StephenVance 270When you are in the local news business, there are some things that you hear from readers with a fair degree of regularity: Our taxes are too high, our roads are a mess, all I get for my tax dollars are garbage pickup and the snowplow drives down the road once each day in the winter. But there's something else I often hear from readers: I wish the public had more input on major issues. Well, wish no more because this month Meaford residents will have two opportunities to weigh in on two important issues.

The first opportunity for public input this month will be on Monday, April 15, from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., at the Meaford & St. Vincent Community Centre, where the municipality will be seeking input from residents about the Memorial Park Master Plan.

Memorial Park is a unique municipally-owned facility that actually generates more revenue than it costs to operate. In late 2018 the municipality enlisted RJ Burnside & Associates Ltd. to begin work toward a Master Plan for Memorial Park that will identify future rehabilitation and expansion needs over the next 25 years. The municipality has already held meetings with the Meaford Kinsmen Club, who have a long-term vested interest in the park, the Friends of Memorial Park (a community group that helps the municipality care for the park), and nearby property owners, and now they want to hear from the general public.

Attending the session will be worthwhile for anyone who has interest in or opinions about the future operations of the park, which in my opinion is one of Meaford's nearly hidden gems. According to the municipality, “Feedback received will be considered by the Project Team towards the creation of the final design. The final design will then go through a technical review of the current park assets, as well as a social, natural, and economic review of the park operations and future opportunities.”

The next opportunity for public input will come on Thursday, April 25 at Bognor Hall, beginning at 7 p.m., where Meaford's council will host a public information session in order to gather public feedback regarding long-term planning for bridge infrastructure. This is a meeting that several members of council have been pushing for, particularly because there are some very tough decisions to be made in the coming years, not the least of which is the fate of nine of Meaford's 79 bridges that have been slated for permanent closure.

In May of 2016, the council of the day adopted Financing Strategy #4 from a consulting report entitled “State of the Infrastructure (SOTI) Report– Municipal Bridges & Large Span Culverts”. By adopting this strategy, Council provided direction to maintain, rehabilitate, or replace 70 structures and close or eliminate nine structures.

For folks in rural areas, where some of those nine bridges are slated to be closed, this issue is of great concern, and council is seeking direction from the public about whether to continue with the plan they have been working with, or if there is a strong desire to save some or all of those nine bridges at an estimated cost of some $10 million.

According to the municipality:

Although this strategy saved the need to fund more than $10 million in added work, Council acknowledges the importance of agricultural business in the Municipality and how the potential removal of nine bridges will impact those users. Council now wishes to consider other asset management and financing strategies for the ongoing maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement of all 79 bridges and large span culverts.”

So this month, many Meaford residents will be getting precisely what they have been asking for – opportunities to provide input to council on some very important issues. Hopefully many residents will take the opportunity to attend, if only to learn more about the future of Memorial Park, and the future approach to bridge infrastructure and the required funding.

I think if there is a decent turnout to these two public input sessions, and if they are productive meetings, we will see more of them in the months and years to come. It would seem that our new council has heard the complaints from residents about the lack of opportunities to share their views with council, and they are working to make improvements on that front.

The obvious concern for some residents will be whether council will actually listen, and if their input will really matter. The only advice I can offer to those skeptics is that there's only one way to find out.

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