Niagara’s resilience paying dividends, Bradley says in state of the region address

Niagara’s resilience paying dividends, Bradley says in state of the region address

Source: The Standard

Niagara will continue to rely on its resilience, creativity and compassion to navigate the road ahead and emerge stronger, Jim Bradley said in delivering his state of the region address Wednesday.

“In many ways, 2024 is a pivotal moment for all of us,” Bradley said as he delivered his sixth state address backed by a lengthy list of facts and figures.

“We would do well to remember that our decisions today will shape the Niagara of tomorrow. Let us choose wisely, let us act boldly, and let us do so with the knowledge that our best days are yet to come.

“Together, we can make Niagara a model of progress, the standard bearer for collaboration and a testament to the power of community.”

Bradley began his address by looking at Niagara’s economy and a surge in investment across all 12 lower-tier municipalities.

“Last year, we saw investment in building construction continue its robust performance, totalling over $2.8 billion,” he said before a packed house of more than 400 community leaders at JM’s Banquet & Event Centre in Thorold.

“In 2023, one in every five dollars spent on construction was invested in non-residential development, representing a positive trend for Niagara.”

Bradley said the region continues to post impressive numbers in international trade in 2023, with exports exceeding $8.2 billion, resulting in a net gain of over $5 billion to our economy.

In addition, he said the employment landscape remained strong last year, with a low unemployment rate of 5.8 per cent and a record 222,000 people employed.

Bradley said tourism spending rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, totalling $2.1 billion in visitor expenditures for the entire year.

Bradley singled out Niagara’s agricultural sector as a powerhouse. Farms and greenhouses generate more than $1.7 billion for the economy and employ more than 7,800 people directly and 24,000 across the value chain. The agricultural sector’s GDP grew by 21 per cent from 2016 to 2021, outpacing Niagara’s total GDP growth of 18 per cent.

Bradley said Niagara Region, working with the local municipalities, helped attract and retain more than 20 industrial investments in the past two years, which generated $500 million in capital investment and created 1,200 jobs.

“Yes, there are challenges, but almost every community across the country shares those with us,” Bradley said. “I believe that Niagara has once again demonstrated its resiliency in building itself back after the economic impacts of COVID and its tenacity in coping with the significant global economic slowdown.”

Bradley also tackled the Region’s budget, recognizing many people had concerns about the 7.02 per cent property tax increase on its portion of the tax bill.

The Region’s corporate budget is under the inflation rate of about 3.3 per cent and includes adjustments for the province’s Bill 23, which was responsible for 25 per cent of the regional increase.

“As chair, I can share that the last two budgets have been remarkably challenging,” Bradley said. “While the increases were necessary, they were also larger than any of us wanted.

“Put simply, property taxes were┬ánever designed to cover the costs of complex issues like mental health, social housing, hospital development, Ontario Works, asylum seekers or climate change,” Bradley said. “Despite the limitations of property taxes, the Region is continually being called on to respond to these issues.

“While there is some funding from senior levels of government for these challenges, and we are grateful for these contributions, it is often insufficient, and many programs have been frozen for several years or do not reflect the true cost of inflation, putting further strain on our budget.”

Bradley said in his address a year ago he was committed to expanding shared services and streamlining their delivery to better use public resources across the Region and all 12 local communities. The commitment included a team of Region staff dedicated to identifying, co-ordinating, facilitating and enabling more shared service opportunities.

“It is no secret that this provincial government has been clear about their objectives to make government effective and efficient and to increase the housing supply,” Bradley said. “To this end, I am pleased to share that the first major initiative identified by Niagara’s 12 local communities for exploration was an opportunity to streamline and consolidate municipal building services across the region.

“Once completed, this initiative will reduce the time it takes to get building permits approved and expedite shovels getting into the ground.”

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