Wednesday, February 1, 2023

A Busy Year Ahead For Our Council

The first meeting of the year for Meaford’s council was held on Monday, January 16, and in a world with little certainty, we can say with confidence that our council has a busy year ahead.

Elected three months ago, our new council features a mix of experience and new energy, with two of the seven members having been elected to council for the first time. The other five members of council have several terms of experience under their belts.

In the weeks and months to come, this will be a busy council. With development proposals on the books, and more expected on the horizon, the obvious challenge for this council will be navigating and managing the large number of developments coming our way. New development will without doubt be a major focus for our council in the coming four years of their term, but there is more to the job of councillor than development, and this council has a budget to cobble together, and priorities to establish, both major projects that require much time and effort from both staff and council.

For a newly elected council, this first budget of the council term is a crucial exercise to be undertaken in the midst of less than ideal conditions. Inflation has been rampant over the past year, and we will certainly see an impact on our municipal budgets as a result, but at least we are not alone. Every municipality in the province will be struggling to put together budgets this year that both recognize the increased cost of virtually everything, while attempting to keep the required rate increase as low as possible, understanding that most ratepayers are already pushed to the max when it comes to their monthly budgets, and virtually any increase is bound to hurt.

During Monday’s meeting, there was much discussion about the plan to establish council’s strategic priorities for the current term. The previous council had put a lot of work into the strategic priorities for the last term of council, and rather than reinvent the wheel, this council has wisely opted to update the previous strategic priorities to suit the current term, a decision that will save time and money, and one that will allow council to maintain focus on the many balls they will be juggling in the early days of their term.

Thankfully, council has decided to forego the hiring of a consultant or facilitator for the strategic priorities project in favour of utilizing municipal staff instead. A wise move that will save a bit of money, and will hopefully result in a better product. I have sat through council priority meetings with hired facilitators, and it truly seems wasteful to pay an outsider to help establish a list of priorities for this municipality. Instead, council will use existing municipal staff for the project, and there will be an opportunity for community input this time around.

Staff have suggested that a community input session could align with Mayor Kentner’s stated desire for a ‘100 day meeting’, that will highlight council’s achievements and planned direction after 100 days in office. This is a community that has made clear that it likes to have input, and that seems to be what this new council desires to provide, and we certainly can’t complain about that.

With budget season about to begin, there will also be opportunities for ratepayers to provide input. With each municipal budget season there is much to consider, and this municipality has traditionally done an exemplary job of hosting public input sessions, and offering multiple avenues for residents to participate outside of meetings and input sessions including email submissions.

For some there is never enough opportunity for input, while for others, their input began and ended with electing representatives to do the job. Whether you are one who likes to get engaged in the process, or if you simply want your elected representatives to do their job without your input, the process that this municipality has traditionally undertaken and will continue to undertake should suit your needs; the most important factor is for residents who are interested to engage in the process rather than stand on the sidelines lobbing criticisms at those doing the actual work of building a budget. Facebook gripes don’t help to drive the train, you need to put down your device from time to time and actually get involved.

The year has just begun, but there is much work to do for this council, with two major projects getting underway immediately; the municipal budgets, and council’s strategic priorities. If you have opinions on either, if you have input you would like to be considered in the process, get involved, I can’t stress this enough. Residents are offered many opportunities to participate, and the overwhelming majority of complaints I have heard over the past decade related to either municipal budgets or council priorities come from folks who haven’t taken the time to participate in the actual process of becoming part of the solution. Instead, the complaints are from armchair quarterbacks who attack, often with some amount of venom, any decisions that are made.

It’s your municipality, it’s your council, it’s your budget, and council’s priorities must reflect the priorities of the greater community, so the best advice I can give is to avoid barking in the wind on social media, roll up your sleeves, and participate in the process.

Just keep this in mind: having your say does not equate to having your way. I have written that line perhaps too many times, but over the years I have heard many express frustration that ‘council doesn’t listen’. They do, but any one of us is just one opinion, and council has to balance the opinions of the community at large and come to a consensus. And though your specific input might not have found the support of all, it is still important for council and municipal staff to hear and consider your input.

Busy times ahead for our council – stay tuned.

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