Report on the November 5 Council meeting

by Theresa Peluso

Normal Meeting with Some Highlights and Lowlights: The Mississippi Mills Council meeting on November 5, 2019

The November 5 meeting was generally straightforward, containing a few inspiring moments, and a few uninspiring ones as well.  It lasted only two hours, with very few prolonged discussions, and a few moments of levity.

Honouring our veterans

There were two delegations this evening.  The first, by Lieutenant Colonel Holly Apostoliuk, currently a senior public affairs officer and advisor regarding strategic communications in the Canadian Armed Forces, was truly moving.  Lt. Col. Apostoliuk, accompanied by two war veterans and seated facing our Councillors, began her talk by asking us what we are to remember during this time of Remembrance, of honouring our soldiers, both dead and still living.  She explained that when Remembrance Day was instituted (in 1931), the experience of war for the people who had fought, and for their families, was still immediate, and there was no need to remind them.

But now, nearly 90 years later, the memory of the sacrifices and ideals of those who fought has faded away, and so Lt. Col. Apostoliuk earnestly thanked Council for inviting her to tell her story.  She then shared, with all of us, poignant glimpses into her life as a soldier over the last 26 years in all the provinces and territories in Canada and abroad in war-torn zones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bosnia.

She bore witness to the despair, grief, hope and generosity of people trying to survive war and natural disasters, and wherever she could, she helped to make a difference.  Lt. Col. Apostoliuk ended with a plea for us all to ask our veterans to share their stories, to help us understand their experiences, and also for us to be confident in our own abilities to stand up to challenges, to plan how to deal with them, and to take action.

Age-friendly communities

The second delegation was a presentation on Carebridge Community Support (CCS) (formerly Mills Community Support), by CEO Robert Eves and Public Health Nurse Danielle Shewfelt, which focused on age-friendly communities.

The goal of CCS is to help seniors to live safely and healthfully, to stay involved and connected, and to develop respectful relationships.  There are many aspects to this: accessible outdoor areas and public buildings, hazard-free sidewalks and paths, safe neighbourhoods, affordable housing, readily available information, and reliable public transportation and support services.

Naturally, what enables seniors to thrive benefits others in the community as well.  Following an open meeting with the public and discussions with United Way and with the local Health Unit, Mr. Eves and Ms. Shewfelt started up an Age-Friendly Committee, and have identified two priority areas where they can focus their efforts: housing and social isolation.  They are now collecting data and resources to help them address these issues.

Mr. Eves and Ms. Shewfelt asked Council to consider including Age-Friendly Communities in their municipal strategic plan, to consider sitting on the Age-Friendly Committee, and to consider the age-friendly angle in future Council decisions.

Trucks and traffic lights

Soon after this, the Council of the Whole component of the meeting began.

The first bone of contention was part of the Roads and Public Works (R&PW) Report; specifically, the request to buy a truck costing $32,238.

Councillor Guerard led the interrogation directed at R&PW Director Guy Bourgon, which reminded me of the kind of private family squabble that you sometimes hear in a public place.  Wouldn’t it have been far more respectful for Councillor Guerard to have had this discussion prior to the Council meeting?

In response to her barrage of questions, Director Bourgon explained that the truck purchase had already been approved by this current Council in the 2019 budget, that the original estimated cost of $29,000 had increased because of inflation, and that a rugged truck was necessary to withstand the heavy use to which it would be subjected. In the end – finally – the request to purchase the truck was approved, with a vote of 4 to 3.

But Council wasn’t finished with the R&PW Report. Director Bourgon was then grilled again on his request to engage Parsons Engineering Consultants to analyze the three signalized Ottawa Street intersections, for a total cost of about $26,700.

This money would be taken from the money saved as a result of the changes to the Pakenham pedestrian crossover project.

Councillor Guerard, supported by Councillor Maydan, really didn’t understand why consultants were needed, when Council could just decide among themselves how long to have the different traffic lights stay on.  Councillor Dalgity stated that his only concern was for a signalization solution that would prevent cars from turning left onto the intersection while the Walk signal was in use.

