Report on October 15 Council meeting

A fairly normal meeting with some potentially positive developments? The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on October 15, 2019

by Theresa Peluso

This meeting, which lasted a good three hours, was fairly productive, with a number of discussions focused on pedestrian safety.  The main items dealt with at this meeting can be found here: Mississippi Mills October 15th summary.  My comments are intended to supplement this information.   Also, please note at the end of this article a correction to the information I provided in my previous report.

There was only one delegation at this meeting, by the new Managing Director of the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre (MMYC), Charlotte MacAlister, and by Sara Fortin, Program Coordinator.  They provided an update to Council about MMYC’s activities. The main focus of MMYC (located at 134 Main St. in Almonte) is to engage youth and provide them with a sense of civic responsibility. Included in MMYC’s goals are offering quality programming, encouraging healthy eating (such as developing cooking skills) and physical activity, and forging connections between youth and seniors (which includes a weekly get-together with residents of the Orchard View retirement community). In fact, some youth have rated their visits with seniors as even better than their excursion days at MMYC!  The MMYC youth also undertake fund- and awareness-raising campaigns for the betterment of the community.  As of May 2019 MMYC have 350 youth members, 150 active members and, more recently, 45 new youth members.  The need for the Centre is much greater in the summer.

The Centre is blessed with many volunteers.  As a result of MMYC’s activities, the OPP have noted a 40 percent reduction in police incidents when the Centre is open. MMYC are now focused on overcoming transportation difficulties for rural students, who are often home alone, so that they too can participate in the Centre’s activities. MMYC would also like to increase the age range of its members (mainly in the 10 to 15-year-old range) to attract older teens. The Centre is always looking for people who can help their members develop life skills such as sewing, knitting, self-defence, mechanics and music.  MMYC also wants to add 4H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health) activities to their programming. Money to operate MMYC includes funding from the municipality, the County and the Province.  More information on the MMYC can be found here: MMYC link.

During the Committee of the Whole portion of the meeting, there was a motion from the minutes of the Public Works Advisory Committee (PWAC), requesting that Council provide direction on what is required for yard waste diversion.  Some discussion followed.  In the end it was decided to address the need for residents to find a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable way of managing yard waste by having the PWAC research yard-waste diversion solutions by municipalities of comparable size and make-up to Mississippi Mills, and report back to Council.

During the Report component of the COW, the design of the two Pakenham four-lane pedestrian cross-overs (at the intersections of County Road 29 at Waba Rd. /Elizabeth St. and County Rd 29 and Jeanie St.) was approved, with installation of these cross-overs to be started in the very near future.

Next up was another issue in connection with pedestrian safety; namely, relocating the cross-walk on Paterson St. in Almonte to the north of Holy Name of Mary Elementary Catholic School and south of Morton St.  Council also approved the creation of a Community Safety Zone (CSZ) on Paterson St., to include the stretch in front of R. Tait McKenzie Elementary Public School all the way to Robert Hill St. This means that additional fines are meted out for traffic violations within a CSZ. Apparently there is a problem with drivers speeding (surprise!). But first, the culprits need to be caught in the act, right?

The CAO, Ken Kelly, suggested hiring a crossing-guard and/or including the Walking School Bus Program in this initiative to improve pedestrian safety. Roads and Public Works Director Guy Bourgon requested that his department be provided with the exact desired location of this new cross-walk, to ensure that this issue would be put to rest once and for all. Councillor Dalgity pointed out that $40,000 (the amount moved from the Parks and Recreation budget) was available to cover the costs of this initiative, including hiring a crossing-guard. This motion was carried.

