Portage la Prairie Mayor Irvine Ferris presented the State of the City Address last Thursday. Highlights included some financially difficult news about major employment closures, but other great news including a new hospital and great things to come.

Ferris outlines what he shared.

"With the state of the city address, we reviewed the past year and certainly what was accomplished; our successes, the opportunities, and the challenges we faced," says Ferris. "Looking back in 2021, of course, the new causeway was completed, the new interactive fountain in the north end was opened, phase two upgrades to the water treatment facility are almost complete, pilot testing for future expansion facility was completed, and design work for this is ongoing."

Ferris notes that this expansion facility is integral to city growth with the ever-increasing demand for potable water.

"We also talked about the success of getting a new hospital at last year's address," continues Ferris. "I outlined all the work the Portage and District General Hospital Foundation had done to bring a new hospital to our city. Following that address, we met with the Minister of Health in July and the new hospital was announced for Portage in August. So, certainly a lot of work was done by Tara Pettinger and the Portage la Prairie District Hospital Foundation. We certainly recognize that and appreciate that."

He says over the past year, many changes took place in personnel at the fire department. 

"Phil Carpenter retired after 44 years of service," adds Ferris. "Brad Bailey took over as Chief and Director of Public Safety, and Norm Vuignier took over as Deputy Chief of the department. We added a new pumper truck to replace the 1991 pumper truck this spring. At the Planning District, total permits were $41,195,000, which is down a little bit from the last two years, but still very, very significant for a community of our size. Kinelm Brooks, the planning district officer, retired this past year and Lynn Anderson has taken over."

He notes, looking ahead, it's Splash Island's 20th Anniversary this year.  

"Canada Day celebrations are back after an absence of two years," notes Ferris. "We will be hosting the Centennial Cup in the spring of 2023 and we just found out we will be hosting the Manitoba Senior Games in June of 2023. So, those are some huge events for our community. We're going to see a lot of visitors and some really good competition. We're looking forward to that."

Ferris explains 2022 will also be another year of large infrastructure investments in our city. 

"The $3-million Saskatchewan Avenue West project that began last year, with renewal of the utility infrastructure between 4th St West and 8th St West, will continue on this year with the installation of drainage systems," says Ferris. "Construction season in Portage has begun in earnest, of course, and the utility infrastructure beyond 8th St West to Elm Street, which is a street that runs into the Co-op, along with stage work will take place for the new Saskatchewan Ave West with sidewalks, parking, space, medians, boulevards, bike paths and new greening of the city." 

He adds the utility infrastructure will be completed in 2022 while the general work for the avenue will be completed in stages over the next three years from 4th St West to West Elm Street. 

"The end result will be an impressive west entrance to our city, better traffic controls on this busy avenue, parking for businesses and avenue residents, and ways to bike or walk in the area without negotiating gravel shoulders," notes Ferris. "Your Council has been planning this work for many years, and with the full payment of Stride Place debt occurring in the next few years, this was an opportunity to redeploy these payment dollars to the new project."

Ferris says funding for the avenue project was provided by the Investing Canada Infrastructure program, which will see the federal government contribute $12.5 million, the provincial government will contribute $8.3 million, and the city will contribute the balance. 

"This coming year, the city plans to expand $58 million on capital projects and purchases in 2022," continues Ferris. "Saskatchewan Ave West is a large portion of that amount, but we also have the water control plant upgrade in progress and working in conjunction with the large industries toward awarding the contract on this upgrade under the P3 model by the end of 2022. Directly related to this project, we are expecting to complete the new operations facility building at the operations yard by late summer, which will house the facility maintenance and the utility distribution departments of the. City Parks Department will also relocate to the operations yard."

Other capital projects include replacing the McKay reservoir roof during 2022 at a total cost exceeding $1,000,000. 

"The city will be providing $3.8 million in funding to the RM of Portage for the Poplar Bluff Reservoir project, which benefits the city through the sale of water to the industrial park tenants, Simplot and Roquette being the largest purchasers, the RM customers west of the city, and the Yellowhead Water Co-op, which serves rural municipalities and towns such as Gladstone, MacGregor and Austin," adds Ferris. 

Ferris explains 2022 has been declared the year of the Garden in Canada. 

"We encourage city residents to continue to beautify their own properties, green spaces and enjoy our public green space throughout the coming months," continues Ferris. "Challenges and opportunities we face as a community in the coming year include the announcement by the province of significant job losses with the closing of the Agassiz Centre (which was 110 jobs) and the closing of the Manitoba Developmental Centre (which is between 400 and 500 jobs). These are in addition to job losses at the Food Development Centre and the Compass Program at Southport. These jobs really serve as a backstop in our local economy, and definitely will have an impact on the region."

He says other challenges include significant public safety issues as well as escalating police costs, climate change, and issues in the national economy will impact our community as well. 

"These challenges are daunting, but not insurmountable," notes Ferris. "In the coming year, we also see huge opportunities. Our investment in infrastructure, our location and our partnerships have made our region very, very attractive to investors and businesses. Eve O'Leary at PRED continues to work tirelessly with ourselves and the RM of Portage on several large files. With cooperation and hard work, I know we can make the most of these opportunities and we will succeed."