State of the Town 2022

Good afternoon and thank you for joining me today.

I want to thank the Aurora Chamber of Commerce for providing me with the opportunity to be here to provide this year’s State of the Town.

The Aurora Chamber of Commerce has been instrumental in supporting our local businesses, and especially throughout the pandemic.

Our ongoing work with the Chamber, including the Explore Aurora marketing campaign has been important to the Town’s success.

I am just thrilled to be back in person with you today, and I’m proud to stand before you to say the state of the Town is strong.

The Town is in a solid financial position.

Aurora continues to be a place where people chose to live, work, visit and where businesses want to invest and innovate.

We are growing yet maintaining what makes us unique – our small town charm.

And because of this, we are the envy of many municipalities.

Today I would like to share with you a few thoughts related to:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • A few accomplishments of Council this term
  • Downtown revitalization
  • Aurorans and the talent that lives here
  • Tackling issues and attracting investment
  • Support for our businesses
  • And our Official Plan and setting us up for a successful future.

February 19, 2020.

That is the last time I was here in person, in front of you all.

We did not wear masks or worry too much about spreading germs.

We shook hands.  We chatted about our plans to travel.

And maybe only a handful of us at the time had heard the word, “coronavirus.”

One month following that State of the Town, the Town of Aurora  declared a state of emergency.  

And here I stand before you today, two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and life in Canada has not been the same since.

I know 2021 was yet another challenging year.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, restrictions came and went with each additional wave.

Each time we thought we would emerge from this pandemic, we were hammered with another wave and our social connections with loved ones were dampened.

And of course, each wave brought restrictions, closures and stress to our business community.

Business owners have never faced this much uncertainty in generations.

And those challenges go beyond just the impact to bottom line; employee health concerns and absences, health and safety of staff and customers, enforcing regulations and more.

The weight of these problems on business owners who also had to manage their own well-being and work life balance was overwhelming.

Some had no choice but to close their doors

Each, however, will  feel  the impact of the pandemic  for years to come.

As a municipality and a community we will continue to find ways to continue support our businesses as they navigate the post-pandemic future and foster the economic recovery

But what gives me confidence, is that throughout the pandemic, the Town of Aurora came together to keep the community engaged and connected while supporting the local economy.

Business owners were steadfast, creative, and innovative – and I must say I’m not surprised.

Aurora was built by innovators and entrepreneurs, and we continue to see that spirit today.

Because of this, we are extremely well-positioned to not just recover, but thrive.

 

Despite these challenging times, we have accomplished so much this past year and in the past four years of this term of Council.

The Armoury has opened and continues to be a central resource and community gathering place in Aurora.

Aurora, as we all know has beautiful parks, including now the Stewart Burnett Park playground and splashpad just opened last year and Edward Coltham Park playground and splashpad just a couple of years ago.

And the newly opened Willow Farm Trail connection and boardwalk is a welcome addition to our extensive trail system. The David Tomlinson Nature Reserve is an exceptional, national example of how you create a nature reserve in an urban area.

The Town partnered with the Aurora Youth Soccer Club to operate the newly acquired Sports Dome.

This partnership speaks directly to the Town’s intent when it purchased the Dome – to create a true community facility.

Two new senior softball diamonds are currently being constructed on the old Hallmark site, scheduled to open this summer.

We now have three artificial turf sports fields in Aurora and last year, Council approved the construction of an artificial turf multi-sport field in partnership with the York Region District School Board at the site of the new high school on Bayview Avenue.

And as we look to open more of our sports and recreation facilities, “The Mayor’s Roundtable of Sport” will be an increasingly important gathering of all sports and recreation groups in our Town to plan for the recovery and reopening of this sector.

It’s quite impressive, all of this during a once in a century crisis – a global pandemic.

We will continue to look at smart investments that will better the quality of life for all residents for years to come. One of those investments, the largest the town has ever undertaken, is currently underway, our Aurora Town Square.

 

The Town Square is coming to life; a gathering spot, a hub of activity, great restaurants, arts and culture.

Our downtown will be a place where you can meet friends, study, work, go to a concert, take in a festival, enjoy a meal, shop and connect. 

We are building community.

Building an experience.

And building a great place where people chose to live, work, visit and where businesses want to call home.

We needed to act first.

This investment in our own community will spur revitalization and growth and entice the private sector to invest.

We’ve invested in our own community, created a centrepiece and people are noticing.

 

One of the greatest assets in the Town is the collection of great people.

We are grateful for leaders in Aurora that step up and provide their insights, time and energy into helping realize future visions.

The diversity of our leaders, our residents, business owners, many in this room today, is our strength.

