Friday, July 12, 2024

Progress Made by Current Council Still Tarnished by Legacy Issues

Not to suggest that serving on a municipal council should be a walk in the park, but it has to be a frustrating enough job to begin with, let alone having to answer for the decisions and mistakes of previous councils.

This municipal budget season has been a bit of a yawn-fest, which is a good thing actually. Municipal reserves have largely been replenished over the last few years, long-term debt has been slowly inching downward, and no new debt has been taken on by the municipality in recent history.

In other words, Meaford’s in a much better financial position than it was just a few short years ago; the municipality had accumulated some $3 million in deficits, which forced the draining of municipal reserve accounts and the ballooning of residents’ property tax bills with the much-loathed five-year plan. That five-year plan, by the way, ended a full year early, and whether that early ending to the hard-on-the-pocketbook five-year plan was something of a ‘heading into an election year’ ploy or not, the fact is that the five-year plan that we had all resigned ourselves to did indeed end a year early, and with it the last of a planned yearly five percent tax hike.

Unfortunately for members of council, some of whom were on council for the previous term, those sorts of recent accomplishments are still overshadowed by ghosts of the past. Current councillors are held to account for decisions – some good, some horrifically bad – of councils (and sometimes other levels of governments) of the past.

Naturally some issues carry over from one council to another, so there is always overlap, but it is frustrating to hear this current council being accused of ignoring rural residents while favouring the urban core, when the truth is that this council has had the highest level of focus on rural issues that I have seen in the past three councils.

Meeting after meeting, all these nearly 15 years since amalgamation, we hear frustration with the ‘urban-rural divide’. That it is still a regular topic of discussion highlights the fact that there are still issues with the marriage between the former town of Meaford and the Townships of St. Vincent and Sydenham. And it can most certainly be argued that over the years, perhaps councils have handled the urban-rural relationship poorly, but it could also be argued that this current council has bent over backwards to listen to rural concerns and act on them. Unfortunately they are still occasionally tarred with the brush left over from previous councils.

In the last year more council-related meetings than ever have been held in our rural areas, including this nearly completed budget season which saw public meetings held in Annan and Bognor. Council and municipal staff have made huge strides in their efforts to reach out to the rural communities seeking input. The mayor even hosts a regular coffee session in Sydenham in an effort to bring rural issues to council.

The rural residents feel neglected, but I think if they were to step back and take stock of the last few years they would find that things are improving, and that is largely due to the efforts of the last two councils to increase their focus on rural issues like roads, for example.

Does this municipality have roads that need to be repaired? Most certainly: a lot of those roads are in our rural areas, and this council has been trying to eek out every possible penny for rural road repairs while still keeping the property tax increase below two percent – because don’t forget, we want all our roads fixed yesterday, but don’t you dare raise our taxes. By comparison with previous councils, this council has been pouring money into roads – most of those rural.

I’m not suggesting that everything is fixed, everything is fine. Clearly there’s much work to be done, and for some of the issues, I can’t imagine what possible solutions are out there, if they can ever be solved. But we have to give credit where credit is due, and if ever we’ve had a rural-focused council, it is this one.

This council didn’t force three communities together. This council didn’t take on the debts of the past, or neglect the roads in the previous decade. Their job is to take care of the present and the future. Every council provides us with their own unique sources of frustration, and it is on that they should be judged.

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