In his second speech as mayor, Henry Braun reiterated numerous points made in his inaugural address at council on Monday.
At a sold-out Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, he reiterated the call to build a stronger community and bring all people together to ensure concerns and priorities of the city’s residents are reflected in the discussion and the decisions from council.
Braun said there are many issues to be addressed, including homelessness, property tax levels, escalating commercial vacancies, managing growth and development, developing efficient transit systems and more.
He cited the importance of the ongoing update of the official community plan, saying that right now the way the city makes planning and land use decisions is impacting infrastructure costs.
Braun said the city must plan for the future to make Abbotsford livable, affordable and walkable.
Developing a clear strategic plan and corresponding long-term financial plan for the city are priorities, he said.
Braun spoke of creating new systems for citizens to weigh in on the performance of the government as part of a plan to demonstrate accountability in government.
There is an opportunity for the new council to increase transparency, accountability and consistency in the application of bylaws.
He said the new council will spend less time behind closed doors, only holding in-camera meetings when necessary, and communicating the rationale behind decisions.
Braun added that the number of city committees will be reduced by more than half.
He said this will free up more time for council and city staff to work on priority initiatives and “do what they do best.”
In a short question and answer period, Braun was asked about the future of the Abbotsford Centre, which hosted the money-losing Abbotsford Heat hockey team for five years until the contract was severed in April. The city had to subsidize the hockey and entertainment centre, costing $3.86 million in 2012.
Braun said the city is working on the challenge, explaining that the key to turning the centre around is finding an anchor tenant. But he said the arena will not likely make money.
“For those who may think we are going to break even, I doubt that is going to happen.”
With the changes, the yearly subsidy paid by the city could be reduced from “$4 million-plus to maybe $1 million,” said Braun, adding that most arenas lose money and he wanted to be frank with the public about that.
Braun said he has optimism due to the quality entertainment coming to the centre. He observed that many performing acts were subsidized by the public, which has changed since the contract with the centre management company was renegotiated this fall.
The new city council consists of Couns. Les Barkman, Kelly Chahal, Sandy Blue, Brenda Falk, Moe Gill, Dave Loewen, Patricia Ross and Ross Siemens.
New to the council table are Chahal, Blue, Falk and Siemens.