The Rotary Club of Belleville was very pleased to welcome His Worship Mayor Neil Ellis to the lunch meeting on January 18th to share what's ahead for the City of Belleville and for an opportunity to hear what is in store for the community.  Mayor Ellis was introduced by Rotarian Dave Allen and touched on several topics of interest.
Housing and real estate is costing more than the average person can afford, in fact, it's taking about 50% of a person's income to provide shelter in some cases.  A month ago, a real estate agent shared that she had a rental property available for $2,400 and had 81 applications.  It is a priority for the government to get back into affordable housing.  Perhaps housing should be a fundamental right in Canada.
Twelve or thirteen years ago, the doctor recruitment program was started and 21 doctors were recruited in the first couple of years.  At that time there were 10,000 people without doctors.  Now, ten years later there are 15,000 people without doctors.  The Mayor intends to raise this at an upcoming Ministry of Health meeting.  Should more medical schools be opened up or more positions available at university for medical students and foreign doctors.  People need to be encouraged to go into the medical field.  As a City, we have spent over 4 million dollars on doctor recruitment.  Regardless of whether it is deemed a provincial issue, it really becomes a council issue.
It has been a challenge to get the 2024 budget below 5%.  The Mayor and Council would like to be lower, but in today's terms of inflation, the best that could be done was just under 5%.  Comparables are at 6.9% and 6.6%.  The City of Belleville did not take money out of reserves to meet their goal.
The area's population has expanded by approximately 7,000 people.  Belleville is the hub, people come to this area for work and that puts pressure on our services including emergency services.  The homeless situation also puts pressure on all services.  Growth is good but requires investment in human capital.  That includes increasing police resources where calls for service have increased between 20% to 25% over the last three years.  This year's budget includes the hiring of 8 new police officers.  It is hoped that Council will endorse during budget deliberations plus another 6 in the next year.  The priority is to have more than 6 officers on the road at any one time.  Urban boundary has moved so resources such as fire and police have to keep pace with that growth.  Drug overdoses have been as high as 90 in one week as well as 24 fire calls in a 24 hour period.  These demands taxes both police and fire in the City along with EMS.  It may come as a shock but all city buildings now have security and this costs over half a million dollars to provide and ensure building security is maintained throughout the City.
The City has been successful in new businesses opening up and people continuing to move here.  A focus is required on new housing and there is a Loyalist Secondary Property plan to build 9000 new housing units to meet the needs for the next 20 years of growth.  The City also needs to focus on serviceable industrial sites for the future.  Council is moving forward to ready industrial land over the next two years.  As well the Queen Mary site has been approved for affordable housing and a tender will be issued in the near future.  There are other issues such as Myers Pier that needs attention and the water treatment plant, both big projects.    There are three revenue streams for the City -- user fees, grants and taxes.  User fees are currently subsidized at 90% and the goal should be at 65% so a plan needs to be developed to raise user fees to a more acceptable level for use.  We have one of the best facilities in Eastern Ontario and although more capital costs are required, we offer a better product.
Rotarian Jennifer Savini thanked the Mayor, recognizing his time and effort that he and staff put in to the Rotary Mayors of the Week program.  The Mayor was thanked for his support of the Rotary Club of Belleville and the programs undertaken by the Club.