John Edwards: September 26th Municipal Debate

John Edwards

While I appreciate — and share — the concerns for our municipality, I’m compelled to clarify some of the assertions made at last Wednesday’s Mayors’ and Deputy-Mayors’ debate.

The debate was a well-attended and a well-moderated event.  Congratulations to PRATAC on picking Charlie Kitts as moderator.  He was fair-minded and kept the three hour plus event going. All candidates had a good opportunity to ‘put their best foot forward’.  

The challenge in this particular format is that candidates frequently make statements of opinion which sound like facts.  Also, due to passionately held views they may gloss over the wider implications of their agenda. It has oft been stated that we are all entitled to our opinion but not our own facts.  When facts are obscured, the voter then has the unenviable and time consuming task of separating fact from fiction. I offer the following facts. By the way, I’ll let you know when I sway into my opinion.

Firstly, much ado was made about the municipal debt load with fearful implications of a poorly managed fiscal environment which has to be entirely redone.

Fact:  The debt of the municipality will be approximately $22.2 million at the end of 2018.  The debt is entirely for investment in infrastructure (firetrucks, bridges, public works equipment, water & sewer, roads, buildings, etc.)  The annual payments for this debt load as a percentage of the overall revenue of the municipality ($17.3 m), represents 12%. This is not out of proportion with a rational and thorough business plan for our municipality as we need to invest in roads, bridges, fire trucks, arenas, libraries, etc.  

To illustrate this from a personal perspective, anyone whose home mortgage payment is only 12% of their household revenue knows their mortgage is well within their financial means.  Infrastructure debt is similar to home purchase or renovation loans.

Now for my opinion: To emphasize the financial debt in isolation without acknowledging the very real physical debt of decaying and rotting infrastructure misleads the public.  The most recent and unfortunate local example of long term ignoring of infrastructure is the sudden closing of the Lanark Village arena due to severe health and safety concerns.  The professional long-term plans and Long-Term Financial Plan of Mississippi Mills has and will prevent such losses to our community.

Secondly, one farmer, stated that the proposed Natural Heritage System (NHS) would have turned his entire farm into a wetland with the obvious implication that he would be out of business.  This would be a serious charge, if true.

Fact:  No existing agricultural operation in Mississippi Mills was ever re-designated a wetland; not in the past and not now.  Any setbacks from sensitive wetlands for environmental reasons always come with the caveat that all existing agricultural activities are permitted.  

Thirdly, the statement was made that the municipality did more than the minimum as requested by the Province when designating the NHS.  

Fact:  The full debate was in Council and witnessed by a full public gallery.  Council voted to choose the option which was the minimum. “Black is still black” and “white is still white”.  Council chose the minimum.

Proof: Note this supporting extract from the meeting (June 19) report:

The second draft (of the COP) responded to comments received from the Public during the initial public consultation process (December 14th, March 21st, 27th, and 28th, 29th) and resulted in the following meaningful changes:

  • Removal of Natural Heritage Features in Ecoregion 6E from Schedule A1;”

This effectively removed the NHS from all areas (The Canadian Shield) not prescribed by the Province.  This is not an opinion.  

Lastly, several candidates stated that the 600 plus severances currently available to rural property owners would be significantly reduced due to all the environmental restrictions.

Fact:  The 600 plus severances currently available to rural property owners are not reduced in number by environmental restrictions.  The rural severance policy will be reviewed when this supply of lots is below the demand needed for a twenty year time-frame.

Opinion: Elections ought to be about having informed debates and discussions about the future direction of our cherished community. Issues should be clearly stated and well-understood. Voters’ limited time to decipher issues, needs to be respected and valued. The whole community benefits from fully informed discussions, where truth is upheld.

If anyone has questions or seeks further clarification, I’d be happy to sit down for a coffee and discuss.