basics of the strategy will look at how big the city will grow, where we will grow, and how we will grow. Related to the last two points, this summer we had a public workshop of how to decide the priority areas for development.
Obviously, with finite resources of people and funding, tough decisions have to be made. The city (and therefore the taxpayer) can’t do it all at the same time, so we are developing a very specific framework for how those decisions will be made based on infrastructure costs, economic development opportunities, environmental impact, existing land use, and other factors. The intent is to make the process as transparent as possible.
The framework will also guide the direction of investment the city will be making in terms of infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, drainage, and bridges), property acquisition, green space, and economic development that drives much of our budgeting deliberations.
In addition to the “big picture” plans, the Department of Planning and Building Safety has been holding public consultations on development in the north and south ends of Brandon and the results of this planning will also be presented to council this fall. What is the vision, what will the North Gateway to the city look like, how much will we need to invest to develop that property and make that vision a reality? And there will be answers to similar questions for the south end of the city.
The Planning Department is also working on several other key projects that council will see this fall that will provide a transparent and consistent framework for development.
While Planning has been working on building capacity within the community so that our city can grow, internally administration has been working on plans to increase the capacity of Development Services. This continues our efforts over the past few years that have seen changes in how Building Safety and Planning function and have enhanced productivity and accountability to the public. This information will be presented to council as part of the 2014 budget process.
One of the big capital projects that council will look at this fall is the fate of the Eighth Street Bridge. This was a priority three years ago and time continues to march on. With only three access points from one side of the city to another and three levels of potential funders; coordination is an ongoing challenge.
This council was established in 2010 amid significant community concern for affordable housing. The city has been able to take baby steps in addressing this issue through partnerships with several not-for-profit groups.
The Seniors Housing Co-op, Massey Manor and STEPP Houses, among others, have made some progress but not enough. Three years into our term and the issue is as critical for the long term success of our community as it was in 2010.
This fall, council will be considering a comprehensive housing strategy that addresses the role of the city in tackling this issue and proposes several strategies that have had success in other communities. One of the critical pieces of the puzzle that is now in place is a complete listing of every single piece of property the city owns; everything from developable property to drainage ditches. This gives council a thorough understanding of our capacity to spur development, whether it’s addressing affordable housing or encouraging economic growth.
City council will also be looking at two high-profile tenders that are closing this fall that will change the look of our city: the recreation building area at the Wheat City Golf Course and the old Fire Hall No. 1. I am looking forward to seeing what ideas the private sector has come up with for the development of these properties.
Given the national news headlines over the summer in regards to financial accountability by public figures, council will be receiving a recommendation about how we will be publishing our expenses. Among other cities, there is great deal of variation with the format for the disclosure; however, no one argues that we must be accountable to the taxpayer.
Of course, this is all happening while council is preparing for the 2014 budget. We began our background meetings this summer, getting detail on some of the cost drivers that will influence the budget. The personnel committee will be involved in the contract negotiations with the Brandon Police Service this fall, and public safety costs are a significant cost driver in any city.
Early in September, council will sit down with senior administration to have an in-depth discussion around strategic issues such as the Road Map for Growth and the budget. The city treasurer has already presented the first draft of the infamous “hurts and helps” list to put some context around our upcoming budget deliberations.
We have begun planning our public consultation for the 2014 budget and will once again be hosting roundtable discussions. This is a critical piece going forward that allows you to have input at the front end of the process: what are your community priorities, what is your vision for our city? We have been exploring ideas to broaden participant demographics and are looking at ways of using technology. There will also be the traditional town hall presentation just prior to our formal budget deliberations weekend at year end.
I am looking forward to this fall, as it is the cumulation of a great deal of hard work and thoughtfulness on the part of a great many people, yourself included if you have provided feedback or participated in the many different public consultations we have hosted.
In addition to the fascinating day-to-day responsibilities of city hall and attending the many events that make Brandon such a vibrant community, the reports that council will be receiving this fall continue to build a framework for the growth and prosperity of our city.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 24, 2013