Report on the May 21 Council meeting

by Theresa Peluso

More civility and collaboration: The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on May 21, 2019

The May 21 Council meeting was generally civilized.  It was very much appreciated that all councillors were at pains to point out that they had conferred with staff prior to commenting on various agenda items during this meeting.  My main concern is the power that advisory committees have in this new term of council, to override staff expertise, specifically with regard to traffic safety concerns in Pakenham.  All members of Council were present except for Councillor Ferguson, who had a schedule conflict.

Four delegations were on the agenda.

The first delegation was yet another award ceremony for a group of remarkable Mississippi Mills youngsters, this time in the Science and Technology domain.  A team of 11-and-12-year-olds from Holy Name of Mary Catholic School are going to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Wallops Island, Virginia next month, all because of an experiment they developed, with the help of two parent-volunteers.  Teamoeba, as they named themselves, will be witnessing the launch into the Ionosphere of a sounding rocket with their very own, made-in-Mississippi-Mills experiment on board.  Wow! Teamoeba were the youngest team to win a world-wide competition with their entry, which has as its objective to assess the viability of microbes in outer space.

Our local youngsters continue to demonstrate outstanding talent and commitment in many areas, be it sports, altruistic initiatives or academics.  I am keen to find out what other achievements are highlighted at future meetings!

The second delegation was a rather unstructured series of pronouncements by our Member of Provincial Parliament, Randy Hillier.

During his time at the podium he rationalized his effectiveness at representing our riding, despite the fact that he has been kicked out of caucus, with the argument that he can now speak freely.  He told us what we already knew about the cuts to public and social services, all in the name of fiscal prudence at the provincial level.

In the context of the flooding that many Ontario communities have recently experienced, Mr. Hillier explained that, by cutting funding for the conservation authorities in half, these agencies can do a better job of focusing on areas most at risk of flooding.

Really?  The conservation authorities have worked hard, during the 60 years that they’ve been in existence, to protect all the natural “sponges” we have, like forests, wetlands and shoreline vegetation, to keep even more snow-melt, precipitation, and soil and other particulates from entering our waterways.  This aspect of the big picture was totally ignored. And now removing these protections will achieve…what?

During the question period following Mr. Hillier’s presentation, Deputy Mayor Minnille pointed out that the cuts to Lanark County add up to just over $1,000,000, affecting ambulance, police, social services, daycare and health, and he wanted to know how these cuts would be implemented.  Mr. Hillier gave a rather evasive reply, explaining that he didn’t know the details.

So the province is going through the façade of balancing the books, but we’re the ones who pay, regardless. By doing away with protective measures like crime prevention and timely treatment of health and social problems, we will then spend more down the road as a result of increased crime rates, fewer education opportunities for our youth, and more illness, preventable injuries, and premature deaths, or else we will pay more taxes at the local level to keep these services from being cut.

Councillor Maydan asked how the broad cuts decreed by the Province would be implemented; for example, would the municipality or the provincial government define the specifics.  The answer she got basically boiled down to:  It depends.

Councillor Dalgity asked when the Province expected to pay off the debt, and was told that the new government expects to eliminate the deficit in four years.  So this $11.7 billion deficit will result in drastically reduced services to those who can least afford it, and hugely increased local taxes borne by all those taxpayers who can’t afford creative accountants to reduce their contributions.  Perhaps higher corporate taxes would help reduce the impact on us?

Councillor Guerard asked whether our new Community Official Plan (COP) would still be valid, given the “open for business” direction the Province is taking.  Mr. Hillier replied that our COP will be followed for the time being according to the regulations currently in effect, but that the changes planned by the Province could very well make the current COP requirements unenforceable.

Councillor Holmes, referring to this new “open for business” mantra, asked how Council should move that concept forward.  Mr. Hillier responded that our Council should “embrace, encourage, and facilitate investment”, so that we can pay for community services with economic growth.

In other words, the clean, sustainable and stable environment we taxpayers envision for our families and our communities, which is protected by the current COP and Provincial Policy Statement, will take a back seat to the ambitions of developers and corporations. As you know, a Community Official Plan describes a municipality’s policies on how our land should be used.  It is done with OUR input and helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet OUR needs.

Now, with this new attitude, where Business is king, our parks, farmlands, woodlands, wetlands, and clean air and water will all be up for grabs, sold to the first bidder.  It will become difficult to prevent businesses setting up air-and water-polluting industries in our municipality, to restrict building heights and spreads in our neighbourhoods, or to curtail sprawling subdivisions being built wherever and however developers decide.  These corporate decisions will most likely degrade our quality of life, and citizens will, it appears, be powerless to oppose them. The next paragraph explains why.

As Mr. Hillier mentioned at this meeting – our Province has included a “Schedule 17” in this year’s budget bill.  This “Schedule 17” proposes to substantially limit the Province’s potential civil liability where Ontarians have been harmed by negligent decisions or activities by provincial representatives, particularly in connection with environmental impacts (for example, as the result of a chemical spill or depleted aquifer).  If you think this is unthinkable in a democratic country, check these references:  https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/12245  and https://www.cela.ca/blog/2019-04-26/preliminary-observations-crown-liability-and-proceedings-act-2019-schedule-17-bill-1

Mr. Hillier actually said at this meeting that he is opposed to this piece of legislation, so do let him know that you share his concerns! He can be reached at
http://www.randyhilliermpp.com/

Councillor Holmes then asked Mr. Hillier what his thoughts were on further amalgamation.  Mr. Hillier stated that he disagreed with this particular proposal by the Province, because he believed that municipalities are well able to govern themselves without interference.  He also said he thought that the push for amalgamation would apply more to urban areas rather than rural ones.

