From “tremendous economic growth” to new community centres and celebrating Canada 150, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti shared the city’s recent successes and offered a sneak peek of what’s on the horizon during his annual year in review.
The review provides a sense of accomplishment and an update on the city’s strategic plan, he told those who attended the April 12 event, held at Markham Civic Centre. The highlights included:
Digital strategy. Markham offers more than 85 online services and business tools that allow residents to find out things like the location of their snow plow and pay their property taxes online. And that number of services and tools will continue to grow, Scarpitti assured. Markham was the first municipality in Ontario to offer early online voting and is now the largest municipality in the province to offer the service from advance polls through voting day.
New community centres. As the city continues to see “tremendous economic growth,” it remains committed to strengthening communities. In less than 10 years, two major community centres and a world-class sports facility were opened, including the Aaniin Community Centre & Library. Aaniin’ means ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ in Ojibway and recognizes Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.
Markham’s “meaningful” partnership with Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario promotes social, cultural and economic collaboration. Already, $100,000 has been raised for that community and sports equipment, including a Zamboni, has been donated. The Cornell Community Centre & Library, located beside Markham Stouffville Hospital, has paved the way for such partnerships as the Breathe Better Program. The Markham Pan Am Centre has put the city on the global map and hosts national and international events, such as the World Dodgeball Championships.
Markham Expo 150. As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Markham opened Berczy Square in Upper Unionville to commemorate William Burczy, one of the city’s founding fathers. With the help of the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, Veterans Square and the cenotaph in historic Markham Village was renovated. The city also enhanced one of busiest gateways into Markham – Markville Road and Steeles Avenue – with LED letters.
Major investments. The city continues to attract major investments, including the new General Motors (GM) Canada Technical Centre. As GM’s largest automotive and mobility software hub in the country, it will create more than 700 software engineering jobs, Scarpitti reported. The city’s “diverse, skilled and educated workforce” will continue to improve with the opening of the new York University campus in 2021. Set to open with 4,000 students, it will eventually grow to 10,000.
Fighting climate change. In 2017, the city completed close to 40 kilometres of road rehabilitation. As well, “bold steps” have helped fight climate change and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, Scarpitti reported, pointing to the electric vehicle charging station pilot program at Markham Civic Centre.
Markham is also home to one of the largest municipally-hosted rooftop solar portfolios in Ontario, which produces $300,000 worth of annual income and enough energy to power 250 average-sized homes. The city converted more than 12,000 streetlights to LED, reducing the tax burden and improving visibility for commuters. Combined, such efforts have reduced the city’s greenhouse gas intensity by 6.9 per cent. “That’s like taking 110 cars off the road permanently,” Scarpitti said. The city also achieved more than 80 per cent in its waste diversion program – the highest in the country. A textile recycling program was also launched.
Flood protection. The city made “significant progress” on its 30-year, $234-million flood protection program, the mayor said. The program demonstrates Markham’s commitment to protecting the natural environment and building a safe and sustainable community. In Thornhill alone, an estimated 850 homes now have greater flood protection than when the city started the program. Markham also made available a home plumbing protection rebate program.
Environment. In August, the city opened another section of the Rouge Valley Trail. “To date, we’ve completed 6.8 kilometres of trail and opened up seven pedestrian bridges,” said Scarpitti. Once complete, the trail will span 15 kilometres with 12 pedestrian bridges. The five-year Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan is complete. “It meant, unfortunately, removing 17,000 trees in our community and each one is being replaced.”
Lowest tax increase. Markham has maintained the lowest tax rate increase in the Greater Toronto Area for the last 10 years, the mayor reminded. The city achieved cost savings of $1.3 million in its 2018 $456.17-million budget through continuation of the Excellence Through Efficiency and Effectiveness Program while maintaining a 2.9 per cent tax rate increase. “We are also one of the very few municipalities who plan their way into the future,” Scarpitti said. “We are continually investing in our reserves, ensuring we can repair and replace city assets for the next 25 years.”