First, CAO Ken Kelly explained that the question of signalization is not a simple matter; the municipality needs to look at its impact on traffic flow along the whole length of Ottawa St.  In other words, it’s a holistic process.  He also explained that the estimated date of completion for this study is at the start of the new year, so the study itself wouldn’t take long. But his intervention wasn’t enough for Councillor Guerard.

In response, Director Bourgon reiterated that imposing, for example, all-stop phases, could result in dangerous situations for both pedestrians and drivers, especially with Ottawa St. being the busiest street in all of Mississippi Mills.

Finally Mayor Lowry had to intervene, with an exceptionally compelling explanation, which deftly hit all the right notes. She pointed out that signalization for this street was an important decision where Council needed to make an informed decision, based on expert input.  Mayor Lowry acknowledged that Council needed to be efficient with their spending, but emphasized that expert information should prevail in this situation because safety is always more important than saving money.

She also pointed out that Ottawa St. is the only street that runs directly from the east end of Almonte to the west, making it an essential route for many drivers, and also making it imperative for Council not to mishandle traffic flow.

In the end, the decision to approve the cost for consultant analysis of the signalization of the three intersections squeaked through, with a vote of 4 to 3.

Concern was raised about the Ottawa St.- Martin St. intersection.  Deputy Mayor Minnille explained that both he and Mayor Lowry need to pursue this matter at the County level, and that he has already discussed this issue with the County.

Building Code concerns

In connection with the Building and Planning Report, some Councillors had questions about the item on Transforming and Modernizing Delivery of Ontario’s Building Code Services.

This modernizing initiative aims to address the current shortage of building inspectors, and to review and improve education and training for building inspection, thereby professionalizing it.

In answer to Councillor Holmes’s objection that this would create more red tape, Councillor Ferguson explained that, on the contrary, it would reduce red tape by centralizing the approval process.  Councillor Maydan felt that some of the wording and penalties in connection with prosecuting non-compliant individuals were too strong, and should be attenuated. (But perhaps if you had to actually deal with persistent by-law infractions, you might feel differently?)

This report is to come back for further discussion at the Nov. 19 Council meeting.

Affordable housing

A second item in connection with the Building and Planning Report was a document titled “What is Affordable Housing?”

Director of Planning Niki Dwyer explained that this initiative coordinates well with Lanark County’s recent press release on affordable housing.  She also mentioned that Planning staff are currently assessing the current status of affordable housing as part of their report, titled Mississippi Mills’ Affordable Housing Secondary Plan, and will propose options for increasing the supply.

Director Dwyer pointed out that monetary incentives for increasing the supply of affordable housing come from either the county or the municipality, or both.  At the moment Lanark County has a limited amount of money to fund their Investment in Affordable Housing Program.

Their funding model consists of assisting low-to-moderate income households currently renting a home in the County to buy a home by contributing a small forgivable loan towards the down-payment for a new home.  This approach doesn’t actually increase the supply of affordable housing.  However, encouraging developers to build affordable housing through the use of rebates for development charges, or interest-free loans, etc., would help to increase the supply.

Councillor Holmes then asked how you would ensure that these homes remain affordable over time, to which Director Dwyer replied that the municipality could enforce an agreement on title for 20 years (for example) that would set a fixed resale price for the home.

Other suggestions for increasing the supply of affordable housing were offered, such as establishing a trailer park, building tiny homes (typically under 56 sq. m. (600 sq. ft.)), or building coach homes (a free-standing building separate from the main house, but built on the same lot).  It seems that specialized housing (tiny homes, coach homes) requires builders with specialized skills, who may be hard to find.  In the case of tiny homes, there are challenges with meeting the requirements of the zoning by-laws and the Ontario Building Code.  The impact of the Airbnb industry on the supply of rental housing was also mentioned, as well as the approaches some municipalities are using to control it.

Naismith birthday

Then came a few interesting details as part of the Information Items section of the meeting.  From the Mayor’s Report, we learned that a huge celebration would take place on Mill Street the following day for Dr. James Naismith’s birthday, to be attended by 500 children and numerous adults.  Later on during this meeting, November 6 was proclaimed as Dr. James Naismith Day.

