Val Wilkinson: Moving forward together

Valerie Wilkinson
Councillor Ramsay Ward Mississippi Mills 2003-2018

There has been criticism of the Mississippi Mills council’s financial management by some electoral candidates. I was pleased to see competent councillors step up to present some facts, defending the town’s financial decisions and the management plan that is in place. There is an impression that the plan set tax raises of 7% per year. It did not. The 7% increase was a total including new development, so tax increases were about half that.

There are also some specific projects for which the council has been sharply criticized. You shouldn’t believe all the gossip and unfounded accusations that you read on Facebook. 

Enerdu Power Dam: This was a provincial decision. Mississippi Mills had no choice in the matter. However, council, staff and the Heritage Committee did their best to make sure that ownership rights were in place, landscapes were not lost, testing was done for possible structural damage, sound limits were not exceeded and flood risk was minimal. Town representatives worked with Enerdu on building design. Every effort was made to make it the safest and most attractive dam possible. Unfortunately, provincial policy dictates that we as a town will receive no taxes at all. Any taxes paid by the owner of the dam will go directly to the province. It would be beneficial to us if the province could be persuaded to change this policy.

Almonte Heritage District: There were many public meetings on this issue. The area originally proposed was much larger and included Coleman Island. Later it was cut back to include only streets either side of the river.  Downtown businesses are very much in favour of protecting this area much loved by locals and popular with visitors and film makers. It is hoped that the historic streets preserved over the years by previous and current owners will be protected for the future. Grants are available to help pay for renovations.

Don Maynard Park: A plan was put forward to sell a little used small park and the land locked area behind it, funds to go towards much-needed renovations in Gemmill Park. Many people showed up to ask council to keep the park. After further discussion, and more meetings, it was decided to sell only a portion at either side of the front of the park to raise funds. The centre landscaped portion and the landlocked area behind would both be retained as part of a new park area to be at least as large as before.  Some electoral candidates are suggesting the Don Maynard Park decisions be overturned. Since that would result in no land sale and therefore create a lack of funds for the Gemmill Park project I am wondering whether those candidates suggest the required amount be added to the 2019 taxes or to the debt?

Natural Heritage System: This is an environmental protection system now mandated by the province. In updating our Official Plan the council was obliged to put this in place in the eastern sector of our municipality. When discussions were held between planners and Ministry of Natural Resources it was decided to apply the system to the whole of the municipality, that way all land would be treated the same way, no one would end up with land half in and half out and neighbours would be treated equally. That concept was brought before council. After public meetings it was suggested that the system be applied in the obligatory Eastern sector only. At the final council meeting this was agreed. At the same time maps were presented showing that much of the western sector has some protection from wetland setbacks already applied by the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority as mandated by the province. Perhaps that is why there are residents, including certain election candidates, who still believe, incorrectly that more than the minimum was applied. They also think that the council is in control of wetland mapping. It is not. This is an MVCA responsibility. The setbacks for NHS and Wetlands only apply when planning construction. They control the location of new buildings, they do not stop development and they do not interfere with agriculture.

Is is difficult to understand why any one of these issues would be used to accuse the council of negligence or malpractice. There were no personal gains involved, no one’s land ownership has been abused and there was an overall intention to make the municipality a better place by making the absolute best of a power plant being placed in the centre of town, protecting a well-loved town centre, utilizing a landlocked piece of town-owned land to leverage money for much needed improvements to our regional park, and protecting the environment in our rural areas. If mistakes were made they were to do with process, procedures and communication. There is a new list of town advisory committees. The new council should continue to look at how they can do meetings better, not faster.

Municipal rules and regulations are a complex mix of those set down by the province and those set in place by the municipality. New councillors have a lot to learn when they begin the job of councillor and not much time to learn it. They will benefit from the steady hand of a few experienced members.  Even with a mix of new ideas and previous experience the new council will need patience and communication skills to move forward without confrontation. The Official Motto of Mississippi Mills is “Pergamus Una” so let us move forward together.