Back to civility and collaboration? 

The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on May 7, 2019

Theresa Peluso

My misgivings prior to the start of this Council meeting were, as it turned out, essentially unfounded.  This meeting involved several delegations with positive news and proposals for our community, and efficient, straightforward discussions of the various matters on the agenda.  Please note one minor concern at the end of this article, and a correction to a statement in my article on the April 16 Council meeting.

Because Mayor Christa Lowry was absent, Deputy Mayor Rickey Minnille took on the role of Chair, and admirably acquitted himself in this role.

The first delegation was Ms. Marilyn Bird, Executive Director of the Lanark Transportation Association (LTA).  Ms. Bird gave a clear, compelling presentation of the valuable work done by the LTA in providing necessary transportation to a significant segment of our County (including in Mississippi Mills) who are unable to drive or own a car, so that they can get to essential appointments and services.  In 2017 the LTA provided over 21,000 trips to 1935 registered users in Lanark County, and their vehicles covered nearly 617,000 km in the process!  These statistics do not include similar assistance provided by Mills Community Support in our municipality.

In addition to this, last year the LTA started a pilot project to enhance residents’ lives by providing them with transportation for groceries and social contact – vital for dealing with  isolation and lack of access to food.  The route destinations are fixed, the cost is only $2 per user, and only 24-hours’ advance request to LTA for a place on the nine-seater bus is needed.  Ms. Bird would like to introduce a similar project in Mississippi Mills, at no cost to our municipality, but needs to have public consultation first to optimize their services for residents, and also LOTS of publicity to make sure we all know about it!  What a fantastic initiative!

In the second delegation were Mississippi River Power Corporation (MRPC) President Paul Virgin and General Manager Scott Newton.  They presented a review of their activities during the past year, and took the opportunity to present Council with the earnings from 2018, in the form of a $225,000 cheque!  Mr. Virgin pointed out that, following deregulation of public utilities by the Province in the mid-1990s, the Mississippi Mills Council of the day decided to have our municipality take ownership of the generating portion of the hydro station, so that in 2000, the MRPC was formed and our municipality became its sole shareholder. Unlike Mississippi Mills, the municipal councils of Carleton Place and Arnprior, in that same period, opted to sell their own hydro-generation stations, and are now probably regretting that decision! We have the foresight of our former councillors to thank for this revenue.

The third delegation consisted of an award presented to Carter Reid, a Grade 7 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic School, for his incredibly hard work and dedication in promoting his school’s eco-initiatives and high-tech programs, and his extensive fund-raising for wheelchairs.  Clearly, this award was well-deserved!

During the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, several items were fairly quickly discussed and approved, including a number of zoning by-law amendments presented at the previous Council meeting.  Regarding the two-year program review and assessment of the Heritage Conservation District, a number of modifications proposed by the Planning Department were approved. Councillor Jan Maydan specifically mentioned that she had discussed this agenda item with the Director of Planning prior to providing additional comments at this Council meeting, showing that she had followed the correct process.

Regarding the Finance and Administration component of the COW, there were some questions from councillors regarding the choice of a different firm to provide legal services to Mississippi Mills, regarding logistical concerns and the selection process, which added useful background information.

Councillor Cynthia Guerard requested that the item on strategic planning options be deferred until our new Chief Administrative Officer was settled into his new job.  (We found out that our new CAO Ken Kelly will start work at the end of this month – see the Millstone News’s article on this long-awaited event.)  Councillor Guerard’s suggestion made excellent sense, in my opinion.

As part of the Information Items component of this meeting, Councillor Bev Holmes mentioned that it was significant run-off from Mount Pakenham that had caused flooding on Highway 29 near Pakenham a few weeks ago, and she pointed out that, during this same period, the Province had announced that it would remove 50 percent of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority’s regular grant for natural hazard management. So if our region experiences flooding again, the MVCA will now have to manage it with one hand tied behind its back.  I’m having difficulty seeing the logic in this – how about you?

During the Council meeting that followed the COW meeting, we learned that Mayor Lowry had invited a provincial representative to witness the extent of the damage caused by the recent flooding, with a view to requesting funding, through the Disaster Relief Assistance for Ontarians Program, for residents, farmers, non-profit businesses and small operator-owned businesses harmed by this disaster.  This request was naturally unanimously approved by Council.

It was also agreed that financing be requested from Infrastructure Ontario for the Ottawa River Power Corporation to construct a new substation to meet forecasted load growth.

One last information item, however, was somewhat puzzling.  This item (originally proposed by Councillor Maydan and briefly discussed at the previous council meeting) consisted of a motion to implement a petition policy, whereby a local municipal improvement costing less than $20,000 could be overridden if at least 60 percent of residents in the affected neighbourhood opposed it.  Acting Clerk Jeanne Harfield stated that she would need to do more research before any decision was made.

This caused me to think of the bicycle lanes which were recently painted on several main streets in Almonte, and which were opposed by several residents on these streets.  My question would be this:  If this local improvement enhances the health, safety and well-being of many – not just local – residents because it encourages active transportation, and also causes a reduction in traffic speed because of the narrower driving lanes resulting from painting bike lanes on these roads, should the scope of the petition not be enlarged to include all residents in the municipality?

Finally, I would like to thank Councillor John Dalgity for providing new information regarding my concern in my article on the April 16 Council meeting.

I had described Councillor Dalgity’s motion to transfer $40,000, originally allocated to replace the basketball court at Gemmill Park, to instead build a second crosswalk on Paterson Street.  I incorrectly inferred that this decision was made with no discussion because it was brought up at the April 16 meeting with no explanation.

In fact, Councillor Dalgity has explained (he also provided a report sent to the Department of Roads and Public Works (R&PW)) that he had received many complaints from parents of children attending the schools on Paterson Street, about the dangerous traffic speeds and volumes on this street.  Councillor Dalgity accompanied one parent and saw first-hand how the placement of the current crosswalk created problems because of the laneways these children had to cross to get to their schools.  Mayor Lowry, Deputy Mayor Minnille and Councillors Dalgity and Maydan were involved with meeting the school trustees, doing on-site inspections, and discussing solutions with one of the school principals, as well as meeting with staff in R&PW and the Department of Parks and Recreation.  I appreciate now just how much behind-the-scenes work was done to make sure this money was directed appropriately to a much-needed project.  I apologize for coming to the wrong conclusion, and hope, to avoid future misunderstandings, that councillors will provide a brief background to agenda items involving significant modifications.

So, all in all, this was a civil, productive Council meeting, which I sincerely hope will become the norm.  My only question pertains to the petition policy item, but I am confident that this will be resolved in a way that ensures special interests do not invalidate decisions that benefit the general public.