Collaborative, with An Odd Complication

by Theresa Peluso

On the whole, this meeting showed several instances of collaboration, but there was one instance of an unexpected complication, which ended up making this a three-hour-long meeting. All Councillors were present.

Both the agendas and the recordings of the Council meeting and the Committee of the Whole meeting on March 3 are here.

I have summarized here below what I considered to be the main  items at this meeting.

Council Meeting

Unlike the last Council meeting, this one was nearly two hours long, and consisted primarily of deputations.

Policing

The first deputation, by OPP Lanark County Detachment Inspector Karuna Padiachi, was a presentation of the OPP Strategic Plan and Operations, and focused on a few highlights.

First he described the relatively new Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT), composed of a nurse and police officer patrol unit. The MCRT has proven very effective in dealing with emergency calls where there is evidence of mental illness, substance abuse, behavioural disorders, or an acute crisis situation.

The statistics show the effectiveness of this initiative. In 2017, of 286 calls, 23 percent of offenders were hospitalized, and 25 percent were diverted to other organizations that provide mental health support. In 2019, after the MCRT was put in place, out of 515 calls, the number of hospital admissions was only 8 percent. This has resulted in more effective treatment of people in crisis, and more effective use of police time. Unfortunately, the funding provided for this initiative is coming to an end, and the future is uncertain.

A second OPP initiative, started in January 2020 with a provincial grant dating back to 2018, is a victim advocate program, available 20 hours/week, that focuses specifically on sexual assault and human trafficking. It enables the victim to have one point of contact throughout the whole process of obtaining medical and legal help. In just two months the OPP has had close to 10 referrals.

A third OPP initiative is snowmobile patrols. These began in early February of this year, and so far 171 officer-hours have been spent, 60 percent in Mississippi Mills on the OVRT. (Can you do the math on what this must cost us taxpayers?)

To date, there have been 8 complaints of speeding on the OVRT and 1 complaint of noise. As of the end of February, the OPP patrols issued 32 tickets for traffic offences and 20 warnings, including 1 three-day warning. The OPP have also set up several radar-enforcement points. (Keep in mind that the OPP has to contend with snowmobilers alerting others to their presence, which very likely reduces the number of offenders they actually catch.)

Later in the evening, during the Committee of the Whole meeting, Mayor Lowry put forward a notice of motion to be discussed at the March 17 Council meeting, which referred to Lanark County’s commitment in 2018, when the OVRT was officially opened, to perform a two-year review of trail operations.

Her motion encouraged Mississippi Mills to support Lanark County’s two-year review and also encouraged Lanark County to engage with the public in the review process. In view of the ongoing concern about the safety, pollution and noise problems in connection with motorized/non-motorized use of the trail, it will be an opportunity for affected residents to share their experiences. I do know that in Blakeney, quite a few snowmobilers have trouble obeying the numerous signs posted in the snowbanks by the snowmobile club – signs that say STOP, SLOW and 20 km/h.

Inspector Padiachi’s concluded his presentation by mentioning his frustration with the never-ending problem of motorists drinking and driving. The OPP’s frequent Ride Checks continue to result in many charges of impaired driving, despite the fact that some motorists warn others of these Ride Checks.

The second deputation also dealt with policing, but with respect to governance. Council Denzil Ferguson, a long-time, dedicated member of the Policing Advisory Committee, elaborated on the review of the 1990 Police Services Act (PSA), which the current Provincial government repealed last year, with the intention of improving it.

There are several new provisions that aim to strengthen public confidence in policing, deliver efficient policing with better value for money, and provide support to front-line policing. One amendment introduced by this new Act is the creation of new community safety and well-being (CSWB) provisions, for which municipalities have until the beginning of next year to develop a plan that responds to their particular circumstances. The new PSA has increased the number of regulations from 13 to over 50, and these cover First Nations policing, new training, and required equipment, among other things.

One major change is the amalgamation of the existing Police Services Boards (PSBs), which may result in one – or at most two PSBs – instead of the current eight PSBs in our County. On February 20 Councillor Ferguson, as well as Mayor Christa Lowry and Councillor John Dalgity, attended a regional roundtable in Brockville, sponsored by the Ministry of the Solicitor General. Representatives from across eastern Ontario were also in attendance, to discuss the proposed changes to the PSA.

Several of the proposed changes to the PSA sound very relevant and worthwhile, and it is hoped that they will result in a better looked-after community. Perhaps they will result in continuing the initiatives outlined earlier in the evening by Inspector Padiachi!

Downtown Core Infrastructure Renewal Project

The third deputation was by Neil Caldwell of JP2G Consultants Inc. in connection with the Downtown Core Infrastructure Renewal Project (DCIRP). Mr. Caldwell explained that, following numerous opportunities for public input, the project had been scaled back, and the trestle bridge on Little Bridge Street would be kept.

There will be three spots for pedestrian crossings and an increase in parking spots from 66 to 79 with the revised plan.

In answer to Councillor Ferguson’s question about the expected time-frame for this Project, Roads and Public Works (R&PW) Director Guy Bourgon said Phase 1 (from Almonte Street to Little Bridge Street) would probably take one year to complete, and that the remainder (from Little Bridge Street to Bridge Street) would take less time because no underground work (water, sewer, etc.) is required.

