Saskatoon’s business community was the big winner at this year’s State of the City as the mayor’s speech focused on partnerships with businesses, downtown arenas and four-year budgets.
In his 30-minute annual speech about the current state and hopeful future of the of the city, Mayor Don Atchison centered on the need to work closely with local businesses and organizations to build the Saskatoon of tomorrow.
“I truly believe that the best government is less government,” Atchison said. “I believe partnerships will build a better future for our city.”
Chamber of Commerce director Kent Smith-Windsor said the mayor’s support is a boost of confidence from early talks about private public partnerships (P3).
“I think (partnerships) are one of the special sauce pieces of Saskatoon,” Smith-Windsor said.
He said in the early stages of P3, “prairie practical” methods, where groups of individuals and community organizations banded together to work with the city on a project, were forgotten. Such projects included the SaskTel Soccer Centre, Prairieland Park and SARCAN, he said.
“Those things where someone says ‘here’s what I can do, can the city help?’ has found a very comforting and open ear from the City of Saskatoon,” he said.
The mayor also called on council to implement four-year budget cycles.
“Our elections are every four years and shouldn’t council decide where it wants to be at the end of four years when they get started?” Atchison said.
The budgets would provide direction on key or long-term projects and visions, while adjustments to the mill rate and property taxes would still be done annually.
Smith-Windsor said changing to a four-year cycle would provide local businesses with greater stability.
“Having an understanding as to what that picture looks like can make the difference between someone moving forward on an expansion or wait.”
The mayor’s preference for four-year cycles matched his commitment to long-term “marathon” visions for the economy and community.
Despite some faltering industries such as information technologies who have smaller customer bases and increasing costs, Smith-Windsor said he believes the city’s economy is stronger than people think.
“We know that 50 years from now, Facebook might not be around, but people will need food and that really is our core strength.”
The mayor’s speech also highlighted Saskatoon’s growth including adding 90,000 residents over 15 years and a 70 per cent increase in GDP with 50,000 new jobs in the past decade.
He said a new downtown entertainment and sports arena and moving rail lines and yard out of the city are critical to maintaining growth as set out in the newly approved Growth Plan to Half a Million.
He renewed his commitment to community safety and the Saskatoon Police Service by stating crime has declined 40 per cent in the last 10 years. He also supported the controversial street check program which critics say unfairly target aboriginal communities.