Sudbury mayor delivers first state-of-the-city address in more than two years
There was a long list of accomplishments to touch on over the noon hour as Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger provided his first state-of-the-city in more than two years.
Speaking to a virtual crowd, in what at times seemed like a campaign-style speech, Bigger gave a mostly rosy outlook on where the city's heading and what they've done to address major issues.
Bigger later told the virtual audience he'll be running for re-election next year. But COVID-19 was one of the key themes of his speech and how it's impacted the city.
"We are fortunate that our community enjoys such a high vaccinate rate," he said. "Of course, none of us is fully safe, until all of us are safe. We need people that haven't completed their COVID-19 vaccinations to do so as quickly as possible. Let's get from 85 per cent to 90 per cent."
The pandemic has had a major impact on the city coffers. Bigger said council did what it could, using city funds to mitigate revenue losses of more than $20-million.
Bigger, who has come under scrutiny at times for not being more visible during the pandemic, said he's been staying home and limiting contact as much as possible to protect his elderly parents.
"COVID-19 illuminated weaknesses in federal and provincial support for those struggling with homelessness, addictions and mental health," the mayor said. "Complex issues, as people were suddenly more isolated, and distancing requirements reduced the capacity for the existing service providers."
Another crisis is the city's high rate of opioid fatalities -- the highest per capita rate anywhere in Ontario.
"We have good resources here, but not enough," Bigger said. "We have asked the provincial government for additional funding, ongoing funding, and project-specific funding. I have met with Associate Minister of Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo several times this summer searching for solutions and funding."
A supervised consumption site has been one of those solutions. The city has proposed a site and pre-approved funding but it is still waiting for other levels of government to act.
Discussed a number of topics
Other topics Bigger touched on included Laurentian University, homelessness and infrastructure, specifically the city's attempt to address the city's pothole situation.
When it came to questions and answers from members of the chamber, Bigger wasn't able to answer all the questions posed to him.
The mayor was asked if he and council could commit to holding any potential tax increase to the rate of inflation.
"It's very difficult to make a commitment, it takes the decision of the entire council and is also the reflection of the actual operating costs of a municipality," said Bigger.
"We tend to experience increases in our own operating costs that relate to construction, cost indices and other items like contract negotiated labour rates and so forth, and so we're all experiencing inflation at some level at this point in time."
Bigger said he was unable to commit to a tax increase tied to the consumer price index but council is very committed in doing what it can to keep the tax increases as low as possible.
He also offered few specifics when asked about what council is doing to spur economic growth and job creation for businesses.
The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce says it'll continue to ask these economic recovery questions as we continue to head out of the pandemic and closer to a civic election.
"When we talk to all levels of government one of the first topics that we address is economic recovery for our members and the city of Greater Sudbury, so we'll continue to have discussions with the mayor and council to determine what types of investment and support they are going to make in the community," said chair Neil Milner.
Milner called the mayor's speech a comprehensive outlook as to the issues facing Greater Sudbury.
"You know like the city, a lot of businesses have taken on significant debt in order to keep their doors open and their employees working so you know we'll be looking to help advocate on behalf of our businesses to make sure the city and all levels of government provide solutions," he said.
Bigger is the first mayor to be re-elected since municipal amalgamation in 2001.