Mayor Easton's State of the Town Address 2021

Mayor Easton's State of the Town Address 2021


LOCATION: SUNRISE GREENHOUSES

It has been a challenging year for all of us. But, the one thing that allows me to continue to move forward and more so, what inspires me, is the creativity, resourcefulness and resilience of Town staff, councillors, residents and business owners.

Today, I want to deliver a message of hope as we look ahead to brighter days.

I would like to share with you some of the steps Council is taking to make Lincoln the best community in Niagara to grow, prosper and belong. Council has developed a set of priorities through a strategic plan for a Future Ready Lincoln. We are working closely with staff to achieve our goals.

To be a future ready, complete community, we champion smart growth principles that include a varied housing supply with affordable housing, single family homes and rental options; affordable and accessible transit; exceptional gathering spaces that foster a sense of community; and jobs that ensure our residents can support their families and enjoy an excellent quality of life.

In preparing for the future, we are also working to become a leader in digital service delivery by providing convenient digital services for residents and businesses, including self-serve options and opportunities for engagement with the Town. This is how we become and show efficiency. We are also giving Town staff modern tools to simplify processes, help reduce red tape and improve collaboration and efficiency. Our Digital Main Street program helps downtown business owners adapt to this digital future and enables them to enhance their online presence. Economic Development staff are also continuing to work to attract investment into high-speed, broadband internet across the Town, an important part of being able to sustain economic activity across all sectors.

And we are not just getting ready for the future. We are already seeing the fruits of several years of hard work and innovative ideas. Despite a challenging year, construction value in 2020 passed the $100-million mark in Lincoln. Since 2016, we have experienced tremendous growth in private sector investment and this is expected to continue, with additional commercial, industrial and residential projects lined up and ready to go. This is good news and a sign of even better things to come. What this means is that people and business continue to invest in our community. This is a good sign for the challenges we face as a region and province.

While the pandemic slowed overall private sector investment across the region and the province, the Town has seen a significant increase in construction value and permits over the past decade. Town staff are projecting that 2021 will continue to see a healthy level of investment into our community. We will foster balanced growth of residential, commercial and industrial development to ensure Lincoln remains a great place to live, work and invest.

Lincoln will also continue to promote an Open for Business message. Our council priorities include partnering with private sector businesses and industry associations to advocate for skilled trade labour to address workforce gaps and continuing outreach to attract local investment and business development opportunities. We are working to expedite the development process and complete new zoning bylaws to support purposeful and diversified economic growth across Lincoln.

And we never forget our existing and longstanding local businesses, working to ensure responsiveness so that we can do our utmost to help you succeed. A structured business retention and expansion program will help create jobs to grow existing businesses.

When speaking about fostering growth and prosperity, we never forget the agriculture sector, which is the backbone of our community and our economy.

I am here at Sunrise Greenhouses, which was founded by Robert and Francis Bierhuizen in 1982. The family-run business has 250,000 square feet of growing space, featuring exclusive hand-picked plants from around the world. Sunrise uses the latest in automation technology to improve efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint.

To support businesses like Sunrise Greenhouses, we will continue to strengthen Lincoln’s position as a Centre of Excellence For Agriculture and location of choice for talent, investment and innovation. We will foster opportunities to drive economic diversity through value-added agriculture and support agricultural advances through expanded programs with the Brock Lincoln Living Lab, Spark Lincoln, Civiconnect, Vineland Research and Innovation, Niagara College and industry associations.

The Town of Lincoln will drive economic opportunities through innovation and responsible investment, evident in Town Hall organizing Ontario’s first ever AgriTech Hackathon right here in Lincoln.  It is with that mindset, and our roots in agricultural excellence, that we are inspired by a creative spirit that embraces the future. There is much work left to do and I look forward to continuing that work over the next number of years.

LOCATION: ROTARY PARK PUMP TRACK

We are also building for the future. I am here at the Rotary Park skatepark and pump track, which opened in October 2020. It is the first phase of the 3.6-acre Rotary Park project, which will also include pathways, shaded areas, a butterfly garden and play and fitness equipment. This project, which was made possible through funding from the Town, the Rotary Club of Lincoln and private donations, is an example of how we can work through difficult times, maintain services and keep infrastructure improvements going throughout the pandemic. It’s a symbol of our resilience.

In fact, I am constantly amazed by the resilience of our Town, residents, and business owners. I am especially impressed by our service clubs and non-profit organizations, who have stepped up during what has been a difficult time for them in order to help those most in need in our community. Gillian’s Place has continued to serve women and their children fleeing abuse by providing support and services, as well as shelter, while adhering to strict COVID-19 safety protocols. Pathstone Mental Health continues to deliver free mental health support to children, youth and families---a mission that has become even more urgent over this past year. Village of Hope is providing nutritious food, household goods and mental health and social support to those in need.

And I am inspired by the resourcefulness and leadership of our young people, who have faced so many difficulties during this pandemic. Civiconnect, a youth-led non-profit organization based in Lincoln, is conducting a survey regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on youth in the community. Results will be used to amplify youth voices and bring youth issues to the attention of policymakers. These young people are our future leaders and youth-led initiatives like this, show that we will be in good hands.

Local organizations have also been creative in finding ways to continue to hold socially distanced or virtual events to bring the community together. As for the Town of Lincoln, we continued our tradition of a holiday tree lighting ceremony and marked our 50th anniversary with modified celebrations, including recognizing some of our outstanding citizens through our 50 Faces project. 

The pandemic has hit many of our businesses hard. Many of the Town’s plans outlined in the Economic Development Strategy & Action Plan were put on hold and replaced with short-term activities to better serve our business community. But today, economic recovery is top of mind. Estimates show that the Lincoln and greater Niagara economies are expected to recover to pre-COVID levels beginning this year and growing into 2023.

The Lincoln Taskforce to Recover and Rebuild continues to research the economic impact that COVID-19 is having on the business community, advocate for economic support for local businesses and connect with the private sector and industry groups to develop long-term recovery plans.

Early in the pandemic, the Town partnered with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, Beamsville BIA, Twenty Valley Tourism Association and Ontario Craft Wineries to launch ShopLincoln.ca. The website provides a simple, direct link to local restaurants and businesses and showcases all that we have to offer.

While ShopLincoln.ca was intended to help consumers make safe, informed decisions without leaving their home, we adapted to a tourism focus to help increase traffic to our tourism-related businesses and craft beverage industry. By adding travel blogs, advertorial videos and strategic paid advertising, staff created consumer lead generation for local businesses and raised awareness of Lincoln as a destination.

The initiative was actually named a finalist for the 2020 Awards of Excellence through the Economic Developers Council of Ontario, which highlights distinctive ideas and initiatives that can become best practices in economic development.

More recently, the Town of Lincoln waived fees on applications for seasonal tent permits and patio extensions for restaurants, bars and wineries. We saw where help was needed, and we immediately responded. We are also expediting the approval process to make it easier for those in the hospitality industry to boost business while adhering to COVID-19 public health measures. This is how we are aligning the staff we have to the needs of the community.

We understand the toll the pandemic has taken on the local tourism and hospitality sector and we want to do everything we can to help businesses recover and prosper. You can do your part by shopping local and supporting small independents.

LOCATION: RAINBOW BENCH

One of Council’s other key priorities is to be an inclusive and welcoming community. The recent installation of rainbow benches at four locations across the Town is an important symbol of diversity and inclusion in Lincoln. This idea was generated and nurtured when we were looking at a local teacher, after which our newest park, Prokich Park was named after. She was, and her legacy will be promoting a town and ensuring her town is one that is open to and accepts differences. It also represents the interconnectedness of our community and the value of working together.

