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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Secret of Our Success and other topics.....

Recently The Hamiltonian checked in with City Manager Chris Murray on a number of issues. Enjoy our Q/A with Chris:


In an article in the Hamilton Spectator dated October 27, 2015, you cited signs like being on track to sell building permits for $1 billion worth of construction for this year; a red-hot housing market that's outperforming those in Toronto and Vancouver, falling office and factory vacancy rates and an empty waiting list for assisted child care space, as indicators of Hamilton’s success. How much of that success would you attribute to natural market or economic influences as opposed to engineered and deliberate strategy at the municipal level? Can you explain your ratios as they pertain to the factors listed above?

In terms of the how building permits work; building permits are not sold; they are issued when the company/investor, etc. has completed the development process including all the requested studies and addressed the conditions applied by Planning, Growth Management, Building, Public Works, etc.

Success attributed to natural market or economic influences: 


Hamilton’s success is a prime example of the old adage: “ a rising tide – lifts all boats”
The City of Hamilton has a number of effective strategies/Action plans already in place. From Economic Development to Urban Renewal to Housing to transportation infrastructure.

The growth statistics (i.e. permits, land sales, housing sales, etc.) are a measure of the interest in Hamilton from both a residential and non-residential perspective. Hamilton also has the most diversified economy in Canada ranking 0.95 out of 1.0 resulting in in-migration from the GTA, and business investment and relocation to Hamilton. 

In comparison to neighbouring municipalities Hamilton has a more affordable land supply available for development; a significantly lower cost of Development Charges compared to the GTA; superior and uncongested transportation system; and the presence of a world class university (McMaster #90 worldwide) and one of the most progressive Community Colleges in the Province (namely Mohawk College of Applied Arts & Technology).


Building permits is often cited as a measure of success and growth and there is no doubt that it
is a valid indicator. Can you speak about how the granting of building permits fits into city shaping from a planning perspective, and how and if building permits are matched against a vision for the city. If there are limits to this type of matching, can you describe those? To the extent that city building permits can be rationalized into planning efforts, how does that unfold?

The City of Hamilton is on a growth mission – projecting a population of 780,000 people and 350,000 jobs by 2041. The City and the Economic Development division is also on a mission to grow the non-residential tax assessment base. The granting of building permits, particularly in the ICI (Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional) sector, all contribute to meeting the ambitious intensification targets that have been set. 

How the granting of building permits fits into City shaping - the answer is simple without a building permit you simply cannot build, renovate, etc. Building permits and the records we are setting are but one indicator into the success of a healthy building and planning regime and a market that is growing and managing well. We have enjoyed residential, commercial and institutional growth across the community and this has led to record breaking growth. We are also looking to ensure that growth isn’t just in one sector but in all sectors. We are also opening up our industrial parks and availability of shovel ready land to ensure there is an adequate supply and we can therefore continue to stimulate our economy. 

In regards to “matching” – the “matching” the City is concerned with as you describe is - does the developer demonstrate compliance with the Official Plan, zoning by-laws, Building requirements and inspections, licensing By-laws, future infrastructure growth to name the key ones. Our focus is balanced growth. It is both growth and development in the downtowns and suburban areas of our community. It is residential and commercial. I have stated we must focus on those developments that bring in taxes, so my preference is to grow the non-residential and commercial sectors.
Our strategic plan commits to a healthy and prosperous community – this priority area is directly linked to ensuring jobs are available and the community benefits of those jobs are realized.
As an aside, this is one thing we are also focused on as it relates to the LRT project as well. For example, with such large amounts of capital dollars being spent, can we/and how do we utilize building and construction to train and provide both jobs and job experience.


For those who may not followed the recent developments on LRT, what are the next steps and what time horizons are attached to those next steps.

***The recent Metrolinx Presentation can be seen by clicking here, and will provide  an update.

I will however say, this is more than laying track, this is about city building, it is about economic development and ensuring growth and development along the corridor. I think it is also important to not forget about the GO investments and the importance of that Regional connectivity.


Surely U.S. Steel, formerly Stelco has always been and continues to be a major player in Hamilton’s economy (albeit recognizing that it is no longer a powerhouse it once was). Nonetheless, its stature remains significant and is further underscored now by the ability of its directions to adversely and significantly affect the plights of pensioners and Hamilton’s economy. What efforts have been made over the years by Hamilton to meet with U.S. Steel to be in tune with their state of affairs and directions? Given the scale of their presence in our city, were efforts made to meet periodically and understand their direction, or did their direction come as a surprise? If efforts were not made to meet, why is that? If efforts were made, what were the results of those meetings? On the same topic, what efforts were made to meet with other levels of government to manage this situation and when did these occur?

