Mayor's year in review report

December 27, 2014

As we enter the third year of our mandate, we can look back at two distinct phases. The first full year, 2013, was the beginning of the positive change plan. That included holding a port summit, establishing a five-year capital plan and budget consultation tours.

Residents clearly said job creation, working with other levels of government and port development are top priorities for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

This past year was a shoulder-to-the-wheel year. Significant effort has gone into the top priorities, including promoting the Port of Sydney. We are now seeing positive outcomes.

Canadian Maritime Engineering decided to make North Sydney its East Coast base — no government incentives or rebates needed. The company has already invested $2 million, with $5 million more to come. For Canadian Maritime Engineering, the Port of Sydney makes good business sense.

I expect 2015 to be a year of momentum for our port.

Sydport and Harbourside Commercial Park (the former Sysco site) are also being considered for new investments right now.

We also announced Phase 1 of the Building Canada program in November. It's a good start at $3 million, but the CBRM has more capacity to cost share. We would like to see more matching provincial and federal dollars available for local road priorities.

Busy streets such as Welton Street, Martha Boulevard and Alexandra Street in Sydney, Main Street and South Street in Glace Bay, Main Street in Sydney Mines and Commercial Street in North Sydney will get an overhaul in 2015.

Our island is more united than ever. All four Cape Breton counties are now working together through the regional enterprise network and cost-sharing with the provincial government. Economic development efforts at Business Cape Breton and Cape Breton Partnership are moving in tandem.

The matter of a CBRM charter is on my mind for 2015.

The broken property assessment taxation system is a challenge for the CBRM. On this front, the provincial government has two reports to address:

1. A report on the property assessment cap (the Kitchen-Slack report) recommended changes to the cap system to address disparities.

2. The long-awaited "fiscal review" report suggests changes that can be beneficial to the CBRM with regard to provincial-municipal financial arrangements.

We hope to see positive action on both of these in 2015. If substantial changes aren't realized, we will seek them through our own charter.

The year wasn't without surprises, challenges and unexpected twists:

1. We had a difficult budget in 2014. Sudden cost pressures from the provincial government included $520,000 in increased education costs and $317,000 less in equalization. The CBRM now pays more to the province (almost $18 million) than we receive in equalization ($15 million).

By law, the CBRM must have a balanced budget. The five-year plan to make efficiencies means reductions of $5 million in expenditures and 40 positions through attrition. The plan does not increase taxes.

2. The move by the operator of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway to discontinue local service came at time when momentum is building at the Port of Sydney and Donkin Mine. Many interests are committed to saving the railway. The bottom line: A stronger local economy with rail freight customers is key to saving this important asset.

3. The aboriginal title claim on Sydney harbour and adjacent lands will carry over into 2015. Right now, three initiatives are on hold while this matter is addressed: The transfer of Sydney harbour water lots to the CBRM, the transfer of former Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. properties to the CBRM, and the $20-million expansion of the cruise terminal to allow the docking of two vessels at one time.

There are several other milestones of note:

Council approved $25,000 in funding for the youth council. This is a great opportunity for our young leaders. The first meeting will take place in early 2015. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested in getting involved.

At the Dec. 16 council meeting, councillors approved $120,000 in annual funding for the National Crime Prevention Program, which develops programs for at-risk youth. Our Cape Breton Regional Police Service is leading this effort.

The "Next Steps for Arts and Culture" mayor's roundtable, chaired by Joella Foulds of Celtic Colours, is formulating next steps for our creative economy and how the municipality can assist.

Major cultural events and festivals in our region are good investments. The CBRM plays a supporting role in events as large as Cape Fest to community-oriented Canada Day celebrations and Christmas parades. The CBRM's recreation master plan is an important consultation with the community about the short- and long-term future of our recreation assets and efforts. Please participate.

The waterfront visioning strategy presented an ambitious plan. Council has already started making the boardwalk more citizen-friendly, with music and pets, and by opening the Wentworth Park tunnel. Many of our CBRM main streets will benefit in the next year from roadwork and beautification efforts, including an expansion of the downtown blossoming program.

Communication efforts increased, with a new website, social media accounts and live video of council meetings. The CBRM hosted a newcomer's fair in September to welcome newcomers to our city.

Building on the Mayor's Task Force recommendations, a fire and emergency services committee has been formed, led by Deputy Mayor George MacDonald. The committee will work toward an integrated CBRM fire service through an independent fire services review.

In our effort to make the CBRM the most business and development-friendly municipality, we will further reduce red tape. The Nova Scotia Home Builders Association and the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce's barriers to business committee have suggested improvements for 2015.

In 2014, we said farewell to councillor Darren Bruckschwaiger, as he pursued other work interests, and welcomed new councillor Darrell Flynn.

Michael Merritt joined us in October as the CBRM's new chief administrative officer. He is the first CAO hired by the CBRM council. Marie Walsh has assumed the role of chief financial officer following her leadership as interim CAO.

Note that 2015 is the CBRM's 20th anniversary year. We will kick it off with a mayor's New Year's levee on Jan. 3, 1-3 p.m., at Victoria Park in Sydney. I hope to see you there.