The next delegation was by Mark Joynes, to explain the achievements of MM2020, which has as its goal to provide reliable broadband services to all parts of our municipality by 2020. As he reiterated, deploying these broadband services is essential to the future economic viability of our community.

Mr. Joynes thanked Council for their previous grant of $20,000 for this project, and explained that additional financing from higher-tier governments seemed to be unlikely, or promised for some distant future date.  Thankfully, local Internet provider Storm have stepped in with a plan to fund and implement a pilot project in Clayton, with the intention of recouping their costs from residents once they get the fibre Internet lines extended directly to their homes.

The ground-breaking for this project began on May 13, and the anticipated end date is a few months later, in July.  The cost to extend broadband service to all of Ramsay and Pakenham would amount to over $5 million, and so Mr. Joynes was requesting that Council meet with MM2020 to discuss the inclusion of broadband service in the municipality’s Strategic Plan, to identify formal funding options for this service, and to establish a process for implementing this service for all residents.  During the comment period, Deputy Mayor Minnille commended the choice of Clayton for Storm’s pilot project because of its notoriously poor cellphone and Internet reception.

The final delegation was by Watson and Associates Economists Ltd.  Peter Simcisko presented an overview of the Asset Management Plan (AMP) and draft policy for Mississippi Mills.  Our municipality is required to have an asset management policy in place by July 1 of this year.  Once our AMP is approved, our municipality will be able to ensure that the service levels it provides are financially sustainable, through long-term strategic and financial planning, as well as annual reporting and adjustments, to ensure that revenue and spending are accounted for.

Councillor Maydan asked what Council’s next steps would be, to which the reply was that they should plan, with staff’s advice, an AMP for major infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges. In response to Councillor Holmes’s question about the CAO’s role in this process, Mr. Simcisko replied that he would provide the information in the near future.  This topic will be brought back to the next Council meeting, by which time our new CAO will be on staff.

During the actual Committee of the Whole meeting, there was some discussion about two reported water-main breaks, the construction on Martin Street North, and the new crosswalk proposed for Paterson Street.  All of these issues were dealt with in a constructive manner.

The Pakenham pedestrian crossing was next up for discussion.

From the agenda, it was noted that the Public Works Advisory Committee (PWAC), at their May 6 meeting, had overridden the Director of Roads and Public Works professionally-designed plan for bump-outs to calm traffic and shorten the road-crossing distance for pedestrians, and the PWAC proposed alternative options; namely, full-lane crosswalks, and/or additional flashing lights, and/or a timed pedestrian crossing signal and/or signal arms extending over the driving lanes (like those railway-crossing arms?).

Mayor Lowry pointed out that because Councillor Ferguson, who represents Pakenham ward, wasn’t present at the meeting, that this item should be deferred, which it was.  The only part of this item that was approved was a request to Lanark County to install automated radar speed signs at each entrance to the village of Pakenham.  It’s unfortunate that an advisory committee should have the power to overturn staff decisions, especially when they are supported by business owners and residents in the affected community.

Under the Report section of the meeting, there was a somewhat protracted discussion about the updated Roads and Public Works Health and Safety Policy Manual.  Councillor Holmes recommended it be deferred so that the new CAO can review it, and Councillor Guerard continued to be extremely concerned about why the payroll administrator was involved in the process, despite efforts to explain to her that the administrator in question, because of her access to personnel files, also had some of the functions of Human Resources, and in this case it was purely an oversight role.  This is because our municipality doesn’t have an HR department per se.

In the report from the Planning Department, there was concern about a particular zoning amendment because both the Carleton Place and Mississippi Mills fire chiefs had safety concerns.

Councillor Dalgity suggested that these concerns be considered to avoid our municipality incurring any liability for health and safety incidents down the road, Councillor Holmes suggested deferring this item to obtain more information, and Deputy Mayor Minnille recommended that the Planner’s recommendation to require that the applicant for the zoning amendment fulfill the site plan control requirements that apply to this property.  Councillor Guerard then agreed that this item be deferred, and that being the consensus, that’s what happened.

In the report from Finance and Administration, the big question was how to allocate a one-time Federal Gas Tax funding of nearly $400,000.

The original proposal was to use it to reduce the long-term financing for an expensive upgrade to the Victoria Street water and sewer system, and thereby reduce residents’ taxes.

Instead of this, three councillors – Holmes, Maydan and Dalgity – wanted to use half of this money to do extensive repairs to Concession Road 11, which is in poor condition (although, according to the Director of Roads and Public Works, not as unsafe as it was made out to be).  Six families live on this road.

Concession Road 12 was also deemed to be in poor condition. Mayor Lowry reminded her fellow councillors that reducing our long-term debt means reducing our taxes (incidentally, reduced taxes was part of the election platforms last fall of several councillors), and this agenda item was then deferred pending more information from staff.

Under Information Items, Councillor Holmes, in connection with her position as representative of Mississippi Mills on the MVCA  Board of Directors, stated that very few people on the Board support the drastic provincial cuts to this agency.  The MVCA BoD have sent a letter to the Province and to the ministries overseeing the MVCA, asking that full funding be restored.  Councillor Holmes requested that the MVCA General Manager be invited to speak at the next Council meeting.

The regular Council Session, which followed, was straightforward.  Councillor Maydan asked Council to provide the Finance and Policy Advisory Committee with what Council sees as priorities for this committee.  The two items proposed were the delegated authority by-law and the procurement by-law.

This was another civil, productive Council meeting, and the deferments made at this meeting seemed to be justified.

I do hope that our councillors continue to assess each issue objectively, in terms of what is best for ALL residents, instead of conforming to political biases.