As part of the Building and Planning Report the issue of Amendment no. 21 to Mississippi Mills’ Community Official Plan (COP) came up, specifically in connection with Lanark County’s decision on the draft amendment submitted by Mississippi Mills several weeks ago. Specifically, the County decided the following:

To defer Mapping of the Natural Heritage System and Agricultural lands;

To change Mississippi Mills’ growth strategy from 50 percent of future growth to Almonte on full municipal services to 70 percent.  Remaining development, on large lots in existing villages or new settlement areas was changed from 30-20 to 30 percent; and

To delay Council’s proposed Settlement Boundary Expansion for Almonte pending completion by our Municipality of a separate amendment and comprehensive review, and pending a decision on the Provincial Policy Statement by the Province.  Lanark County’s draft decision will be presented to the County’s Economic Development Committee for comment, with input from Mississippi Mills Council.

Councillor Maydan objected to the fact that Mississippi Mills now couldn’t include new expansion lands until a review was performed, until which time the lands would remain designated as rural. The Director of Planning Niki Dwyer explained that further discussion of this change was needed, involving both in-house and outside expertise, for everyone to reach agreement on this point.  Mayor Lowry was concerned about the financial implications of this decision, since the decision as it stood would entail bringing in new land for development piecemeal, resulting in extra expense and delays.  CAO Ken Kelly explained that because Lanark County are not willing to reconsider this particular section, the only option was to take it out.  In the end, Mayor Lowry recommended deferring to the Planner, Ms. Dwyer, regarding next steps.  Ms. Dwyer stated that she would ask for clarification from the Lanark County Planner Julie Stewart.  She also explained that the sooner this section of the COP received final approval by the County, the sooner the process for approvals can start.

It seems to me, notwithstanding the objections of our members of Council, that the County’s decision may promote environmentally sustainable development because it would ensure careful assessment of agricultural and environmental impacts, as well as reduce urban sprawl, if development is implemented gradually.

Next up, as part of the Building and Planning Report, was the Downtown Parking Study, consisting of 310 pages!  It was certainly thorough! The Parking Study had concluded that the Downtown Almonte Commercial area has a sufficient supply of spaces, but these spaces aren’t close to where people want to eat and shop.

Mayor Lowry highlighted the numerous options for additional parking provided in the report. Councillor Guerard found there were lots of incorrect statements, and disagreed with most of the findings.  One of the findings in the report was that most people surveyed wanted to park close to their destination, which seemed to make the option of providing parking farther away from Mill St. less attractive.  (Another lost opportunity to keep fit, it seems!)  Some suggestions by Council were to set a time limit on parking, to get additional input, and to increase the municipality’s rates for cash-in-lieu of parking (required of new businesses), to be in line with the rates set by other municipalities.  This money would then be used to create additional parking spaces. CAO Kelly suggested that Council receive the Parking Study, review the interim control by-law and possibly repeal it, and review the Study again once the municipality’s Strategic Plan is completed. Planner Dwyer suggested that Council determine how additional parking will be provided before changing the current cash-in-lieu rates.  It was agreed to have staff review the information in the Downtown Parking Study and bring forward recommendations at a later date. During the Council Meeting portion of the evening, the interim by-law ended up being removed.

Yet another item in connection with the Building and Planning Report was a list of comments provided by our Council on the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), as part of the Province’s request for comments from municipalities and the general public.  In the agenda MM Council Oct 15 agenda on page 424, please note a comment by Councillor Holmes that “Natural Heritage Systems should remove recognition of ‘locally significant and regionally significant wetlands’ as well as references to linkages”.

Councillor Holmes needs to understand that this Natural Heritage System is essential to help combat an ongoing mass extinction of species, in which a huge contributing factor is loss of habitat.  Statistics in the World Wildlife Fund’s 2016 Living Planet Index indicate that global wildlife populations declined 58 percent since 1970, mainly due to habitat destruction, over-hunting and pollution. These wildlife populations need not only strong protections for habitat; they also need ways to travel from one core area in another, so that they don’t become roadkill or interfere with human activities.

Second, natural habitat is what provides us with clean air, clean water, a thriving ecosystem, and nutrient-filled soil to grow the food humans need.

Third, natural habitat provides effective ways of mitigating the extreme weather events we are experiencing as a result of human-caused climate disruption — whether it be floods, droughts, high winds, or intense heat and cold.

