WINNIPEG needs to be a better-trained, better-planned and more co-ordinated city, a subdued Mayor Sam Katz told 1,150 businesspeople, politicians and public servants at his annual state of the city address.
In his fifth annual spiel at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, Katz promised to spend $3 million over the next three years on aboriginal training, broaden the powers of the city auditor, move forward on plans to replace the city’s obsolete planning framework and — as announced last year — create a new umbrella organization to handle all transit and transportation planning.
Katz promised to hire a chief performance officer, a new city staffer who would assist the city auditor and ensure city departments are accountable for the money they spend.
"Often, what you will see is, our audit department going in and making suggestions on how a department should have done this or should have done that. I want conformance," Katz told reporters after the $75-a-plate lunch.
On the planning front, Katz said the city will hold an invitation-only, multimedia seminar called A Sustainable Winnipeg that will be part of the ongoing effort to replace Plan Winnipeg, the city’s all-but-obsolete long-term planning blueprint.
This morning, city councillors will learn more about a new land-use and infrastructure framework that’s supposed to govern Winnipeg’s next 25 years.
"It’s basically a plan for our future. We haven’t had one done since 1972, which really means that there’s never been one done for the city," the mayor said. In fact, Winnipeg updated the document in 1986, 1991, 1993 and 2001. The mayor also said concrete steps will be taken this year to develop a transportation authority to decide how to plan and spend money on roads and transportation.
"For too long, our city has built out its suburbs, with new housing developments and commercial-retail properties, then later struggled with the impacts this growth has on our transportation infrastructure," he said.
But the mayor also made an oblique reference to the IKEA-led development that’s wound up in the crosshairs of urban-sprawl critics, referring to the $400-million project as "a new major commercial development" that will soon be the subject of a public hearing.
Reaction to the mayor’s speech was mixed. Tax watchdog Colin Craig praised Katz for stating his goal is to freeze property taxes for the 12th straight year. City council finance chairman Justin Swandel, however, said another tax freeze will be difficult to implement this year without more help from the provincial government.
Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, a frequent Katz critic, said she was disappointed the mayor made no mention of downtown revitalization.
Businesspeople in the audience gave Katz an easier time. Maxim Truck & Trailer president Doug Harvey said he was satisfied with the content of the speech, even though he wished Katz would have mentioned the proposed CentrePort development outside Richardson International Airport. He also said the mayor could have been more upbeat.
"He’s the chief cheerleader for the city," Harvey explained.
Training, planning and transportation
Highlights from Mayor Sam Katz's fifth state of the city speech, delivered Thursday at the Winnipeg Convention Centre:
ABORIGINAL TRAINING: The city will spend $3 million over the next three years on an aboriginal youth strategy.
CITY AUDITOR: New powers are coming for the city auditor, along with a chief performance officer who will ensure city departments remain accountable.
Progress on previous announcements
LONG-TERM PLANNING: This spring, Winnipeg will launch a symposium called A Sustainable Winnipeg as part of the an effort to replace Plan Winnipeg, the city's almost obsolete long-term planning blueprint. The aim is to create a 25-year plan for land use, transportation and infrastructure.
TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY: Last year, Katz said a new regional transportation authority would co-ordinate the transit and transportation needs of the city and its suburbs. That authority will begin to take shape this year, Katz said Thursday.
And is this a promise?
PROPERTY TAXES: Katz all but promised to freeze property taxes for a 12th straight year, but the wording left the mayor a little wiggle room. "My goal again will be to freeze property taxes," he said. City council finance chairman Justin Swandel said it will be tough to balance the operating budget that includes a tax freeze without more help from the province.
The bottom line
DOUR BUT SUBSTANTIVE: Thursday's speech amounted to a dour accounting of the challenges facing the city. Some audience members called it dull, as the mayor essentially read a long laundry list of plans and priorities. But the serious tone -- the speech was completely bereft of the jokes typifying earlier state of the city addresses -- seemed appropriate for the gloomy times.