Surely U.S. Steel, formerly Stelco has always been and continues to be a major player in Hamilton’s economy (albeit recognizing that it is no longer a powerhouse it once was). In the 1970’s STELCO Hamilton employed 25,000 people Today, USSC Hamilton employs 1,743 people (as of Feb 5, 2015)

Nonetheless, its stature remains significant and is further underscored now by the ability of its directions to adversely and significantly affect the plights of pensioners and Hamilton’s economy.
City of Hamilton staff (and in particular Economic Development Division) undertook an unprecedented 46-page economic impact analysis of the USSC closure on Hamilton, pensioners, etc.

Findings of the Economic Impact Study Report (using information as of December 31, 2013)
Hamilton Bargaining Plan (Local 1005) members represent over 65% of the total 14,338 USSC pension plan members (as of December 31, 2013), and have the lowest annual average pensions ($16,355); 

The four pension plans provide USSC pensioners with over $231 million in total pension income annually; 

Over 7,000 USSC pensioners from all four USSC pension plans reside in the City of Hamilton, representing over 60% of the identified USSC pensioners: 

The impact of adjusting the annual forecast for all 7,050 pensioners to factor in the unfunded pension liabilities of the four pension plans is estimated to be total decrease of $28.2 million annually;
If the distribution of the 11,699 identified pensioners is representative of the total population of USSC pensioners, then the City of Hamilton could be the city of residence for over 8,600 pensioners;
Approximately 1.4% (1 in 72) of Hamilton’s total population are known USSC pensioners;
Approximately 6.3% (1 in 16) of Hamilton’s population of 60+ years old are known USSC pensioners;
Over 70% of USSC pensioners with Hamilton addresses are associated with a detached single family home;
Those 5,043 USSC pensioners represent 4% of all single detached homes in Hamilton (1 in 25 homes);
The dwellings associated with known USSC pensioners in Hamilton provide the City with approximately $24 million in property tax annually.
There are 127 companies with business addresses in the City of Hamilton, and were collectively owed a total of $22.3 million (28.3% of the $78.8 million based on the date of the initial 2014 CCAA filing);

What efforts have been made over the years by Hamilton to meet with U.S. Steel to be in tune with their state of affairs and directions? All decisions related to USSC Hamilton are made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (the location of USSC Headquarters). Their “directions“are not shared with us.
The City of Hamilton Steel Committee met on the following dates over the last two years:
Jan 14, 2014; Mar 7, 2014; June 27, 2014; July 10, 2014 and Feb 5, 2015;
An invitation to these meetings was extended to all stakeholders, unions and industry representatives. Trevor Harris, the US Steel rep, was not in attendance at any meetings. Nor did US Steel submit any written information for the Steel Committee to consider. 

According to the City of Hamilton’s, Economic Development Division’s Contact Resource Management data-base. The Economic Development Division between 2009 and 2015 had 139 contacts with 5 company representatives from US Steel Hamilton. These include Real Estate related enquiries; Real estate Broadcast lists (companies looking for space); Mass emails to US Steel Hamilton;

Given the scale of their presence in our city, were efforts made to meet periodically and understand their direction, or did their direction come as a surprise? If efforts were not made to meet, why is that? If efforts were made, what were the results of those meetings? The Director of Economic Development, personally had 3 meetings with USSC Hamilton in the last 4 years
The City of Hamilton (Planning, Public Works, Economic Development) played a major role in the attraction of Germany based Max Aicher to Hamilton and their subsequent acquisition of two USSC decommissioned mills. City involvement was extensive with regards to the complex land severance.

On the same topic, what efforts were made to meet with other levels of government to manage this situation and when did these occur?

Outcomes of the Report

- The report assembled the main pensioner groups (USW Local 1005, USW Local 8782 and the SSPO) and provided visibility into their information

- The report was shared with the former Federal Minister of Industry (Jason Kenney) and used to justify a meeting with the Minister where the City and other key stakeholders could discuss issues raised by the findings of the report;

- Both the City of Hamilton and the various USSC employee groups had been unsuccessful in establishing direct contact with the Minister on this file for over five years, and the City of Hamilton report was the catalyst for this connection

- The report was shared with the Province of Ontario and was used to obtain a direct connection to key decision makers in the Ministry of Finance, the Ontario Finance Authority and those directly responsible for the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund (PBGF);

- The report assisted City Legal and other parties eg. USW and Non-Union Employees and Retirees in there motion to have settlement agreement between Feds and USSC released;