Speaking of “human-caused climate disruption”, Councillor Maydan, on this same page, commented that she wanted to dilute the term “changing climate” by replacing it with “seasonal weather cycle changes”.  Were the high water levels and flooding experienced last April in communities along the Mississippi River, which some long-time residents described as the worst they’d ever seen, just a “seasonal weather-cycle change”?  Or perhaps that’s the term the Premier of Manitoba, Brian Palliser, should have used to describe the freak snowstorm and high winds that hit his province on October 11 (a week ago), which resulted the southern portion of the province being hit with up to 70 cm of snow, thousands of downed branches and trees all over the region, and loss of electricity of 50,000 residents.

As part of the Information Items component of the COW, Mayor Lowry gave an update on the Great Veggie Grow-Off.  Although our municipality lost their position as reigning champion to Drummond-North Elmsley, the overall contribution of fresh produce to organizations helping to offset food security in the County was up by 50 percent over the all-time previous record for this competition.  So that more than makes up for the blow to our prestige!  More information on the Mayor’s Report can be found on page 522 of the agenda here (Mayor’s Report).

Following the return to the Council Meeting portion of the evening, all the motions made during the COW portion were passed.

Then the item arose regarding pedestrian cross-overs on Ottawa Street, which Councillor Dalgity had been anxious to discuss at the October 1 Council meeting.  The intersections of particular interest to him were Ottawa St. at the Paterson/Menzie intersection, and Ottawa St. at Sadler/Industrial Drive.  Councillor Dalgity emphasized his concern that vehicles were turning onto the existing pedestrian crossing while it was being used by children, endangering their safety.  To help resolve this, he asked that the traffic light signal be modified to forbid right-hand turns when the pedestrian signal was activated.  It was agreed to refer this particular request to staff for further information.

Director of Roads and Public Works Guy Bourgon emphasized the need, before proceeding to install these cross-overs, to collect data on traffic volume and speed along this stretch of Ottawa St., and to have the safety concerns identified undergo a study by a professional traffic engineer.  Mr. Bourgon stated that he would get a proposal from a qualified consultant. Mr. Bourgon also assured Councillor Dalgity that he could speed up the data collection process to ensure a timely decision. CAO Kelly recommended looking at comparable situations in other communities to determine an appropriate solution. Councillor Ferguson asked that staff contact the OPP for statistics on accidents and injuries on this stretch of Ottawa St. Input from Lanark County would also be required since the street in question is a County road.

Councillor Maydan proposed that PWAC review the various locations elsewhere in Mississippi Mills that were identified four years ago in the Master Transportation Plan and provide recommendations. Mayor Lowry mentioned that some of the locations proposed for pedestrian cross-overs would be part of the Downtown Revitalization Program, and also pointed out that the amount available for these installations would depend on the result of budget deliberations.

Finally, Councillor Dalgity made a motion that crossing guards be hired for the Ottawa St. and Paterson/Menzie intersection. Councillor Ferguson mentioned that the Walking School Bus (WSB), which has a route that includes this intersection, could provide a solution.  In response, it was pointed out that the WSB only operates during the mornings and not at all during winter months.  In any case, it would seem that the crossing guards would be an asset to the WSB, and would encourage even more parents to allow their children to use the WSB.  In the end, after Councillor Holmes asked for a recorded vote on this motion (to hire and train crossing guards for this intersection at a cost of $5,000 per crossing guard, and to review future funding for this service in the upcoming budget), the motion was passed, with all councillors voting yea except for Councillor Ferguson.  It seems that Councillor Ferguson may have been concerned about costs down the road, with Pakenham and Naismith public schools justifiably wanting the same level of service.

Then Councillor Dalgity put forward a motion for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to research a plan to encourage volunteers to Adopt a Park, including setting up additional recreation programs for children.  This motion was passed.  It’s clear that the volunteers who have worked to make Augusta Park a popular place for the community are showing others that it can be done.  They would be an excellent resource for ideas for future parks.

