Mayor Bob Bratina heralded Hamilton's economic growth, championed the city's downtown and addressed the firing of 29 public works employees during his annual State of the City speech.

Speaking in front of members of the Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce, the mayor focused much of his speech on the "great progress" the city has made in terms of its economy.

He cited Hamilton's 5.9 per cent unemployment rate — around two percentage points below the provincial average — as well as a recent staff report that the city hall issued a record $1.5 billion in building permits in 2012.

Bratina said permits for industrial and commercial uses made up more than half of that total.

"When we are talking commercial and industrial expansion, we are also talking about taxation revenue that is coming from sources other than the homeowner."

Formerly a councillor for a lower city ward, the mayor also identified promoting "economic opportunities with a focus on Hamilton's downtown" as a "strategic priority."

Bratina said the development is already well underway, noting the construction of a new downtown McMaster campus and the plan to turn the dormant Royal Connaught building into condominiums.

"Tax revenues from various downtown projects are spreading all across our communities to your benefit whether you live here in Stoney Creek or in Flamborough or in Glanbrook."

Bratina responds to dismissal of 29 city workers

Tuesday's speech comes just after the midpoint of Bratina's term in office, during a time when city hall is mired in controversy.

'The public has a right to be upset and concerned about the recent terminations of city workers who allegedly disregarded their responsibilities.'

—Mayor Bob Bratina

The city announced on Tuesday that it had fired 29 public works employees, and suspended two others, for "theft of time" and "breach of trust." Councillor Lloyd Ferguson said that, in some cases, employees worked less than a half hour per shift.

In his address, Bratina touched on the scandal.

"The public has a right to be upset and concerned about the recent terminations of city workers who allegedly disregarded their responsibilities," the mayor said.

The city, he added, should expand its use of high-tech tools to measure productivity, to ensure workers are doing their jobs.

The mayor said he hopes that "council will insist on a full and complete investigation to ensure that those employees who are properly carrying out their duties…are not tarnished by the transgressions of a few."

Mayor open to referendum on downtown casino

The mayor also spoke about the possibility of a downtown casino, an issue that has created heated debate across the city.

Earlier in January, Carmens Group, which runs a banquet hall on the Mountain and is in negotiations to take over Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. from the city, announced it, along with a group of other investors, are putting together a proposal for a downtown entertainment complex that would feature a casino.

Activists who oppose a downtown gaming facility condemned the move, arguing a casino would victimize low-income residents and those who have problems with addictions.

"It's difficult for me as a mayor to discourage a comprehensive and well-designed development opportunity on the basis the downtown is a marginalized area in which the needy are at risk because of the proximity to gambling," the mayor said, adding lottery tickets are available in all corners of the city.

However, Bratina stopped short of endorsing a downtown casino, and said he'd support a referendum on the issue if there is public appetite for one. 

"Hopefully, when the time arrives, we will have adequate information to make a proper decision."

Read CBC Hamilton's live-blog of Mayor Bratina's State of the City Speech: