By Stephen Vance, Staff
As the summer drew to a close, and the children returned to school, it was back to business for the municipality.
Not that the summer fun had come to an end.
His Excellency Mr. Yerlan Abildayev, who is the first Kazakh Ambassador to Canada, visited Meaford at the invitation of the organizers of the Meaford International Film Festival (MIFF) which was featuring a Kazakh film called Tulpan.
In addition to attending the showing of the film, and participating in a question period afterwards, the Ambassador was given a full tour of Meaford. The tour included a visit to Barbetta Orchards where Mr. Abildayev was able to get a first hand look at the apple industry that is so important to the Meaford area.
The film festival was an outstanding success, and Meaford Hall was filled for four nights for four films, and four elegant parties.
That same Labour Day weekend was very busy in Meaford as the Meaford & St. Vincent Fall Fair was held. The event featured the full spectrum of our agricultural riches including cattle, horses, prize winning chickens, and an impressive variety of area vegetable crops.
Just a few days later tragedy would strike in Meaford as the popular Reeds Restaurant and Bar was engulfed in flames during an early morning fire on September 9. Media from around the province converged on the downtown area of Meaford as rumours had spread that firefighters had been killed while fighting the blaze.
Those rumours turned out to be untrue, though two firefighters were transported to hospital suffering from smoke related injuries.
Later in the month the new Meaford Fire Hall would officially open. A well attended open house was held enabling residents to tour the new facility and to see demonstration of some of the equipment that is used by Meaford Firefighters.
On the council front, September was the month that tenders were awarded for some local projects including a new roof at Woodford Hall, and the reconstruction of the Bognor Bridge.
Bognor residents had become extremely agitated about the lengthy delay in repairing a bridge that had been out of commission for a year. The frustration was clearly displayed when on a late September Saturday morning a group of Bognor residents led by MPP Bill Murdoch installed a custom fabricated foot bridge which at least allowed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic to access important facilities like the post office.
“Now we’re reconnected to the ‘main-land’,” joked Murdoch at the time, “We didn’t really know what we were doing. We are just a bunch of neighbours who worked together and got it done.”
Residents in other parts of rural Meaford were also frustrated in September and they turned out in force for a public meeting at Woodford Hall to express their thoughts about library services. Fears were rampant that they would lose their access to the Owen Sound library which is made possible through a contract between the two municipalities at a cost to Meaford of $104,000 per year, and the concerned citizens made it clear that losing their ability to utilize that facility was not an option.
Tensions were further heightened between rural and urban Meaford as the topic of de-amalgamation was discussed openly. Even Meaford Councillor Gerald Shortt weighed in on the issue suggesting that perhaps Sydenham in particular should separate from Meaford and join with Owen Sound.
Early in October the Municipality of Meaford received a report card of sorts when representatives from the community of Port Dover held court at Meaford Hall to present their findings in the “First Impressions Community Exchange” program. As part of the program a team of Port Dover residents visited Meaford unannounced, and explored the downtown area to evaluate and offer a fresh perspective on the community’s appearance, services and infrastructure and helps communities learn about their strengths and shortcomings.
The overall report was complimentary, and most of the issues raised such as inadequate signage were items that have long been on the municipal ‘to do list’.
October was the month that the Knights’ Home Building Centre finally had an agreement with respect to their Highway 26 property where they are building a new retail outlet. The Knights had been involved in a lengthy battle with the municipality over what they perceived as an inconsistent and unfair application of various development charges.
The dispute was at times quite public with Scott and Tyler Knight arriving at meetings of council to demand answers when they were unable to have their concerns satisfied in attempts at dealing with municipal staff.
Meaford CAO Frank Miele worked tirelessly to bring resolution to the issue which pre-dated his hiring with the municipality.
A joint effort between the Meaford & District Chamber of Commerce and the municipality brought a high profile event to Meaford Hall in October in the staging of Dragon’s Den Meaford. The event was modelled after the popular CBC television show of the same name and offered a platform for local entrepreneurs to pitch business concepts to a panel of ‘Dragons’ in hopes of convincing them to offer financial support for their proposed venture.
The big winners from the show included Meredith Cowan who is the producer of Meredith’s Ginger Syrup, and Tanya Vesely who has since the show opened a retail location dedicated to offering supplies and classes for scrapbooking.
Other major events in October included a very wet Scarecrow Invasion that included the unveiling of the latest statue by Meaford resident Gunter Neumann- a scarecrow named “Schubird”. The statue which Neumann designed in honour of the unique festival that draws visitors from around the province to see the creative scarecrow displays.
