By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina thinks the city needs to have more referendums so the public can have a grater voice in council’s decision making process.
“I think referendums are good,” said Bratina, speaking to about 80 people at the Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce during his third State of the City address at the Grand Olympia. “In some ways we still operate with a 1990s model when we provide information to our constituents. (We will) look at how to provide a more open form of government, one that uses technology to better engage its citizens.”
Bratina backs a proposed motion by Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, scheduled to be discussed at the Feb. 6 general issues committee, for the city to hold a referendum on a casino during the 2014 municipal election.
But the mayor also called on council to approve a referendum to allow a one per cent tax be added to the local provincial retail sales tax, which would be spent on infrastructure upgrades, particularly in preparation for the light-rail transit system. He estimated the levy could raise about $100 million.
“The new one per cent levy would be collected within the city, and spent within the city,” he said. “If we are applying referenda to outside investments coming into the city (casino), similarly with the scope of infrastructure spending that will be required for LRT and fixing our old pipes, maybe the public should be involved in determining if we collect money in Hamilton, (and) how that money is spent.”
It is estimated that a referendum could cost about $1 million if placed on the 2014 municipal ballot.
During his 30-minute speech, which included taking questions from the media, Bratina touched on a range of issues from the recently firings of city employees, the scandal over hiring an Ottawa-based public relations firm to handle the city’s new citizen engagement process, to a new casino for Hamilton, and promoting Stoney Creek businesses. He made a point of telling the Stoney Creek crowd he was wearing a hand-crafted suit from Stoney Creek Tailors, which he paid for himself.
He touted the city’s 5.9 per cent unemployment rate, the lowest among major Ontario cities. And Hamilton continues to see redevelopment projects occurring within the downtown from the soon-to-be open condominium buildings at Bay and King streets, to McMaster University’s Health Campus on Main Street, to a grocery store in Jackson Square, the first one to locate in the core in years.
But Hamilton’s “renaissance” continues throughout the city, he said, including Stoney Creek, where there is a diverse number of industries operating along Arvin Avenue, the South Service Road, and Seaman Street.
“When people talk about the steel industry inHamilton they sometimes think that the much lower number of employees they see at ArcelorMittal Dofasco and at U.S. Steel are a sign of the steel industry in decline,” he said. “But a lot of those jobs have simply moved east toStoney Creek and elsewhere.”
Hamilton’s economy is becoming more diversified, he pointed out, with the city ranked as the top investment metro inCanadaby the Atlanta, Georgia-based Site Selection Magazine. In addition, the Real Estate Investment of Calgary ranked Hamilton as the best place to invest in the province for the second year in a row.
“The 21st century belongs to Hamilton,” said Bratina. “It was a century ago thatHamilton became the Ambitious City with its focus on steel and manufacturing. Now a 100 years later Hamilton is home to one of the most diverse economies inCanada.”