Even more civility and collaboration: The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on June 4, 2019
by Theresa Peluso
The June 4 Council meeting went quite smoothly, and all discussions were quite constructive. All members of Council were present, except for Councillor Guerard. We all had a chance to finally be introduced to our new Chief Administrative Officer, Ken Kelly, and Shawna Stone was still at the table, but now in her role as Municipal Clerk. The only questionable piece at this Council meeting was the issue of Pakenham village crossover options to make Highway 29 safer for pedestrians.
Two delegations were on the agenda.
The first delegation was Howard Allen of Allan and Partners Chartered Accountants, who presented his firm’s audit of our municipality’s 2018 financial statements. According to Mr. Allan, the audit went well, our internal controls are good, and our financial records are well maintained. Our net debt was actually reduced in 2018, we have a good cash balance and a low percentage of tax arears, and our rates of taxation compare extremely favourably with the provincial average. Mr. Allan affirmed that all in all, our municipality is in a low-risk position, due in no small part to our Treasurer’s skill and acumen. In fact, Mr. Allan complimented Rhonda Whitmarsh at several points during his presentation on her sound fiscal management.
Several councillors asked good questions. Councillor Ferguson asked about whether we need to increase our percentage of commercial and industrial businesses, which has declined in recent years. Mr. Allan replied that this decline has occurred in many other Ontario municipalities, and seems to be a trend. He suggested it might be good for our municipality to assess the Province’s new development strategy, and discuss with the Province how best to go about increasing our commercial/industrial component.
Councillor Holmes asked whether there is a recommended commercial-industrial/residential ratio for a municipality such as ours, with its small urban areas surrounded by extensive low-density rural areas. Mr. Allan replied that there isn’t, because each municipality is unique.
Councillor Maydan asked why farming (which is considered to be a business) was lumped together with residential. The answer was that for the last two decades, farmers have been allowed a 25 percent reduction in property taxes. At the beginning of this Farm Property Class Tax Rate Program, the Province reimbursed municipalities for the lost revenue, but this is no longer the case, which means that farms, from a strictly municipal-revenue point of view, are not in the same category as other businesses.
The second delegation was by our Chief Librarian, Christine Row, who was accompanied by Cathy Peacock, Chairperson of the Mississippi Mills Library Board, and a few library staff members. Ms. Row gave a clear explanation of the negative impacts caused by the Province’s recent cuts to library services, particularly for a small municipality like ours. The main impact is the cancellation of funding for the Southern Ontario Library Service, which provides inter-library loans, professional training and legal services, and enables smaller libraries to save money by coordinating their purchases so that they can get bulk discounts. Ms. Row asked Council to endorse the resolution by the Mississippi Mills Public Library requesting that the Province restore this funding, and support sustainable long-term funding for all Ontario public libraries, which Council then unanimously approved. Well done!
The Committee of the Whole meeting was next. In connection with the report by Roads and Public Works, the Pakenham pedestrian crossing came up for discussion again. Roads and Public Works Director Guy Bourgon had listed $29,000 in his report as the costs related to the pedestrian safety measures proposed by the Public Works Advisory Committee (PWAC), which did not include engineering design costs. During the discussion it was pointed out a) that Lanark County had concerns about a four-lane pedestrian crossover because of the road width and the length of time required to get from one side to the other (especially for small children and people with mobility issues), and b) that Hydro One might not allow the solar-powered overhead poles and arms that would form part of the pedestrian-crossing system to be installed near their own hydro poles. It was agreed that a costly engineering design would be needed before the cost of the PWAC recommendations could be determined. Consequently, there was no motion to approve these recommendations, and that was that.
The report by the Mississippi Mills Fire Department mainly consisted of a request to approve the revised Emergency Response Bylaw, which sets the levels of service and the operational setup of the fire department. Interim Fire Chief Steve Giberson asked that a deputy fire chief be re-instated as a full-time position, specifically because at present, one major incident could put fire service delivery at risk. Mr. Giberson explained that building in redundancies by having an additional supervisor would remove this risk. Mr. Giberson also explained that the fire department is expanding its responsibilities in fire prevention and education, and wants to implement a youth outreach initiative in the form of a cadet firefighter program that would be open to youth ages 16 to 17. Having our municipality become a regional training centre will enable us to reduce our own training costs, and also earn some revenue by charging fees for training programs.
There were some thoughtful questions from several Councillors which were answered satisfactorily, and in the end, the new Emergency Response Bylaw was passed.
In the Finance and Administration report, it was mainly a question of how to use the one-time Federal Gas Tax Funding of nearly $400,000. Council decided, after some useful discussion, to use about $100,000 for road remediation to Ramsay Concession Roads 11A and 12, and to place the balance in reserves, to be spent in next year’s budget. Councillor Ferguson pointed out that the original plan, to allocate the $300,000 balance to the current water and sewer budget for the Victoria Street project, did not meet the conditions for obtaining this funding, and his acuity was acknowledged by several other councillors.
In this same report, it was recommended that our municipality’s Asset Management Policy be approved as presented, and this sailed through, without any objections, four weeks before the deadline. Wonderful!
In the Building and Planning report, our Director of Planning Niki Dwyer provided a detailed review of the proposed Bill 108 which, as I explained in my May 21 Council meeting account, puts all municipalities, including ours, at the mercy of developers, and removes any meaningful recourse for municipalities to oppose inappropriate development plans. It also makes it difficult for the municipality to be paid development charges in a timely manner, and removes requirements for developers to provide certain services, such as recreational areas and parking. Not only is this omnibus bill very complex, it is also about to be approved without any request for preliminary discussion by the municipalities affected – and including this preliminary discussion before passing a bill has been the norm in the past. Many other municipalities have already made their objections to this bill known to the Province. Mississippi Mills joined them by approving Ms. Dwyer’s list of concerns with Bill 108, which was to be forwarded to the Province for consideration. Bravo!
Under the Information List, there were several items of interest. I learned that more fees would be downloaded to municipalities because of the funding cuts to our conservation authorities, and that Lanark County is anticipating a 4 percent increase in the county portion of our taxes next year when all the cuts to health, daycare, and other social services finally take effect. So start saving up, folks!
Following the return to Council Session, all the motions made during the Committee of the Whole portion of the meeting were passed, except for the one pertaining to PWAC’s recommendations. Councillor Holmes asked that costs for an engineering design to implement these recommendations be provided, that would deal with the various concerns raised earlier in the evening. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about approving a budget to pay for this engineering design, and it was then decided time was running out because of the upcoming summer recess, and so Councillor Holmes’s motion was lost. So the good people of Pakenham will have to contend with heavy traffic bisecting their lovely town for yet another year, because of the questionable controversy regarding the bump-outs originally supported by Pakenham residents and businesses, and already approved by our last Council and by the County.
As part of the New Business component, the Lanark Transportation Association pilot project to provide limited public transit service to our municipality was approved, with direction to staff to help the LTA identify the most useful routes. This promises to be a popular solution for people stuck at home without access to a car, and they will now have more freedom to do their errands and socialize with their friends.
Under Announcements and Invitations it was explained that the Province has designated parts of our municipality as eligible for disaster recovery assistance. More information on this is provided on the municipal website.
And so ended an interesting and productive Council meeting, which makes it three in a row! Perhaps our new Councillors are finally hitting their stride?