State of the City Mayor’s Breakfast presented by the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce

Stratford Mayor Martin Ritsma touch on a number of topics ranging from education and Indigenous relations to economic development and community initiatives during his annual State of the City Address April 10.

Ritsma initially paid tribute to Annabell Thomson, whose legacy of passion, service and leadership inspired the community.

“In 2012, Annabell was recognized for her longstanding municipal community involvement and received the Queen's Jubilee Medal,” said Ritsma. “Her celebration of life took place on International Women's Day which was very fitting. It has been said that when you pass, the only thing that you leave behind is what you leave in others, and Annabelle has left a great deal with her passion in so many, none more important than our CAO Joan Thomson.”

Addressing the looming financial challenges facing Ontario municipalities, Ritsma discussed a news broadcast where Mayor Frank Scarpitti from Markham discussed potential troubles ahead if municipalities don’t see support from higher levels of government.

“What municipalities are expected to do these days are into billions of dollars and you cannot fund this kind of financial need from property tax,” said Ritsma. “We have a storm that is coming. That's hitting municipalities, not unlike all municipalities across Ontario."

Efforts to address the housing crisis were discussed, focusing on diverse housing options and energy efficient practices.

“As Ontario continues with its housing crisis, we must focus on different types of housing to meet the needs of residents, from traditional family homes to small apartment units, both rental and purchase,” discussed Ritsma. “We still have large employers, some with over 1,000 employees, and up to 50 per cent of their staff commute daily. These employees are not afforded the pleasure of being part of our community and we need to change that.”

A $1.1-million investment in 2023 was discussed, which was allocated to critical infrastructure projects including road resurfacing and upgrades to the water pollution control plant.

The city's dedication to diversity and inclusion was evident through initiatives such as creating an Indigenous sacred space and partnerships to advance diversity and inclusion efforts. YMCA and library services were highlighted for supporting newcomers and fostering community cohesion.

"Our work in advancing a respectful community and workplace is necessary for Stratford to retain its image as a great place to live, work, play and invest,” said Ritsma.

Ritsma discussed Stratford's economic vitality and discussed notable investments from the large manufacturing businesses throughout Stratford, and the ongoing support for local, small businesses.

Meanwhile, efforts to modernize transit infrastructure and address homelessness were underscored, reflecting the city's commitment to social well-being.

“We continue to commit to ending homelessness by increasing the range of housing options and programs in our cities. In 2023, 33 individuals or families were housed from the centralized waiting list, and 243 housing allowances or rental supplements were provided.”

As the breakfast drew to a close, Ritsma emphasized Stratford's unique strengths and the importance of safeguarding them for future generations.

"Our residents and city staff's strengths cannot be taken for granted; they need to be celebrated and protected. Our work in advancing a respectful community and workplace is necessary for Stratford to retain its image as a great place to live, work, play and invest."

Amanda Modaragamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Stratford Times