The Town of Lincoln strives to create a welcoming environment that is open to fresh ideas and new perspectives, where residents and businesses participate fully in social, cultural and economic life. We will accomplish this by promoting diversity and inclusion of residents and newcomers through public services and facilitating citizen connections through inclusive public spaces that are universally accessible. We foster greater understanding on matters of diversity, inclusivity and equity through the development of advisory committees and community partnerships and enhance accessible and affordable transit opportunities in collaboration with Niagara Region and the Province of Ontario.

An important part of ensuring residents and business owners feel they belong is increasing the level of communication and engagement with the Town. This is why we developed a new digital communication and engagement platform called Speak Up Lincoln. We have invested in communications as it was this council and the past council that heard loud and clear residents wanted a voice.

SpeakUpLincoln.ca provides a place where community members can get updates and provide input on important Town of Lincoln projects and initiatives, at a time and place that is convenient for them. Community members can learn about, track and review Town projects and issues that are important to them. They are invited to share feedback on specific projects and identify what they would like to learn more about. Be sure to check it out and have your say. We want to hear from you!

LOCATION: CHARLES DALEY PARK

We see every day how much the world is changing, including a growing population, a climate crisis and an accelerated shift to digital. To strengthen our community’s response and adaptation to this wide array of changes, the Town of Lincoln is committed to expanding and using our resources to create a more sustainable future. Our community-driven approach and progressive public policies are foundational to achieving our shared vision for Lincoln.

This includes financial sustainability. We will address this by developing an Asset Management Plan for long-term planning of projects and infrastructure to better understand what resources we need to support growth. A financial sustainability plan, including financial forecasting will help ensure the viability of the future tax base. We are also investing in our people, they remain our strength and together with our staff we are working to enrich all sectors of our community.

We are well on our way to this goal. Town Council approved the 2021 Budget with an overall increase of 1.9% on the Town’s portion of the tax rate. This is broken down as an increase of 0% on the capital side, 0.9% in the operating budget and 1% money in the bank dedicated to the special infrastructure levy, at a blended rate of 1.75% on the tax bill. This budget is a sound fiscal plan that invests in our infrastructure, programs and services, while maintaining a low tax rate for the community.

The other day, our CAO shared some data that highlighted a staggering $16 million dollars has been applied for and secured for projects and investments in our community, over the past few years.  That is money we were never successful in securing before. This money goes towards roads, facilities, museums, and programs.  We can not talk financial sustainability without highlighting the immense success we have had in finding and securing money from upper levels of government.

In addition to financial sustainability, we are focusing on environmental sustainability. As a member of the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Cities Initiative, this issue is close to my heart. The initiative brings together mayors whose towns and economies rely on the Great Lakes water. We work with federal, state, and provincial governments to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes ecosystem through development and implementation of a protection and restoration plan.

In Lincoln, we are so fortunate to have the picturesque Lake Ontario shoreline and the magnificent Niagara Escarpment, as well as conservation areas and scenic walking and biking trails. Charles Daley Park features two beautiful beach fronts and two inlets of the Fifteen- and Sixteen-Mile Creeks for canoeing, paddling, and fishing. It is up to us to protect these natural treasures through environmental stewardship and smart growth.

The Town of Lincoln will continue to build public awareness and understanding of our shared responsibility to conserve and protect the environment. Our 2021 Budget included a shoreline protection study to address planning, management, and protection. We will also develop urban forestry guidelines and strengthen tree protection and planting requirements. By growing the urban tree canopy, we can improve air quality and remove carbon from the atmosphere. I encourage you to plant trees as well--those that are indigenous to Ontario.

Our natural environment is about more than beautiful scenery and recreational opportunities, it is integral to the future of our planet. The Town will promote green and low environmental impact development strategies to protect and enhance our natural landscapes. We will also strengthen collaboration between the non-profit and business sectors to work together to address a changing climate.  