We have made a strong commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion this last year by introducing the Town’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.

I was extremely proud the Town of Aurora became the first municipality in York Region to install a rainbow crosswalk.

This crosswalk is a permanent feature in the heart of our Town and is a symbol of Aurora’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive community where everyone is welcome and accepted.

Another physical celebration of our inclusivity and diversity is the addition of the “Canadian Achievements Diversity and Inclusion Mural.”

This will be a focal point of our Town and speak to our celebration of inclusivity and diversity.

We won’t avoid initiatives that support our leaders, our residents, business owners and make them feel welcome in Aurora.

 

We may be a small Town but we also won’t shy away from tackling big issues.

In October 2019, Town Council joined 457 Canadian municipalities and declared a Climate Emergency.

And since then, we’ve made great progress towards our commitment to environmental initiatives.

The Community Energy Plan is a large step in the process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resiliency within our operations and at the community level.

This Plan supports residents, business owners, institutions, and the Town to address climate change positively and effectively.

And once again, all of this while remaining fiscally responsible.

This last year, the Town completed a Service Delivery Review.

The findings concluded that Town services are being performed at or above municipal standards and the Town is actively investing in continuous improvement and has a strong culture with dedicated staff, committed to ensuring service delivery excellence to citizens.

Armed with this review, the Town and Council is better informed to continue to provide the same or better services to our residents and businesses in a fiscally responsible way.

In addition, the Town is in a strong financial position.

In fact, we are the envy of municipalities for our strong financial position and how bright our financial future is.

I am pleased that we have approved a budget for 2022 that maintains the services that residents have come to rely on every day, while keeping in mind fiscal sustainability.

Beyond that, this Council has approved the lowest four year term tax rates in two decades without sacrificing services and while making the largest investment in our community in generations.

Despite the pandemic, the Town’s economic outlook also looks bright.

We’ve seen an impressive amount of new business and redevelopment in Aurora over the last four years.

Not only are we home to powerhouse corporations such as Desjardins Insurance, Magna International, Bulk Barn, PreGel, Kirchhoff Automotive, Genpak LP and others…

We also have over 2,000 grassroots entrepreneurs in healthcare, technology, food and beverage manufacturing, marketing, media, education and more.

In a short amount of time, Aurora saw the opening of two brand new hotels and a will soon see the transformation of an old hotel on Yonge Street in our downtown into a beautiful seniors residence bringing life to a building that’s been deserted for over 10 years,

St. Andrew’s College announced the opening of its all-girls school, St. Anne’s. Aurora is the only municipality outside of Toronto with an all boys and all girls school.

We have issued development approvals for 32 acres for the Smart Centres on Wellington Street and Highway 404. This proposal alone will create over 1,400 new jobs at build out.

A new Fire Hall, a Central York Fire Services headquarters, is being built right here in Aurora, and scheduled to open this year.

After many years, the United Church is being redeveloped and we can’t wait to welcome the Church and its congregation back to the downtown core.

Magna extended its lease to keep its headquarters right here in Aurora.

Piramal Pharma Solutions invested $25 million to expand its Aurora facility with a state-of-the-art API manufacturing wing.

And in just the last five months, 15 new businesses have opened in downtown Aurora.

All four corners at Yonge and Wellington now have business tenants, and the area employees and residents enjoyed ‘Machell’s Alley’ this past summer another investment in the heart of the historic downtown.

And with 15 properties recently designated in our downtown core under part four of the Heritage Act, we have ensured  that future generations will continue to enjoy the heritage of our Yonge St buildings.

Not only are we respecting our past, but we are embracing our future.

As a Town, we are evolving and changing for the better. We are preparing for the jobs of tomorrow, not the jobs of today.

With a rapidly shifting economy, and the global pandemic, the nature of workplaces and employment is also changing.

Support for our businesses now and into the future is paramount.

This includes adapting and adjusting to the pandemic, and however the world evolves post significant world-wide events.

Whether it is wars or illness or natural disasters, the world changes and Aurora is in a unique position to change with it.

We have an opportunity to take advantage of the world’s shift.

Work-from-home, work-remotely, and work-from-anywhere are popular terms as an example of this shift.

Removing geographical restrictions on human capital, or talent, and increasing productivity, can help grow our economy faster, making it more productive and more efficient. 

This is a game-changer for Aurora. Our town has the opportunity to welcome talent, support the workforce through training and connections, and encourage local economic growth.

By supporting our local businesses and helping them through the tough times, we help them to be around to support the oncoming demand for talent.

Working from home, or close to home, requires attainable housing for all levels of our talented workforce.

If we want to attract and keep workers in Aurora, we need to be able to offer a lifestyle that meets, or exceeds, their needs.

