Though they have deferred official adoption of their strategic priorities for this term until the full package of 16 top priorities can be adopted at once, a read-through of the 131-page report that contains the project charters for each of the identified priorities makes clear that this council has developed an ambitious plan for their four-year term.
Fifteen priorities are outlined in the report, with the sixteenth, related to the TC Energy hydroelectric pumped storage proposal, expected to be completed next month. The project charters, which outline the scope, objectives, and process for achieving each of the priorities offer a comprehensive overview of council’s plans for the remainder of their term.
The 15 completed and public project charters cover a wide range of issues facing this and most other municipalities. Broadly, council’s priorities fall into four categories: Ensuring Sustainability, Growing our Economy, Investing in Infrastructure, and Strengthening our Community.
Under the Ensuring Sustainability category, council has identified four priorities: Climate Change Mitigation and Resiliency, Municipal Environmental Regulation for Development Projects, Municipal Tree Inventory, and Electric Vehicle Chargers.
“Council believes that decisions must always be made with the knowledge that their effects will carry forward into the future and that the easy answer is rarely the correct one,” notes the introduction to the Ensuring Sustainability category. An easy statement to make, though in practice, it can be not so easy. This is a municipality whose council declared a climate emergency in the previous term, though some of council’s decisions since seem to fly in the face of that declaration. That said, council’s priorities related to sustainability are admirable, and will be particularly so should council’s efforts succeed.
Climate change mitigation will be a major challenge for all municipalities in the coming years, and so it is wise for this council to include it as part of their priorities, though anyone who watched Monday’s council meeting, during which council grappled over the potential design of a future municipal parking lot, will understand how difficult it is for a local council to adhere to such a lofty goal. The debate among councillors over whether to strive for a conventional parking lot, or a more costly low-impact design, highlights the reality of admirable goals when faced with financial realities. In short, it gets complicated very quickly.
Under the banner of Growing Our Economy, council plans to tackle the short-term accommodations issue that is a major concern for some in the community, though it is also an issue that can quickly become a heated debate, as we have seen recently in the council chamber, when residents demanding that council take action on the issue were challenged by residents who feel that a few rotten apples cause all short term rentals to be looked upon with disdain by opponents, when the reality is that the vast majority of short-term rentals cause few problems at all. Either way, it is an issue that council clearly must address, and they most certainly will.
The project charters related to investing in water and wastewater infrastructure, along with conducting a study of water rates, are perhaps the most important priorities on the entire list. Our wastewater treatment plant is quickly running out of capacity at a time when new development proposals are at an all time high, and there is no question that a significant, and costly, investment in a wastewater plant expansion is in our future.
Water rates have also been an issue raised by residents in recent years, with many frustrated by the ever-increasing cost, a frustration being felt in many communities, particularly small communities, where the cost per household to treat water and wastewater is significantly higher than larger urban centres with large populations to support water and wastewater treatment.
Another obvious issue that has become a nation-wide issue that all communities are grappling with is that of affordable housing. Anyone that has been on the hunt for an apartment or a first home to purchase, is well aware of both the crushing cost, and lack of availability in this municipality. Again, this is not a Meaford issue, it is a much larger issue, but municipalities, along with the counties in which they are located, will have to grapple with finding solutions in the years to come. There is already some hope for Meaford at least, with discussions underway which could see Grey County partner with Meaford in an affordable housing project on the former high school track property. A complex puzzle that would require many pieces to fall into place before becoming a reality, but at the very least the county and the municipality are talking, and there is a real possibility that progress can be made; all it takes is time and lots of money.
Obviously, I can’t cover all of the 15, soon to be 16, strategic priorities identified by council in this thousand-word column, but in the months to come, all will be reported and opined upon, and as always, there will be many opportunities for public engagement and input.
With just a little more than three years remaining in this term of council, it is clear that it will be a very busy three years should council actually make progress on all of their priorities. The skeptic in me is doubtful, but my optimist side, however small that might be these days, is hopeful that council can make significant progress on their ambitious list of priorities. This council has set a high bar with their strategic priorities, but they have put the work in. This isn’t a list that was quickly assembled; this is a comprehensive and extremely ambitious plan that has been many months in the making.
For those interested in delving into the full scope of council’s identified strategic priorities, the report from Monday’s council meeting is available on the municipal website. It is 131 pages, so perhaps download it to your device, brew some coffee, and strap in for a lengthy but interesting read this weekend.