In a major “I told you so” moment, it was confirmed in late October that the 2008 year had resulted in another massive deficit. Al White of BDO Dunwoody appeared before council to present the findings of his audit of the municipal finances, and announced that at the end of 2008 Meaford was $1.2 million over budget.
Councillor Jim McPherson had been insisting throughout the year that the municipality was heading for another deficit and had constantly pushed for council to exercise financial restraint, and to consider reducing the size of the municipal staff.
McPherson was often at odds with the other members of council, though he frequently found support from Councillors Gerald Shortt and Harley Greenfield when demanding that something be done.
When asked by Councillor McPherson why the invoices for BDO audits have been significantly higher than what the municipality has budgeted over the last few years, White was very direct.
“You budget for a clean audit. We haven’t conducted a clean audit here for years,” answered White.
The same night that the 2008 deficit was confirmed, Financial Consultant, and soon to be municipal Treasurer David Kennedy assured reporters that the 2009 finances were on target and would come in within budget.
A few weeks later CAO Frank Miele would release his third quarter report for 2009 in which he indicated that for the current year the municipality is on budget which supported the comments made by Kennedy.
Miele would also present the findings of the long demanded ‘Operational Review’ that investigated the service and staffing levels within the municipality.
Not everyone was happy with the report which found no opportunities for reducing staff levels unless members of council were first willing to eliminate services.
The review was conducted by a citizens task force that consisted of roughly 10 Meaford residents, as well as an independent consultant. The final report offered some 128 recommendations targeted at making municipal operations more efficient, and to ensure compliance with various labour and health and safety legislation.
The month of November featured fantastically mild weather throughout which helped the BIA’s annual Christmas Window Unveiling event to draw large crowds to the downtown for an old fashioned street party. The theme selected for 2009 was ‘Olympic Torch Spirit’ in recognition of the pending Olympic torch relay that would pass through the municipality on December 29.
Meaford’s Golden Town Outreach which operates the local food bank announced in November that it needed to accelerate its search for a new home due to a failure of the furnace in the Legion building. The organization had already been preparing to find a new home in the new year as the current Legion facility is slated to be demolished to make way for a new facility as well as a 36 unit apartment complex, but with the break down of the furnace, organizers had to act quickly to find a new location.
It wasn’t long before space would be offered in the basement of the Church of the Nazarene on Trowbridge Street.
The month closed with local MPP and Bognor resident Bill Murdoch staging a high profile protest at Queen’s Park over the pending harmonization of the provincial and federal sales taxes. While addressing the legislature Murdoch referred to Premier Dalton McGuinty as a liar and was asked to withdraw his remark or leave the legislature. Murdoch refused to do either and ended up camping out in the legislature for two nights as his protest continued.
When the ‘sit-in’ ended, Murdoch told The Independent that he was pleased with the awareness that his actions had raised.
“Everyone now knows that there is a problem. We proved that this Liberal government does not care about rural Ontario,” Murdoch proclaimed.
As the year drew to a close, Meaford council had still more conflict to resolve.
Residents who were furious about the proposed plans to add 15 new waterfront campsites at Memorial Park rallied together and began an intense email and phone campaign that resulted in council passing a resolution instructing staff to discontinue investigation into the potential for increasing park revenue by adding the sites.
Meaford council would also officially appoint David Kennedy as the new Director of Corporate Services/Treasurer at their final meeting of council for the year. Kennedy will step in to his new role on January 1, 2010.
On December 16 the first meeting for the 2010 municipal budget was held. This puts the municipality well ahead of last year when the first meeting to discuss the 2009 budget did not take place until late February.
There was no shortage of community events in Meaford in December.
The Santa Claus Parade was once again presented by the Meaford Kinsmen Club, and residents lined Sykes Street to catch a glimpse of the man in red.
All of the local schools held outstanding holiday events including a Christmas Concert put on by the Georgian Bay Secondary School music department and a wild dance production staged by Meaford Community School.
The final major event of the year took place on December 29 when the Olympic Torch Relay passed through Meaford on a very chilly morning. Once again the main street of Meaford was lined with onlookers who braved the cold to take in a moment of history not likely to be seen again.
2009 was certainly a year of ups and downs, though it certainly feels as though positive changes that took place over the year will bring stability and a brighter outlook for 2010.
One thing is certain. No matter what the next year will bring, the residents of Meaford will always find a way to maintain community spirit in the many events that offer a chance to escape the daily stress, and to focus on what is truly important- the celebration of all those little things that contribute to our Meaford Culture.
Happy New Year from The Meaford Independent. We look forward to what 2010 will bring, and we will be there to tell you about it.