-Richard Thomas

When I was elected to City Council, I had clear ideas about what I thought should happen. The City needed growth, and we needed to get runaway costs under control. It's hard to make a dramatic effect in just two years, but I think our council has worked well as a team to begin making the changes needed to move Owen Sound forward.

One of the first big issues we dealt with was the development charges review. A report suggested increasing those charges, but instead we implemented a 2-year development charges holiday to try and stimulate growth. We also extended water and waste water services to the Sydenham Heights area, a move that immediately created interest among developers. We conducted a complete review of all City Services. My hat is off to staff, who did all of the work to organize this for council. At the end of the process, Service Review created savings of $800,000 annually.

Many municipalities across Ontario are struggling with the rising cost of emergency services. Without the support of the provincial government, it will be extremely difficult to change anything. The interest arbitration system is broken beyond repair, and until the province fixes it, municipalities will continue to suffer. A recent study completed by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario came up with some revealing figures: if police and firefighters had received the same pay increases as other municipal employees between 2010 and 2015, Ontario's municipalities would have saved $479 million dollars. Ongoing union negotiations prevent me from commenting publicly on the fire situation, but rest assured, it has not been forgotten nor is it being ignored. Also, we have asked the OPP to provide us with a costing analysis for Owen Sound, which will help us to have a more informed discussion about policing as we move forward.

The City Hall building has problems. That's why we've decided to undertake a major renovation—to ensure the building is a healthy and safe work environment for our staff. Other positive steps include: reaffirming support for the Riverfront Precinct Project, which will see First Avenue East and the Market Square rebuilt during its first phase; negotiating an Agreement with the Tom Thomson Art Gallery that will allow it to seek incorporation, while protecting important cultural assets owned by the citizens of Owen Sound; completing a strategic planning process; restructuring city committees to allow staff to spend more time doing their jobs and less time in meetings; and undertaking a downtown revitalization study to build on recent successes in the core.

We've also been faced with serious challenges, many during our first year as a council: frozen water pipes across the city; a landslide during the 8th Street hill reconstruction; and a devastating night of arson which reduced many homes to ash. In all of these cases, city staff and residents responded in ways which showed clearly why Owen Sound is where I want to live.

I have always said that Owen Sound can be more than it is, and I truly believe that. During the next two years, I think council has the opportunity to continue laying the groundwork for success. As the chair of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, my personal goals include continuing the work we've done to create community partnerships; strengthening our profile as a cultural tourist destination; and attracting niche businesses to Owen Sound. I'd like to do everything possible to help Georgian College grow and to help our expanding health care industry to remain vibrant. I'd also like to see council develop a growth strategy, which would be a framework to develop a stronger, more vibrant Owen Sound.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my fellow councilors; we don't always agree on every issue, but we've been very effective in accepting those differences, while continuing to work together for the good of our city. Has everything been perfect? No. Will it ever be perfect? Not likely. But I think if we work together we can start to turn around the culture of negativity and despair which has held this community in place for so many years.




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