This includes a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community, excellent facilities and amenities, with a wide variety of programs and services, and local business support – for large and small businesses.

This also means attainable housing.

Housing that a person can find that meets their needs, and that is financially within their means.

A variety of housing for a variety of people to contribute to the growing fabric of Aurora.

But attainable housing needs a plan, and support…

 

The Town’s Official Plan sets the vision for our community for the future, and in particular, how and where we grow as a municipality. 

We have worked hard on the Official Plan, balancing Aurora’s need to grow with protecting our rich natural and built heritage features.

Municipalities spend a great deal of time and effort and hundreds of thousands tax dollars developing official plans that meet all the growth targets to ensure that our communities grow responsibly, provide a diverse housing stock, intensify in the right areas, all while respecting the uniqueness of the community.

Despite this, we have seen situations where applicants looking to build outside the confines of the plan, bypass community consultation and Council and go straight to the appeal process.

It is disappointing and frustrating when planning applicants immediately appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal without even taking the opportunity to work with residents and Council to achieve a development proposal that works for the community.

As part of my belief that positive growth requires good representation, I proposed a new Small Urban GTHA Mayors Group to my fellow Mayors in the 13 surrounding communities  in Dec of 2020 — we now meet regularly to foster discussion and collaboration on issues relevant to our unique context.

I will continue to work diligently with the Small Urban GTHA Mayor’s and as the Chair of this committee, I am looking forward to the positive impact we will have in the coming years on behalf all of our communities – including affordable housing.

Earlier this year, the Province published a report from the Housing Affordability Task Force which included 55 recommendations for additional measures to increase the supply of market housing to address the housing crisis.

I join countless other Ontario mayors in supporting the goals and principles outlined in the report such as increasing missing middle housing, more rental housing, and transit-oriented development with intensification.

But we believe there are more balanced and moderate ways to achieve the outcomes than many of the methods suggested.

As we have gone through this year, the response to the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that what works for large urban centres, may not necessarily work for our local communities.

This is not a one size, fits all approach. And there are many other factors contributing to housing affordability beyond simply the municipal role and timing of approvals in the supply of housing units. 

We need changes to legislation and more funding to bring more affordable housing to the market.

Accessible housing is the key to unlocking the potential of our Town, our people, and our businesses.

 

In reflecting on all of these amazing accomplishments, it’s even more exciting to look forward to the remainder of 2022 and beyond.

We can look forward to more investment in our downtown, more support for local businesses, more focus on environmental sustainability, more growth, more strategic development, and more events to make memories and continue to make our community spirit thrive.

2022 also brings both provincial and municipal elections.

And something new for the Town.

The Town will move to a Ward system for the upcoming municipal election.

As the last remaining municipality in York Region using an at large system, and as our population continues to grow, it was time for Aurora to move to a Ward system.

In that spirit, I want to acknowledge my Council colleagues who are committed to excellence and to serving our residents and local businesses.

Despite this the fourth year of this term, I know Council will not slow down and will continue to work together, transparently towards a positive future.

But there is still more work to be done.

While we are doing great, we need to continue to focus on our downtown core, bring day business to the downtown and continue to advocate for you, our business community. 

While we are all here today, faced with less public health restrictions, I know the impact of COVID-19 will be felt for some time.

We must continue to support our local businesses as they recover from this pandemic. 

we must continue to tackle the affordability and housing crisis so that everyone who wants to, can find a place to live in Aurora.

And, we must continue to support our Local Hospital – Southlake Regional Hospital who have launched a major campaign for Cancer Treatment. Southlake means a great deal to me and to my family – the extraordinary care they provided to my mum and to my father in law.  They are still here with us today due to the care they received at Southlake.

Before I wrap up, I want to take a moment to recognize some other the folks in the room –

  • My Council colleagues – Harold Kim, Sandra Humfryes, Michael Thompson, Rachel Gilliland, John Gallo.
  • Our CAO Doug Nadorozny
  • Town Staff
  • And the members of our Economic Development Board
  • And former members of Council as well as former Mayors Geoff Dawe and Tim Jones
  • And I would like to thank our sponsors, Enbridge, Bell Canada, Evanov Radio Group, Magna, TD Bank and the Auroran

And most importantly, to you, the business community. Thank you!

You’ve kept our economy running and provided all of us with the food, supplies and services we’ve needed to survive this pandemic.

You have been true partners in the fight against COVID and in building Aurora into the great place it is today and most importantly positioning Aurora as a place where we can thrive rather than just survive.

I am looking forward to Council continuing to work together and getting things done for our Town not only for the present, but for our future.

Thank you.

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