Jill McCubbin: A few Q & As

Recently a resident emailed candidates four good questions to answer. She wrote, “I was hoping you might answer some questions for me that may help me to decide on my vote.”

My answers are below. I tried to be brief (as she requested) but there are so many positive projects going on in our municipality, and so many inter-related issues that go into answering the questions she sent, that I ended up with the following longer answers. I took the opportunity to provide quite a bit of information about what’s been going on in Mississippi Mills, with Council, staff and other stakeholders, these past years…

Question #1 Your thoughts on how Don Maynard park treatment was carried out. What do you think may have been another option or how would you have handled it any differently?

My answer: Council should not have introduced the idea of selling the park or any part of it at the end of June, just before Council was adjourned in July (2 years ago) and before any requests for public feedback on the process were extended. That was just a very poor timing decision and lack of consideration on Council’s part – which was VERY obvious after the fact. Council could and should have engaged the greater community (including but not only the community near the park) in discussions and looked for options together earlier in the process. We learn from our past mistakes.

I think the final compromise to sell a part of Don Maynard park was an incredibly difficult one to make. By the end of the process, Council had weighed a LOT of information and public feedback and made a compromise that still allowed a park to remain in location, while also supporting a sorely-needed upgrade to recreation options and park assets. The compromise to sell part of Don Maynard Park enabled the Gemmill upgrades to be done without raising taxes or cutting other services to reallocate money to parks. It was a tough compromise and, as you likely know, this matter is still not closed. It is at the OMB. I do believe the Gemmill Park upgrade was a project to fill a gap and meet needs for families with children, and those park users needing accessibility accommodations. Park upgrades help attract and retain families in Almonte and Mississippi Mills as a whole. New families bring new business opportunities as well. All this helps build a stronger future for Mississippi Mills.

Question #2 The new bike lanes in town. Are you in agreement with them or do you consider them a waste of tax dollars?

My answer: There’s a lot of context needed to answer this question. As a short answer: Yes, I support bike lanes, because I support building a healthy, active, safe community for all ages, and giving people safe options and opportunities to move about town. The longer answer is:

The 7 million (over 20 years) that has often been reported to be earmarked for active transportation and bike lanes was in an early version of the Active Transportation (AT) Plan, one that was never adopted by Council as an action – it was just received as a recommendation (that was not taken). The Active Transportation Committee and Council INSTEAD passed a motion to amend the plan to reduce this figure to approx 2 million over 20 years for planned AT upgrades – which are NOT ONLY bike lanes, but also include sidewalk repairs and construction as well as pedestrian upgrades such as cross walks and other supports for walkable towns. The motion to reduce the AT plan was approved at Council in May 2018.

Furthermore, the AT plan – just like all municipal plans – are primarily recommendations. Council and staff review, report on, discuss, revise these plans/ideas before any decisions or any implementations are made. Many Councils and residents are involved over the long term. Asking for public feedback is also part of the process and it’s considered. For instance: some of the recently proposed bike lanes were not carried out, after listening to residents at the public meeting on bike lanes. And some lanes were installed. The Master Transportation Plan (and others) will be reviewed and revised, many times by current and future Councils… that’s how the process works and stays current, relevant and affordable.

In my opinion: Building quality of life, increasing safety and supporting recreation options are not a waste of tax dollars.

In the past four years I have supported initiatives to make it easier and safer for people to be on and use our streets in more active ways. In 2018, new crosswalks, new pedestrian trails and bike lanes were established. The Riverwalk expansion on Coleman Island in Almonte has been designed, and an accessible pathway in Gemmill Park was constructed. The Greystone trail in Ramsay was built and is a huge success – getting people and kids walking and biking into town and to school from Greystone Estates on a path instead of along March road / highway. In Pakenham, the lovely trail along the river was upgraded to meet accessibility standards and benches installed. A pedestrian loop/connecting trail to the OVRT is in the works there, as is a crosswalk in the centre of town and traffic calming measures.

Question #3 The OVRT. Do you think it should be for all motorized vehicles or do you think this should be maintained (by the town) as a walking/biking trail only?

