Friday, July 12, 2024

2014 is Looking to Be an Interesting Year

By Stephen Vance, Editor

With 2013 in the history books, and 2014 in its infancy, we’ve taken a look at where we’ve been over the last three years, and where we are heading in the coming year.

In the middle of December, we sent five questions to each member of Council seeking their thoughts about the successes and failures of this term of Council, and what challenges are ahead for Meaford in 2014 and beyond.

What follows are each of the five questions followed by our own thoughts about where Council has been, and where they are going.

What has been the greatest achievement of this council term?

While negative headlines seem to gather the most momentum in the public, this council has done many things right, and they have certainly evolved as a council since their first year.

Likely the most important achievement of this council is bittersweet to Meaford residents. The fact is that this council weathered the storm of criticism from angry ratepayers over the last three years, and they stayed the course with the five-year plan as every one of the seven elected councillors promised to do during the 2010 election campaign.

Unfortunately, staying the course meant significant property tax increases which were required in order to dig the municipality out of a terrible financial hole.

The fact that Council didn’t bend, and then were able to end the five-year plan one year earlier than anticipated, providing some relief for ratepayers in 2014 with a tax increase that for the average home will amount to about $35, is commendable.

What has been the biggest failure/frustration with regard to this council term?

When it comes to failures and frustration, Meaford councillors are very much aware, as is shown by their replies to The Independent, that communication is this council’s major flaw.

That said, over the last 12 months we have seen a significant change in communication from both members of council and the municipal administration.

The number and frequency of press releases issued by the municipality have increased substantially over the last few years, and particularly in crisis situations, such as the water service interruption experienced in July, the municipality has kept the media, and by extension the public, very well informed.

Councillors, on the other hand, still tend to be reactive rather than proactive with regard to communicating with the public and media. Only one member of Council during this current term has taken advantage of the Councillor’s Corner that The Independent provides for councillors to express themselves any time they want, about any issue. Nearly every member of the previous council utilized the Councillor’s Corner space to let readers know their own take on issues, or to explain reasons for decisions that they make.

We hope the next council will see the value in communicating to the public, in their own words, with vehicles like the one provided by our paper.

Looking toward 2014, what are you hoping council/the municipality will be able to achieve?

My biggest hope in the coming year is that Meaford’s council can find a way to improve the relationship among the three distinct areas of our municipality. Rural residents – particularly in the former Township of Sydenham – are angry, they are frustrated, and they have some genuine concerns that can only be addressed via regular communication, and acknowledgement that while concerns expressed in the heat of frustration are sometimes exaggerated, if Council and staff can drill down to root causes, everyone might be surprised at the progress that could be made.

What are the potential challenges facing Meaford and its council in 2014?

We don’t know yet how many current councillors will be running for re-election in October, but the possibility of a ‘lame-duck’ council is very real, and will in some ways inhibit what Council will be able to accomplish in the coming year. So certainly this will be one challenge.

The biggest challenge we see for Meaford’s council in the coming year will be working to find solutions to concerns of our rural residents.

As a member of council, what are your priorities heading into 2014?

If I were a Meaford councillor looking to make a priority list, the top items would likely be mending fences with our rural residents, solving the harbour issues, and conducting an exhaustive operational review – which should include community members as was done in 2009 – to determine if Meaford is adequately and appropriately staffed, or if those who feel that staff should be cut are justified in their views.

One thing is certain, 2014 will be interesting indeed.

You can read the responses to these questions by members of council in this week’s print edition of The Meaford Independent – in stores now!

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