State of the City 2010


Mayor Stuart Houston photo.

Presented by Mayor Stuart Houston, February 9, 2010

Good afternoon Mr. President and esteemed members of the Spruce Grove and District Chamber of Commerce.

It is my pleasure, on behalf of my colleagues on council, to bring you the City of Spruce Grove’s State of the City Address.

When I last stood before you for this purpose, in November 2008, I told you that Spruce Grove was a city on the cusp.

I said that our city was about to enter a new era, where we are no longer seen as an auxiliary player in the capital region, and that we were gaining a reputation for being a leader among Alberta’s municipalities.

Today I am happy to say that we are making steady ground toward achieving those goals.

For The City of Spruce Grove, 2009 was a year of planning and progress, and 2010 will be about building on our successes.

In terms of Economic Development, more has been accomplished in Spruce Grove in the last two years than at any time in the history of our city.

We can now boast a record number of businesses. The total at the end of 2009 was nearly 1370 – and that tells me our local business climate is healthy and thriving.

This is reflected in a number of ways, not the least of which is the fact that this very Chamber has also set a membership record and I want to congratulate you on achieving this milestone.

I want to congratulate you on achieving this milestone, and would like to present you with a token of our appreciation for being a strong voice for business in our community.

This council has taken pride in its efforts to work closely with the local business community.
 
Our bi-annual meetings with the Chamber of Commerce Executive have been a good starting point for many of the very important discussions that we need to have going forward.

We want to build on that partnership through our mutual involvement in the Economic Development Strategy Steering Committee.

From the perspective of Spruce Grove’s long term financial sustainability, this committee will be crucial to laying the one of the cornerstones of Spruce Grove’s long term sustainability plan.

In order for our city to achieve its goals of environmental and social sustainability, we will need the support of a strong and diverse business community. If we are to grow in a manageable and sustainable manner, we will need services to support that growth.

We will need more retail stores, more health practitioners, more grocery stores and more restaurants. In return, the growth in our residential areas will provide more local workers to fill positions created by that managed healthy growth.

But all of this requires forethought and planning. That’s what we’ve been doing these past three years, and will continue to do through the Economic Development Strategy.

It’s that kind of forward-thinking that brought us to assemble the lands at Century Road and Highway 16 for the future Gateway Town Centre. The completion of that development is as far as ten years down the road, but NOW is the time to get the ball rolling; otherwise, we will be playing catch up.

Gateway Town Centre is another excellent example of this council’s efforts to work with the development community. Developers have seen the vision set out in Spruce Grove Quest, where residents said they wanted mixed use developments. By assembling the land for Gateway Town Centre, we have made our city even more attractive for such a development.

This project will raise our city’s profile along one of Canada’s busiest highways. It will bring us the destination retail, hotel, office and residential amenities that we need to develop, and that our residents want. And it will mean more local jobs, more business and a stronger and more diverse local workforce.

We’re also working on other key economic drivers that play a role in growing our city at a healthy pace.

We’ve done that by working in partnership with residential developers on the Pinch Yourself advertising campaign this past spring. This joint marketing campaign was designed to stimulate residential housing sales during the economic slowdown.

This council has committed infrastructure funding for the development of three new industrial parks. We’ve also held the line on increasing the City’s arterial roadway levy, so that Spruce Grove will remain an attractive place for developers to invest.

Sports Tourism is another area that we’ve been working on and we’ve already seen some significant success in this area. Last year we landed the AJHL Showcase, which brought thousands of players, scouts and spectators to our city to see some top notch hockey. We’ve just learned that we will also be hosting the Alberta Junior Female Provincial Hockey Championships in March.

In 2010, the CCAA Soccer Championship will be held at Fuhr Sports Park, and the NCABL All Star Game will be held at Henry Singer Ballpark. In 2012, in partnership with our neighbours in Parkland County and Stony Plain we’ll be hosting the Alberta Winter Games, and that too, will bring huge numbers of people to our city.

We are continuing to develop our Sports Tourism Strategy so that we can attract even more of these kinds of events to our city, because they generate considerable economic spinoff for Spruce Grove. Not only do they pump valuable dollars into our local economy, but they also give us an opportunity to show thousands of people what a fantastic city Spruce Grove is.

Our reputation as a safe, clean and progressive city is what has helped us weather the recent economic storm. While other municipalities have seen minimal growth over the past year, housing starts are holding steady in Spruce Grove. The Pinch Yourself campaign reinforced what many potential residents already knew – that Spruce Grove offers an exceptional quality of life and is an attractive place to raise a family.

So what will it take for us to maintain that reputation? We have to continue to be proactive in caring for what we have, and at the same time, find ways to raise the bar that are financially, socially and environmentally sustainable.

That’s why we have a $220 million 10 year capital plan to maintain, improve and expand Spruce Grove’s infrastructure. In 2010 we have budgeted more than $14 million for capital projects. In comparison, only $4.8 million was spent on capital projects in 2005.

In the last five years we have spent more than $30 million in arterial road upgrades.

We took advantage of lower construction costs and used City reserves to leverage grant opportunities so we could complete the twinning of Century Road five years ahead of our Capital Plan. This project has improved traffic flow and pedestrian safety on the eastern edge of our city.

The extension of Grove Drive later this year will provide access to our new Jubilee Park in the east and the new high school that will soon be built in the west end of our city. At a combined cost of more than $11 million The Century Road and Grove Drive projects would not have been possible without the efforts of a forward-thinking council and the contributions of the federal and provincial governments. Yet they are necessary to ensure that we can meet the demands of future growth in our community.

We are also continuing to enhance crosswalks throughout the city with high visibility signage, and we have just committed to installing traffic and crosswalk lights at Campsite Road and Spruce Ridge Drive.

This council has also made a strong commitment to facility enhancements over its three-year term, including a major $3 million upgrade to the Agrena and curling rink, and redevelopment of the Agrena parking lot to the tune of $850,000.

We’ve invested $1.7 million to upgrade our Senior Baseball diamond at Henry Singer Park and build a new AAA Mosquito diamond at Woodhaven School.

With the help of federal and provincial funding, our partners at Parkland County and the Horizon Stagelighters, we’ve put $1.9 million into renovations at Horizon Stage, because we want to continue to provide a first class venue for performing arts in our community. Just recently we’ve been pleased to also contribute toward a  $250,000  upgrade for the theatre’s lighting system.

In the area of protective services we have made some significant changes.

Over at the Fire Hall, you’ll notice that a $450,000 construction project is underway for new dorms for additional firefighters who will be joining the department this year. We’ve also spent $16,000 on renovations at our Enforcement Services office.

These expenditures are necessary to accommodate our growing complement of protective services staff. Since 2005 we’ve gone from 15 to 20 RCMP members and from three to five municipal enforcement officers. Our integrated fire services staff has also increased, and we now have 30 full time and 10 casual firefighters who are also paramedics or EMTs. These staffing levels will enable us to meet the increased demands placed on these areas as our city grows, so that they can continue to provide the high level of service our residents have come to expect.

Since 2007, we’ve also added the equivalent of three full time administrative staff for the RCMP and Enforcement Services, so that police officers can spend more time in the community, interacting and building relationships with the public. As a result, the RCMP has reported a significant decrease in serious crime in our city and a big drop in serious injury accidents.

Our Protective Services department will also be a major player in maintaining Spruce Grove’s reputation as a safe and healthy city.

We are one of only 16 municipalities in Alberta who are partnering with Alberta Health Services to provide integrated fire and EMS services.

Our fire response times are consistently improving and we’re striving to meet international standards. Our fire crews respond to 90 per cent of fires in under six minutes and 90 per cent of motor vehicle accidents in under five minutes.

That speaks to our dedication to providing the highest possible standard of service to businesses and the residents in our community.

As our city grows, it will be even more important to maintain that high standard. That’s why we’ve approved funding for pre-emptive traffic signals, so that our emergency vehicles will have priority at intersections and we can reduce the risk of collisions when responding to calls.

In other areas, we have been working hard to maintain or improve service levels, without passing the cost on to our residents and businesses.

Our snow-clearing program is one of those areas where we have made great strides, and I’ve been impressed by the number of people who have approached me to compliment our Public Works staff on the excellent job they are doing.

We’ve just entered into a new contract for waste collection services that will hold the line on costs for the next three years while providing the same or better service to residents.

We’re working on enhancements to our customer service system, with new online tools that will allow you to request services and access information more easily.

One of the first orders of business for this council was to improve communication  enhance Community consultation with our residents and over the past two years we’ve undertaken several initiatives which allow us to reach a wider range of demographics.

Recognizing that our residents look to their local weekly newspaper for information, we’ve enhanced the look and content of our weekly City News ad in the Spruce Grove Examiner. We also submit regular council columns where we address current issues within our city.

We’ve also installed four new digital message boards at key entry points to our city to bring timely information to motorists.

As more and more of our residents choose to communicate through online media, we’re improving the ways we connect with them. We’re about to launch a brand new website that will be easier to navigate and provide access to more information.

We are also one of the first municipalities in Alberta to take advantage of social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach out to residents who choose to get their information from these new technologies.

Online communication is not the only area in which Spruce Grove is seen as a leader.

Our waste management model continues to be an example that is followed by other municipalities. Now, we are taking another bold step, with the establishment of the Mayor’s Task Force on the Environment. This group will be charged with finding ways to evaluate and monitor past and current environmental initiatives, and with engaging the public in future efforts to embrace environmental stewardship.

Our residents have already shown us that they care about the environment. We lead the province in implementing our current waste diversion model, which includes curb side recycling and organics programs, and we are committed to making those programs even better.

This Council has made a strong commitment to environmental initiatives. About 2.8 per cent, or $1.4 million of this year’s budget will be spent directly on programs that protect our environment, and there are many other expenditures that indirectly support this direction.

In our efforts to be an environmentally sustainable city, we continue to focus on developing our parks and green spaces. This council has spent more than $5 million in this area since 2008, and we’ve committed another $2.2 million for 2010.

Among the projects that we’ve funded are the first two phases of Jubilee Park, at just under a million dollars, and another $900,000 for neighbourhood parks. In 2010 we’ll make more improvements at Henry Singer Ballpark, complete Phase 3 at Jubilee Park, and create an innovative new downtown play area on the west side of King Street across from Central Park

A new dog off-leash park is also in the works. We’ve already begun public consultations to determine what users want in such a facility, and it is scheduled to be constructed later this year.

This council continues to take advantage of opportunities to build partnerships within our community and among our regional neighbours.

Our close relationship with Stony Plain and Parkland County has given us the TransAlta Tri Leisure Centre and landed us the 2012 Alberta Winter Games. They are our partners in providing 211 information and referral services and we also partner with them on the Parkland Water Services Commission.

Parkland County is also our partner in a variety of other initiatives, including Horizon Stage and the recent renovations there. Some of the FCSS programs and services we offer in this region are also cost-shared between us.

Other community partnerships have yielded wonderful opportunities for us to enhance our city’s quality of life. With the help of the Rotary Club and Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities, we opened Rotary Playscape last summer. This innovative and accessible playground at West District Park has gotten rave reviews from the families who use it.

As a member of the Capital Region Board, Spruce Grove is respected as a partner that seeks constructive solutions to regional issues. We will continue to use our position within this partnership to work toward solutions that benefit the residents of Spruce Grove.

Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments that has come about since the last State of the City Address, is the completion of our Draft Municipal Development Plan, titled Your Bright Future.

The process that we have used to arrive at this plan is recognized in the planning community as unique and innovative.

Most Municipal Development Plans are based on decisions made by Planning and Engineering departments, but in this case, The City of Spruce Grove’s entire organization was involved in its development. As well, the Plan draws heavily on public input, which began with Spruce Grove Quest, the largest community consultation process our city has ever undertaken.

Since open space is such an integral part of Spruce Grove we agreed that our Parks and Open Space Master Plan should be reflected in our long term development strategy. As a result, we have become the first community in Alberta to use an open space plan as a basis for our MDP.

This Plan is also closely aligned with the goals in our Corporate Strategic Plan and was developed to compliment the Capital Region Growth Plan. When all of these factors are taken into consideration, we now have more than a municipal development plan – we have an integrated sustainability plan that will serve our city well into the future.

Once the MDP is finalized and adopted later this spring, we’ll be moving on to a complete re-write of our Land Use Bylaw. This is an area where we once again hope to work closely with our business community. As a major stakeholder in that process, your input will be crucial to creating a framework that meets the needs of everyone in our community.

The new Land Use Bylaw will set out clear direction for future development in our city so that our plans for future land use align with our Municipal Development Plan.

All of these things are important to the physical form and design of our city, but most importantly, we have to remember that the purpose of everything we do is to create a city that serves and supports the people who live here.

That’s why our council pays such close attention to the programs and services that create the exceptional quality of life that our residents have come to expect.

It is because of this high standard that Spruce Grove continues to be a place where great people do great things, and this council has taken great care to recognize those who contribute to our community.

This year we recognized two exceptional people with Awards of Excellence. Dr. Jason Acker and Mr. Jim Titley are two of the most deserving individuals to have ever earned this honour.

This past year we also introduced two new awards, which honour people who make valuable contributions to our community.

The Social Capital Award was established to recognize a community group or agency that enriches the lives of our citizens. In June of this year, we honoured Young Life, a Christian-based youth mentorship program that has been operating in Spruce Grove for 13 years.

Then, in October, we presented the very first Community Spirit Award to Eric and Helen Thys of McDonald’s, for their generous support of several local initiatives that benefit children and youth in our community.

Others who have made significant impacts in our community also received recognition this past year.

West District Sports Park was renamed in honour of Bruce and Jeannette Fuhr, who were instrumental in making it a reality.

We honoured NHL star Stu Barnes by naming the east arena at the Agrena after him, and we honoured our hometown Olympic gold medallist with the naming of Jennifer Heil Way.

There are many other stars in our midst who sometimes go without public recognition. Many of those people work for the City of Spruce Grove.

As a council we have been blessed with hard working and dedicated staff who don’t hesitate to go the extra mile for us and for the citizens of Spruce Grove. Every one of them is forward-thinking and focused on their role in making Spruce Grove the best city in Alberta.

Not only do they work hard at their jobs, they also work hard in their community. From firefighters in pink bunker gear to last year’s fundraising campaign for Hope Mission and the Parkland Food Bank, our staff are generous to a fault and are always willing to support a good cause.

Along with a City Council that works hard every day and is not afraid to step outside the box to find the best, most innovative solution to any problem, we have a cohesive team that will serve our city well as we move forward into the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to be a part of that team, and there are many opportunities for you to do that.

We’ll continue to share ideas at our bi-annual meetings. We’ll be looking to your experience and expertise to create our Economic Development Strategy. And we’ll listen closely to your input as we develop our new Land Use Bylaw.

But beyond those formal venues, I encourage you to continue to engage in your community, volunteer your time and talents and help us show everyone that Spruce Grove is indeed, the Community of Choice!