My answer: I supported a multi-use trail for snowmobiles, ATVs, and all users in rural areas of the municipality, but because Almonte is a more densely populated area (similar to Ottawa and Perth, where motorized vehicles are not allowed on trails within the core) and for reasons of safety and accessibility, I am not in favour of motorized vehicles on the OVRT within Almonte – and I worked towards creating by-pass solutions with community members and members of Council. MEANWHILE, because Lanark County is the owner and decision-maker of the OVRT, and Lanark County has made the decision to build and maintain the OVRT as completely multi-use along its entirety, I am now continuing to work towards making the OVRT as safe and wonderful as it can be. I am very eager for the opening of the full OVRT (and especially the OVRT Almonte bridge that crosses the river). The trail is going to be a fantastic asset for everyone. County has stated there will be a two year review of the trail, and the trail will generally be a work in progress for the next while… while municipalities and the County work together to figure out what works, what doesn’t, what needs improvement, what is missing etc etc.

Question #4 Do you have any definite plans on how to increase jobs/economy of the town at this point?

My answer: The economy of Mississippi Mills is currently a success story (although of course the effort to increase jobs and build our economy never stops). Examples of current success: Almonte’s downtown core is thriving and tourism is booming. Pakenham’s business and tourism association is revived, and there are many initiatives driving economic development in Pakenham. There were 12 lots sold in the municipality’s business park in the last two years – one lot is left and plans to open up the next phase of the business park are beginning. There are many new jobs being created in this business park and also by the growing and expanding businesses in our municipality – home based biz as well. Agri-business and local food production and promotion are very strong sectors in Mississippi Mills – and have the support of Council via the Agriculture Advisory Committee (made up of farm and rural residents as well as staff and councillors) as well as County. The municipality’s most recent biz breakfast (a very successful initiative of the Town’s community and economic development committee) was attended by over 100 business people and, as usual, opportunities for sharing tips and collaborations – which build business – were discussed and brainstormed. Many new businesses were introduced!

[Aside: this next paragraph is a new addition. Unfortunately It was not part of my emailed answers back to the resident who asked the original questions.]

Online connectivity within Mississippi Mills has also improved over the last year, and connectivity is a key element in building a business- and family- friendly municipality. (About two years ago, the CRTC declared high-speed internet a basic service in Canada.) Here in Mississippi Mills, MM2020, a group of highly skilled and “connected” individuals, persevered in discussions with Bell Canada (built the business case for Bell) and successfully brought high-speed fibre connectivity to Appleton and to Almonte. There are ongoing efforts to move the MM2020 project along: with $10k seed-funding from the municipality and some staff support, MM2020 continues to work with internet providers and other partners to bring fibre to other parts of Mississippi Mills. (A business plan is pending for Clayton and Pakenham efforts, next on the list, I believe.)

[Back to my original emailed answers… ]

One final point, a successful strategy for increasing jobs and the economy in Mississippi Mills has, for years now, followed this path:

1) Build a vibrant, exciting and attractive community by supporting festivals and recreation and arts and culture events and support for entrepreneurs and local organizations. This builds an attractive place to visit, and to reside and work in.

2) People visit and come back for other day trips… and then

3) People decide to move here because our community is welcoming and varied and attractive – these people bring new or expanding businesses with them, new skills, innovations, ideas and new jobs are created.

Mississippi Mills has a high growth rate – and our residential tax rate compares well with others in our County (below Carleton Place and Perth’s in 2017). Our successful business sector and amazing community is highlighted by the media as a top destination time and time again. Mississippi Mills has 1451 registered businesses (per 2016 Census data). Business supports and less red tape for business development are items that Council and staff continue to work on. Municipal promotion of local businesses and attractions is very strong – and the municipality often partners with businesses on marketing campaigns. I co-owned and operated a small business on Mill Street, in Almonte, for 13 years. I am very involved in the Community and Economic Development Committee in our town and I still have my own home-based businesses. I am always keen on discussions that facilitate building business and business supports – and it is imperative that downtown Almonte business owners are included as partners in discussions and preparations in regards to the rebuild/revitalization of Mill and Little Bridge streets (proposed for 2-3 years from now). I am very proud of our current and growing Mississippi Mills business community. It’s an exciting time to run a business here!