While highlighting the hardships brought upon the City of Greater Sudbury as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Brian Bigger strived to strike a positive tone during today’s State of the City Address.
Hosted virtually by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce at noon, Bigger opened his sixth annual address by touching upon the ongoing realities of the pandemic.
These past several months have been “clouded with doubt, concern and many emotions,” he said.
“Who expected that in 2021 we would be still talking about COVID-19? Didn’t you think it was just a blip, temporary, a few weeks, a month, maybe two? First wave and now a fourth wave.”
The clearest path forward is for everyone to get vaccinated, he said, urging those who haven’t gotten the jabs to do so to help the city “get from that 85-per-cent to 90-per-cent vaccinated.”
Despite the COVID-related health measures hitting hard last year with a blunt force that shuttered many organizations, essential services continued at the City of Greater Sudbury.
Uncertain as to what financial assistance would come from senior levels of government, the city approached the pandemic with a break-even fiscal plan that proved successful.
This, despite “weathering through approximately $43 million in negative impacts on current city revenues and costs,” Bigger said.
Homelessness, addictions and mental health issues were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bigger noted that the city spent approximately $10 million in supports for people struggling with these issues last year, which was up from the $4.5 million they typically spend.
City council has also worked toward getting a safe consumption site in the city and are currently waiting on federal approvals and funding.
The city, he said, has been “doing whatever it took throughout COVID.”
Despite these challenges, Bigger listed numerous municipal activities undertaken since March 2020 as evidence the city has not only maintained service levels as best it could but also excelled in certain areas.
“It’s been a banner year for road surface improvements,” he said, citing the tendering of 29 capital contracts with a value of $68.9 million.
This, he later said, is a far cry from the $6 million spent on roads in 2001.
Not mentioned during his address was that local roads have degraded in recent years. Arterial roads had an average pavement condition index of 72.8 (very good) in 2007, and arterial and collector roads are now ranked an average of 53 (fair). A recent report to council noted that if the city continues its current rate of road investments they will continue to degrade.
In total, city assets require an additional investment of $100 million per year to retain their current condition.
During his address’s question and answer period, Bigger said poor road conditions are “something that’s been inherited” and that the current 80-year cycle of rehabilitation for local roads is “completely not acceptable.”
“The only solutions, really at this point in time, are we need more funding from the federal and provincial levels of government.”
During his prepared remarks, however, Bigger pointed to sunny ways, with building permits on the rise and the city working to accommodate growth.
This includes the development of a “one-stop-shop” at the main floor of Tom Davies Square, which is currently under construction, and the Hit Refresh in Greater Sudbury effort to attract working professionals to the city, which has an initial focus on the Greater Toronto Area.
More than 70,000 trees and shrubs were planted this year by the city’s regreening crew and the Junction East project, which will include a modern art gallery, library and multicultural centre is moving forward, is proceeding with a call-out for public input expected in the near future.
“We’re making investments -- smart investments on your behalf,” he said. “Let’s acknowledge Sudbury is much more than sometimes we think we are, and certainly more than many people outside imagine.
“Home to over 160,000, we have a diverse population and a vibrant and thriving economy. We have lots to celebrate. I am proud to call Greater Sudbury home. I am sure you are also.”
During the question and answer period that followed his remarks, Bigger said he was unable to commit to a tax increase on par with the rate of inflation due to this requiring a decision of council and the fact there are numerous outside factors at play.
Asked about the status of the Kingsway Entertainment District project, he stated that city council made its decision in 2017 and has reaffirmed its decision since.
“We’re moving forward with the construction of the events centre, and I think many, many people are looking forward to the construction of the events centre,” he said.
Although Bigger said the project has “successfully … endured a number of appeals and legal challenges,” there was no mention of ongoing legal action against the project initiated by the Minnow Lake Restoration Group.
There was also no mention of Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier’s recent allegation he was offered a bribe to vote for the KED in 2017 or the fact that although the project still appears to have council’s vote, they’re still very much divided on the project.
While Bigger commended the “cohesive team” of council and city staff during his remarks, there was no mention of recent code of conduct reprimands filed against Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan and Montpellier. City council’s Sept. 14 meeting saw voices raised, members talked over and the prospect of additional code of conduct complaints being filed. During the meeting, Bigger accused Montpellier of “a bit of mischief” in promoting a Facebook post highlighting his bribery claim, and Kirwan accused Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti of being the person who filed a complaint against him, which Signoretti denied.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.