A promising step in our sustainability journey was Council’s recent approval of the Lincoln staff-prepared Corporate Climate Adaptation Plan. This is a guideline to support and inform climate adaptation at the Corporate municipal level. It outlines how the municipality as a corporation will adapt its assets, operations, and services to the current and future impacts of climate change. This includes integrating climate change considerations into Town strategies, plans, policies, procedures, operations, and services. Other goals include mitigating the harmful consequences of extreme weather and emergency events and considering climate change impacts in infrastructure management.

We strive to provide Lincoln residents with a quality of life that is second to none. We have a responsibility to anticipate and prepare for potential impacts of climate change on our community and are committed to taking a leadership role in facing this uncertainty.

LOCATION: PENINSULA RIDGE ESTATES WINERY

I am here at the beautiful Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery, a world-class wine and culinary destination with its restaurant in the beautiful, historic home of the Kitchen family. Being here reminds me of how Lincoln combines a strong agricultural history with a creative, entrepreneurial spirit. Our need to focus on this strong foundation is more important than ever, especially as we revitalize our economy. Our collective efforts will help us confront the pandemic, and together build an even more prosperous future here in Lincoln.

Through our Business Recovery E-Newsletters, the Economic Development department continues to provide frequent updates to the business community to promote grants and financial economic assistance. Since May 2020, we have sent out 50 of these newsletters.

Both the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada have provided financial supports for small and medium sized businesses and when needed, we assist local businesses in applying for them. In addition, staff continue to identify opportunities for the municipality to play a larger role in getting financial assistance for Lincoln’s businesses.

I was extremely pleased by the province’s announcement of a significant investment in the 2021 Provincial Budget for Ontario’s wine and tourism industry. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognized that changes were needed to support our wine and tourism industry. We have consistently advocated and shared the sector-specific challenges with the Province and are delighted to see that our efforts have been reflected in this year’s budget.

Some highlights of the funding include a one-time, $10 million grant to help wineries and cideries and increasing funding for the Small Distillery Support Program by an additional $1.2 million in 2021–22 to help small distillers recover from the impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic. In addition, the government is extending the funding to 2022–23 for the VQA Wine Support Program, Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support Programs and Marketing, Tourism and Export Development; Performance Measurement and Research and Innovation Development Initiatives.

The government also made changes to support local beverage alcohol producers, including expanding made in Ontario options at the LCBO and changes to allow the sale of 100 per cent Ontario wine and eligible spirits at farmers’ markets. Ontario is also introducing the Ontario Tourism Recovery Program, a $100-million initiative for 2021–22 to help tourism operators, anchor businesses and attractions recover from the economic effects of COVID‐19.

These announcements coincide with the Town’s ongoing work, along with local partners, on our Tourism Strategy, focusing on how Lincoln provides unique tourism experiences, built around an award-winning artisanal beverage sector, within a spectacular natural setting.

We believe tourism is a key pillar to drive sustainable growth that serves the long-term interest of our economy, businesses, environment, and citizens. This plan lays the groundwork for making Lincoln a leading tourist destination in Ontario.

We also continue to invest in our community. Construction of the new Lincoln Museum and Cultural Centre: Home of the Jordan Historical Museum of the Twenty is almost complete. This important cultural asset will be a welcoming community space that houses the artifacts and exhibits that showcase Lincoln’s uniqueness within the region of Niagara. Another exciting project is the Jordan Village Improvement Area, which aims to create an anchor destination for residents, businesses, and tourists by building a connected and beautified neighbourhood that focuses on safety, complete streets, landscape appeal and local heritage.

These are just a couple of the projects I am looking forward to seeing completed. Great things are happening in Lincoln. We have been through a difficult year and there are still challenges ahead, but I encourage you to look forward with a sense of hope for our future. We are ready for it. Through collaboration and a shared vision for Lincoln, we can ensure that it remains the most desirable community in Niagara, to grow, prosper and belong in. Thank you.

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