Open budget discussions

Mayor Lowry also explained that a huge effort was being made to ensure that the municipality’s 2020 budget discussions were as open and transparent to the public as possible, and that a survey would be provided for taxpayer feedback.

Under the County Council Report, we learned that the County have included a recommendation to provide funding for 20 additional affordable portable housing benefit units (a form of rental assistance). This means that the County will still fall short, by 100 units, of their prescribed level of service of 771 units.

Climate Action Plan

Mayor Lowry then described a recent delegation to Lanark County Economic Development Committee (LCEDC) by Gordon Harrison who is leading the Lanark County Climate Action Network (LCCAN). Mr. Harrison asked that the County create a Climate Action Plan to tackle the climate crisis, and explained that LCCAN would support the County in securing funding for it from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

Because municipal governments control or have influence over 50 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (waste management, transportation, buildings, housing, water, wastewater, land-use planning, etc.), it is especially important for them to be more energy-efficient and less polluting – it also saves the municipality considerable money in terms of operating costs as well!

Two municipalities in Lanark County (the Town of Perth, and Tay Valley Township) are already members of the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP), and across Canada over 350 municipalities with 65 percent of Canada’s population are currently members as well.  In fact, Lanark County also became a PCP member in 2015, but haven’t yet followed up on their commitment.  It seems that with LCCAN’s encouragement that will change, and that the County will now develop a Local Action Plan with PCP covering 80 percent of the $20,000 it will cost, per each of the two years, to perform the study. Fingers crossed!

Agriculture presentation

Mayor Lowry also mentioned another delegation to the LCEDC by Steve Duff from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, whose presentation on new and different approaches to farming, with its more flexible focus, was an eye-opener to her, even with her farming background.

Wild parsnip spraying

As part of the Information List, Councillor Maydan highlighted the letter from Friends of Lanark County (FOLC) in connection with Lanark County’s Vegetation Management Plan, in which they have requested that the County modify the Plan to make herbicides a weapon of last resort, instead of a standard option for managing wild parsnip. She asked that the County provide Mississippi Mills with an update on their spraying program.

In connection with this request from FOLC, and in connection with our Council’s effort to spend our taxes carefully, here’s my suggestion for how to save money, avoid polluting our water, and protect pollinators!  Instead of spending the $90,000 allocated for roadside spraying (for wild parsnip) by Roads and Public Works in the 2020 draft budget, let’s remove it!  Or at least pare it down!

This past year, as you may have noticed, all the roadsides in Mississippi Mills outside the settlement areas (except for those adjacent to the properties of people who had opted out) were boom- and spot-sprayed.  This included long stretches that were devoid of wild parsnip, and/or next to watercourses.  We could so easily cut this down to very little.  This money could then buy at least two new, rugged trucks for R&PW – or be added to our Reserve Fund!

Other business

Two additional items that were pulled from the Information List for further discussion at the next Council meeting were:

  1. A letter requesting that the Ministry of the Environment give municipalities the right to approve or disallow landfill projects within their boundaries. I had no idea that municipalities lack this option, and wholeheartedly support this initiative!  and
  2. A proposal by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to make a new regulation under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act. (Words like “improvement”, especially when followed by the phrase “to reduce unnecessary red tape and regulatory burden”, as is the case with this item, should immediately be viewed with suspicion, particularly in connection with anything environmentally related!)
Final thoughts

In conclusion, it continues to be of concern that some members of Council are not behaving in a respectful manner to certain members of staff. While it’s important for councillors to carefully analyze the reports and requests that come before them, every effort needs to be made to – politely – discuss Council agenda items with staff BEFORE the actual meeting, and to save discussion at the meeting for items that are more complex.  In particular, the prolonged discussion regarding the cost for signalizing the lights seems to show a penny-wise, pound-foolish mentality that, if actually applied, would be disastrous for the proper functioning of our municipality.

Other than this concern, it appeared to me that the meeting proceeded normally, and, as always, am grateful to those members of Council who keep a positive, cheerful attitude throughout the meeting.  And, Mayor Lowry and Councillor Ferguson, just maybe one day there WILL be a Lanark Lodge in Pakenham! (See “levity” above, in the first paragraph.)