Tuesday, April 23, 2024

It Has Been a Busy First Year For This New Term of Council

As summer gives way to autumn, Meaford’s council is back to work after a shorter than traditional summer break, as they eye the completion of the first year of their term as council.

Back in January, I wrote that the newly elected and inaugurated council had a busy year ahead; a busy year it has been, and it isn’t over yet.

Around this time a year ago, many of us were still deciding which candidates to vote for in the 2022 municipal election. Though elected on October 24 and officially installed on November 21, this new council really got to work in January after the holiday season leading in to the new year.

The first nine months have been busy ones for this new council. While five of the seven members of council elected last year are experienced, with at least one term of council under their belts, and some with many more terms, the two newly elected councillors have now had months to get their feet wet, and learn the basics of the job.

The first major task for the newly elected council was to work through and approve their first municipal budgets, which they did at the end of March. And despite immense post-pandemic inflationary pressures, they managed to approve a budget with a 4.46 percent rate increase, that ultimately meant a 3.16 percent blended rate increase once the county and education portions were factored in. In a year when many municipal councils were grappling with double digit rate increases, I think our council did a good job of maintaining service levels while minimizing the rate increase in an economy that was crippling for many.

This council has seen some ups and downs in its first year. A national lifeguard shortage left council with the prospect of having to leave the Blue Dolphin public swimming pool closed for the season. However council approved a partnership with the Owen Sound YMCA to operate our pool this summer, saving the season and ensuring that summer swimming lessons and other summer fun could still take place at our local pool.

This term of council has also overseen the remaining stages of the shoreline rehabilitation project, which began during the previous term of council after high water levels combined with strong winds on a number of occasions battered our shoreline and tossed rocks and other debris across Bayfield Street and into Fred Raper Park. The rehabilitation of the shoreline has not been cheap but it has been necessary, in order to protect municipal infrastructure along the shoreline.

After seven long years, this term of council appears to be finally making some progress on two small boundary road bridges located on the Holland-Sydenham Town Line between Grey Road 29 and the 2nd Concession South. The two bridges, one after the other, have been closed to vehicular traffic for seven years despite the past term of council pledging to have them reopened. There is a long road to go, but in July council approved a new strategy that it hopes will see both the bridges replaced and reopened, and also see our neighbour, the Township of Chatsworth, contribute their fair share to the project, which is on a boundary road.

Though this new term of council has had some successes in their first year, there are many challenges facing council as they look toward the next three years of their term.

The hydro-electric pumped storage facility proposed by TC Energy to be located on the local military base will continue to be a frustration for this term of council. Frustrating because though some in this community are clearly outraged by the proposal, yet council has almost comically little power to do anything about it. I expect this issue to be a thorn in council’s side for the remainder of their term.

Another challenge for council is the search for a new Chief Administrative Officer after the sudden departure of long-time employee Rob Armstrong, last month. Municipal CAOs might be a ‘dime a dozen’ as some folks have suggested to me, but they don’t come cheap in 2023, and I suspect that when a new recruit is found, they will be demanding more than the previous CAO had been earning.

Other challenges that council will face over the next few years will be the ever increasing development proposals that will come before council. Growth is almost always a painful experience, and this community, after many years of being told that new development was coming, is now experiencing some of the realities of growth.

Another hot issue for council is short-term rentals, an issue that can quickly divide a room full of people. Council has said that it is their top priority, and they have asked staff to prepare a report that will outline strategies for tackling the short-term rental issue, and I expect some high tension council meetings to come as they try to find solutions.

I have also been seeing an increased call for council to boost our local policing. Some recent strings of property crimes have some convinced that this isn’t the safe small town that it used to be, and I frequently hear from folks who wonder why they ‘never see a police officer in town’. This municipality already spends $2 million per year for the services of the OPP, and the OPP would be glad to boost its presence in this community, but that of course comes with significant cost, so council will need to find a balance between addressing concerns while limiting future rate increases.

So, it has been a busy first year for this new term of council, and with just a few months remaining in 2023, there is still much work to be done before a break for the holiday season in late December, and getting back at it early in the new year. With a little over three years remaining in their term, council has many ups and downs in their future, many challenges to face; some are already on the radar, while some will no doubt come out of the blue.


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