There is no question that residents of Meaford have every right to be frustrated with the current council and the state of municipal affairs over the last few years. Perhaps we are even entitled to be angry.
Enormous deficits, tax increases, and lack of funding for important projects, have all lead to questions about the leadership of our council, and the size of our municipal staff. That is fair.
What we can't lose sight of though, is the fact that no matter how we feel about how and why we have arrived in this place, we can't change what has transpired. Our only option is to look toward the future and figure out how we are going to get out of this mess.
Meaford CAO Frank Miele has been less than a year in his post, and in that short time he has had to feel his way around the municipality, discover what the issues are, and then develop plans to fix them.
If you stand back and take a look at what initiatives Miele, council and the municipal staff have undertaken since he arrived, it is really quite astounding.
First on the “To Do” list for Miele was to help prepare an already delayed budget for 2009. Understanding that Meaford was cash strapped, and had experienced a very large deficit in 2007, and speculation was that another deficit for 2008 was forthcoming, Miele and his staff prepared a budget for 2009 along with a five year plan aimed at righting the financial ship.
Yes it was painful to see a five year plan that would raise property taxes by 5% each year for five consecutive years, but given what he and his staff had to work with, at least they had provided a light at the end of the tunnel.
Once the budget was complete demand was high to assess municipal staff levels, and determine if there was any way to find cost savings by scaling back the number of employees.
In what can only be described as a brilliant move given the obvious lack of trust the community had been displaying for the local government, Miele engaged a task force of citizens to do the bulk of the investigative work for the review. Combined with an independent consultant, he left little room for accusations of lack of transparency and objectivity with regard to the process.
Once this review was completed there were 128 recommendations put before council. Though there are some that are disappointed that large numbers of potential job cuts were not identified, if you read through the report, the recommendations once implemented will certainly result in a much more efficient operation. Efficiency often results in cost savings.
If it weren't enough that the new CAO had to manage a staff, help produce a budget, help create a five year plan to fix the financial mess, and conduct an exhaustive review of staff and service levels, Miele has also been spearheading the Meaford Economic Development Strategy (MEDS).
The sole purpose of the MEDS project is to analyze the current business climate within the municipality and to determine how best to stimulate and encourage new economic growth. Once again Miele engaged the residents of Meaford and established task forces consisting of every day citizens to carry out the work for the project.
Miele has expressed that he is convinced that there will be positive results from the five year plan, the work plan for the operational review, and the MEDS project.
It is difficult to be patient when there have been previous gaffes and missteps, however we should be somewhat consoled by the fact that things are happening. If any of us were the CAO we would no doubt relish the opportunity to be the hero by leading the municipality out of the dismal situation that he walked into.
We have no doubt that Miele wants he and his staff, and our current council to be the collective hero that moves the municipality forward in a positive way.
Let's all give the CAO a chance to produce some results from these and other initiatives.
What this municipality needs most is an honest stab at a healing process. That can't happen unless everyone is willing to take a deep breath, practice a little patience, and see how these initiatives play out.