- The expertise gained by a project team member on the US Steel Canada file justified that individual submitting an affidavit for inclusion in the USSC CCAA process, which entered both a city Information Report and the US Steel Canada Economic Impact Study into the CCAA proceedings

- The report assisted our Legal staff in establishing and maintaining it was a stakeholder in the CCAA proceedings;

- The City was commended by board members of the Canadian Federation of Pensioners for its efforts in completing the US Steel Canada Economic Impact Study and taking a proactive and leading role in advocating for the fair treatment of local workers, pensioners and suppliers (as this level of activity by a municipality had not been experienced before);

- The report provided the catalyst for the working relationship formed between the City of Hamilton and McMaster University’s Department of Economics, a relationship that did not exist formally prior to this exercise;

- The report received a significant amount of positive feedback from local and national media, and provided a significant amount of support to Hamilton based USSC employees and pensioners;


Lastly, because the people working at city hall are important resources to be valued and respected, what progress has been made on the culture in light of a previous survey that revealed major cultural and ethical problems to be dealt with. 

We are an organization that is well respected beyond our borders but we need to continue to support staff so that the can get better and look at our systems and how we do business, deliver our services to the community at large. There are many initiatives occurring and resources available at the City which are meant to engage our employees Our People are being supported in both their careers and their jobs

Examples of initiatives at City Hall - these are only a few examples of many.

Denison Survey – staff in all departments have been surveyed to establish a benchmark to measure against and the management teams are developing work plans to improve culture in each of their respective areas. They may focus on a key area like sensational service, collective ownership, etc.

All frontline supervisors and above have gone through a special leadership training program called the Cutting Edge of Leadership. They’re learning about change management techniques and other leadership qualities.

Outreach activities for staff such as Habitat for Humanity, Sport Hamilton Corporate Challenge and Hamilton Victory Gardens;

We have a culture action team comprised of staff from all levels who have already supported the annual Employee Recognition Event as well as hosting a kick-off event with guest speaker Bill Carr, and will be planning the upcoming Canada Health Day

PEDTalks, PEDRides and PEDEats

PED News Digest to keep staff informed on news on the department

HYP – The City of Hamilton’s Young Professionals Group – a new internal group completed an application and nominated the organization for Canada’s Top 100 Employer and Hamilton-Niagara Top 10 Employers – results expected this Friday. The city cleared the Top 300 Category and is being considered among few municipalities for this recognition. 

The Hamiltonian thanks Chris for responding to these questions. Our readers' thoughts are welcome. 

4 comments:

  1. Good effort, the most probing insightful and timely line of questioning I have seen presented to the City Manager.I believe Mr.Murray is an excellent employee and a solid resource for our community. Keep your eye on the ball. Thank-you Chris

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    1. I agree with you Jim. Teresa et el. I am glad to see you are back and asking important and intelligent questions. I am tired of "what's your favourite"color level of articles in other places. I still beleive TH should be its own paper or publish more broadly. Hamilton needs intelligent conversation and continued media oversight of our politicians and city. The questions you ask are always insighful and fair. Great work on this article. I will have more to say once I have had a chance to think about these.
      Sorce

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  2. Q1. Fair answer. Funny how noone admits that success is part of a bigger picture that they may not have a lot to do wioth, until asked.

    Q2. The City of Hamilton is on a growth mission – projecting a population of 780,000 people and 350,000 jobs by 2041.- the question question is "why is that?". Why is it that a city has to over develop, over populate and over reach? The obsessioon on commercial growth ios reflective of the fact that the city has an insatiable appetite for new tax revenues. I support this in order to balance the ratio of residential vs commercial (which is too high and unfair to residents), but not to comntinue to accumnulate tax dollars so that it can simply spend.

    3. I appreciate ther answer to the LRT questiuon. Useful update.

    4.So this study was done sometime after 2013. That seems to be much too late to do anythign proactive. I also think the impact is well imagined. Otherwise, why would the question even be asked? I also think this question is being made light of or maybe it was truly not uinderstood. I don't think anyone would expect that a company reveal sensitive information to anypone who is not in its inner circles. But the questions asks about direction- which is a fair question of a city to ask a major player in its economy. I thin k the city ducked the real question here, with impacts studies and late meetings with the palyers involved. Meeting in 2014 and 2015 are way too late to have influenced anything. this proves to me that those who should have been meeting with this company in advance of the dratic direction they went in, were not paying attention top the need to do so. So, noone should linme up and try to empathize with the pensioners and employees, when they could have done more and earlier.

    As mentioned, great exchange. Very worthwhile reading!
    Sorce

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    1. I have no comment on the last question as I do not work within the city and can't comment.
      Sorce

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