Mayor Bruce Banman made his annual address to the Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, assuring attendees that “the city is not broke.”
Banman said 2013 was a year of evolution at city hall, explaining that under the guidance of the new city manager, George Murray, the city underwent a core review to source efficiencies.
Banman said the work by city staff to streamline operations led to a budget with a proposed tax increase of 0.44 per cent overall, with no increase for city hall, and no impact on municipal services.
He said the goal of council in 2014 will be to focus on financial sustainability, with plans to pay off much of the city’s debt by 2016 and begin building financial reserves.
Banman said the biggest challenge he will face as mayor is finding a solution to the annual payments to the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and the Abbotsford Heat.
Rumours circulated in the spring that the Canuck farm team would come to Abbotsford, and Banman said people may wonder why the deal did not come to pass, but explained that “the last thing this council wants to do is entertain an offer than puts us in a worse financial position than we are in right now.”
The mayor also released the draft of the city’s economic development action plan, which the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Prosperity has been working on since the group was created in 2011. That document outlines initiatives that would help make Abbotsford a business-friendly and livable community, and will go to council for a vote on Dec. 9.
Banman also spoke of the city’s plans to review the Official Community Plan, focusing Abbotsford’s energy on building up instead of out and creating more livable communities.
Banman also said the city will focus on addressing key social issues in 2014, including homelessness.
He said that this year, the city came face-to-face with homelessness, and they plan to work with community partners and other levels of government. Banman said the city plans to look at root causes of homelessness instead of only addressing the symptoms.
Allan Asaph, executive director of the chamber, said the mayor stressed that this will require “respect, passion, and patience.”