February 7, 2019

Last month, the Ontario government announced details surrounding its review of regional municipalities across Ontario. Today, I met with the special advisors overseeing the review, Mr. Michael Fenn and Mr. Ken Seiling, to offer a Kitchener perspective.

As a region, we have a strong history of collaborating on priorities that are shared amongst our individual communities. Our instinct to collaborate across municipal boundaries has positioned the region as one of Ontario’s strongest economic engines, while also providing residents with high quality and affordable public services. I truly believe that our region’s model of governance is amongst the best of examples of two-tier government in Ontario.

I took the opportunity in my meeting to reiterate this message, and express my hope that in the coming years Kitchener and Waterloo region will become even more widely regarded for its global economic competitiveness, transportation connectivity, excellence in service delivery, taxpayer affordability and sense of community. The path forward requires Kitchener and Waterloo region to balance continued growth and world-class innovation, while maintaining a small town feel and promoting a caring community. Our shared history, respect for urban and rural priorities, and diverse communities of interest all provide insights on how this vision can be achieved.

I emphasized that Kitchener is open to exploring opportunities that would help to improve municipal service delivery; avoid duplication of activities; reduce costs; optimize infrastructure investments; and position the communities of Waterloo region to compete effectively on the global stage – now, and well into the future. These points are all fundamental to ensuring that we remain responsive and accountable to the needs of our community.

On the matter of cost savings, it is worth noting that Kitchener already systematically reviews its municipal services to eliminate waste and create value for its customers. This is why we are able to enhance services at tax rate increases below the rate of inflation and maintain a residential tax burden well below the average of other large cities. This is also reflected in the high levels of citizen satisfaction consistently identified through independent citizen surveys. But we do recognize that there is always room for improvement.

I underscored our willingness to work with the Region and other local municipalities to improve how services are delivered to the community, highlighting potential opportunities in the area of development approvals, by-law enforcement, road maintenance and road design for pedestrians and cyclists as examples. Carefully examining these, and other opportunities, could result in positive benefits for Kitchener residents, both in terms of cost and customer service.

Through this review, the province has also posed questions around municipal structure and, by extension, the sizes of our local and regional councils. If the province decides that reform in any of these areas needs to occur, I remain steadfast in my view that the province should clearly identify their desired end goal but not dictate the exact route for municipalities to get there. Kitchener, and all municipalities in Waterloo region, need to have ownership in that process to shape any future structures in a way that best serves the needs of our community.

It remains our understanding that the special advisors will conclude their review early this summer and make any recommendations to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing at that time. I have stated to them that it is my hope that today was the beginning of a dialogue that will include other key parties in our community as this process goes forward.  As I have stated previously, residents and businesses can be assured that while this review is underway Kitchener City Council and staff will maintain our positive momentum in support of building an innovative, caring and vibrant community.

Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor
City of Kitchener