When council hopefuls were door knocking back in October, you may have told them what issues are most important to you as a Barrie resident.
On Saturday at city hall, the elected Barrie councillors had the opportunity to bring those resident ideas to the table to duke it out over what council’s priorities will be over the next four years.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do this session right after inauguration while the campaign trail is still fresh in our minds, is because you just went through that exercise of going to everyone’s door and hearing from them first-hand how they would like their neighbourhood or services or city to be,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman to all council members in attendance.
“I think this will help us build a better community that is more oriented to our residents.”
Lehman conceded that the exercise may be tedious, but important.
“We’re in the business of being aspirational about our community,” he said.
The day kicked off with a short presentation by CAO Michael Prowse, outlining ongoing projects within the city. Listed as items that are a work in progress were the Barrie-Simcoe Emergency Services Campus, the Allandale Station land (a report is planned to come to council on this issue by summer 2019), the Terminal Market, Fisher Auditorium, the Harvie/Big Bay Point Road crossing and Building Barrie/the city’s Official Plan.
“Our finances will be tight, for the next three years, for sure,” said Prowse.
Prowse said that 210,000 people will call Barrie home by 2031, 253,000 by 2041, so it’s important to be prepared.
“What we’re looking for from you today is a visioning exercise,” said Prowse.
Council members sat with key city staff throughout the day, discussing several issues they heard while campaigning including affordable housing, the opioid crisis, community safety, road safety, innovation, and customer service.
By the end of the day, council and staff managed to boil down all the issues into five key overarching priorities, which will further be broken down in a staff report that will come to council for approval in the new year.
The five key priorities agreed upon at the planning session were: growing our economy, fostering a safe and healthy city, building strong neighbourhoods, offering innovative and citizen driven services and improving the ability to get around Barrie.
After the session in an interview with BarrieToday, Lehman said he has seen a shift in priorities when he compares the strategic planning session this time around over the session four years ago, or eight years ago.
“In the consistent category, I would say council is continuing to focus on jobs, we want this to be a community where there’s places to work, not a bedroom community, and that those are good and stable jobs. We heard a lot of discussion around that today,” he said.
Lehman notes a shift in economic priorities.
“It’s about helping companies that are here to expand... and doing more to help them grow rather than just trying to chase inbound investment. We do that too.”
Social issues have also changed, says Lehman.
“Certainly the opioid crisis is relatively new, compared to previous council four or eight years ago,” he said. “Homelessness, I think, has become more pronounced, and the community has grown a lot too. We’re in a society where the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer, and unfortunately I think that has meant more people are out on the street. In Barrie, prices of houses have doubled since the last time we did one of these sessions.”
One of the bigger shifts Lehman has noted is attention to technology.
“Technology was nowhere to be found in strategic priorities even five years ago. We were really late to adopt some of the online services, mobile technology and automation,” said Lehman. “Now, we want to be leaders in that. So, it’s definitely different than when I started.”
Staff will now work on developing actions plans for each strategic direction and will report back to General Committee in January or February.