Shortly after this, a good three hours later, the meeting ended.

My take on this meeting is that there was constructive discussion of the various agenda items throughout the meeting, with no obvious hidden agendas (except for Councillor Holmes’s one request for a recorded vote).  I think the County’s proposed revisions of the draft COP to restrict housing developments will concentrate building within Almonte, and reduce urban sprawl, as well as minimize destruction of natural habitat in rural areas.  The requirement for assessments prior to any new construction being approved should help to prevent any non-compliant construction of tract housing.  Concentrating development in Almonte can ensure that new services such as broadband Internet, hydro and (hopefully) public transit, can be provided more sustainably.

The efforts by Councillor Dalgity in particular, to install safe pedestrian crossings will contribute greatly to making residents more confident about walking and biking within our towns.  Perhaps it will lead to more residents being willing to park their cars farther away from their Almonte destinations so that they can get some healthy exercise?  As for the concerns by Councillors Holmes and Maydan about the PPS, these councillors need to accept the peer-reviewed, proven science on species extinction and the ever-increasing global heating that our planet is experiencing.

Finally, before I conclusively conclude, I want to correct some of the information in my October 1 Council meeting report, specifically concerning the lack of health support services for Pakenham residents.  I did not fully grasp all the complexities of this issue, and have been corrected by an expert on this topic.  My apologies for this error to those of you who read my reports – it’s always my intention to be as accurate as possible, despite my own human frailties.  I will continue to publish any corrections as/(should?) they arise.

This is what I SHOULD have written:  

One major issue discussed during this meeting was the recent decision by Community Home Support Lanark County (CHSLC) to withdraw home-support services as of March of this year, for residents in Pakenham; this decision also affects Carleton Place residents. This withdrawal of services was made without prior consultation with the affected communities, and without any prior warning.

Bridging Generations in Pakenham, as explained in their letter to Council, have tried every means within their power to persuade the CHSLC and the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) (to whom the CHSLC report and from whom they receive their funding), to restore these essential services and funding for them. For readers unfamiliar with this nomenclature, LHINs are community-based, non-profit organizations funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to plan, fund and coordinate services delivered by hospitals, long-term care homes, and home and community care,

There are actually two LHINs involved in this issue. Unlike the rest of Mississippi Mills, Pakenham has historically received its community support services from CHSLC which is funded by the South East LHIN, centred in Perth. (Carleton Place is in an identical situation to Pakenham.) The contract for services in Pakenham and Carleton Place has been with the CHSLC agency for years. When the LHIN boundaries were made, this resulted in the South East LHIN providing money for services within the Champlain LHIN. Now the Champlain LHIN needs to realign services and provide the money to do so.

Pakenham and Carleton Place are under the Champlain LHIN (Western sub-region) jurisdiction, which extends to just beyond Deep River, Barry’s Bay and Lanark Village, and includes Arnprior and all of Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place.) The South East LHIN includes Perth and extends as far south as Kingston and Belleville.

Clearly, the name LHIN seems to be an oxymoron, since in this situation, it is NOT local, integrated, networked and is not providing the residents with necessary health services, specifically home-support services. Just some examples of home support services are friendly home visiting, meals on wheels, foot care, transportation for medical appointments, and social interaction opportunities.  These are critical determinants of health and can make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Councillor Ferguson explained that transportation to medical appointments is a huge concern. Apparently some Pakenham residents have had to spend up to $125 one-way for a taxi to take them to medical appointments in Ottawa, and the same again for the return trip. Residents who travel to Arnprior are in the same predicament, although the distance is shorter. Councillor Ferguson has asked the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, in their roles as County Council representatives, to push for transportation subsidies for these residents. At the conclusion of this discussion, it was quickly agreed that Council send a letter to Minister Elliott, requesting equity, including funding, related to Home Support Services for Mississippi Mills residents, with a copy sent also to Premier Ford and local MPP Hillier.