A huge effort will be made to ensure that the sidewalks are usable. In response to Councillor Dalgity’s question about contamination results, Director Bourgon replied that their bore-hole samples had shown none, even near the old Ultramar site.

Councillor Jan Maydan said that she wanted the costs of the project to be divided into two components: water/sewer/stormwater costs and all other costs. Councillor Cynthia Guerard emphasized that it was important to prioritize function over “prettiness” – which is what seems to have been done; hence part of the reason for the reduced cost.

Then the discussion went off in an unexpected direction with Councillor Bev Holmes’s next objection. It appears that with the revised project, Little Bridge Street (between the Naismith statue and Bridge Street) will be changed from two-way to one-way, with the apparent intent to provide quick-stop parking in front of the bakery, although these parking spots are to be unmarked.

Well, it seems that Councillors Holmes, Dalgity, Maydan and Guerard have received objections from numerous residents about the one-way designation. On the other hand, Deputy Mayor Minnille has heard from all the residents who want parking on that street and the one-way designation. R&PW Director Bourgon explained that the budget had already been set for this project as defined in the plans, and that no further funds were available for redesigning the project.

Councillor Dalgity said that he’d conducted his own personal experiment to test parking in front of the bakery by parking his own car there, and found it was dangerous to get out of the car because of the restricted space and passing traffic. Councillor Guerard wanted to have this issue open to the public for discussion – yet again. Deputy Mayor Minnille objected to this, saying that Carleton Place’s DCIRP, which started well after our own municipality’s DCIRP, could end up being completed first if we continued to delay discussions.

So this objection about the one-way designation resulted in a lengthy back-and-forth, followed by a long delay, while everyone discussed how to proceed. After Council reconvened, it was decided to introduce a notice of motion (to change the one-way designation to two-way) that would be considered at the next Council meeting on March 17. It will require a three-quarters majority (i.e., 5 out of 7 Councillors) to pass it.

I must say that the whole notion of allowing (but not really allowing) parking in a potentially dangerous street, by not painting parking lines, seems rather odd, to say the least. Perhaps making the street two-way would improve traffic flow – but then again, maybe it would have other drawbacks.

Furthermore, because this latest DCIRP is markedly different from the previous Project, there may be other little hiccups requiring a closer look. Considering that we residents will have to live with the changes for a long time, we need to do them correctly from the get-go. So maybe Carleton Place will complete their DCIRP before us, but, as they say, a thing worth doing is worth doing well.

As part of the Information List, the main item of interest to me was the request by Storm (a local Internet provider) for a letter of support from the municipality to enable them to apply for grant funding. Storm are now working to provide broadband access to about 200 homes around White Lake. These homes include several in Lanark Highlands. This request was unanimously approved.

So ended the two-hour-long Council Meeting part of the evening.

Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting

This part of the evening started off quickly, including a prompt approval of the Agricultural Advisory Committee’s request (in connection with exempting the frontages of certified organic farms from herbicide spraying) to conduct a pilot project to mechanically remove wild parsnip from these frontages. Note, however, the proviso in the above-mentioned request that these farmers may have to pay for the cost of parsnip removal (unlike for farmers that support herbicide spraying of their frontages). Why the discriminatory treatment of organic farmers?

The meeting then bogged down in a discussion of R&PW’s revisions (based on Council’s recommendations at the February 18 meeting) to the Mississippi Mills Traffic and Safety Review prepared by Parsons Engineering Consultants, specifically in connection with pedestrian crossings at three main intersections on Ottawa Street.

The specific motion proposed by R&PW was to approve Table 6 of the Review (which basically reflected Council’s input), and to discuss, during this meeting, any outstanding concerns in Table 7 of the Review. Councillor Maydan requested that this motion be divided into two parts (Table 6 and then Table 7), with each part discussed separately. Councillor Ferguson quickly supported her request.

After some discussion, the first part was approved. Then began a big debate on how to proceed with the second part, as there were several points of contention. CAO Ken Kelly explained that each of the eight items in Table 7 would need to be discussed, changed (as needed) with specific recommendations to staff, and voted on separately, since each of these items entailed significant costs.

I think, given the length of the just-completed Council meeting, that everyone (including yours truly) was relieved to hear Councillor Ferguson’s motion to defer this part of the motion until Council had had a chance to review the Table in more detail. His motion was quickly and enthusiastically carried!

Then the Building and Planning report, which recommended the approval of the proposed three-storey apartment building in Riverfront Estates, was up for discussion. Councillor Guerard had several questions about the removal of the previously planned berm between this building and the adjacent farmland, and the reduced height of the proposed fence along that same property line from the standard 2 metres to 1.5 metres. She felt that this was unsafe for children and insufficient protection for the farmland, which I was inclined to agree with. However, when she moved to have this changed, no one seconded it, and the motion was lost.

Near the end of the meeting Councillor Ferguson asked what procedures the municipality and County were putting into place to deal with a possible occurrence of the coronavirus here. The answer was that such procedures are dependent on instructions from the Province (which, it appears, is slow off the mark), and so we need to wait for them to take the initiative. Councillor Lowry said that, in the meantime, we all need to be very cognizant of our personal health, and wash our hands well and often.

Conclusion

My assessment of this evening was that discussions were for the most part germane, civil and productive. The decision to defer approval of Table 7 of the Traffic and Safety Review was well warranted – it’s difficult to make good decisions when the problem is complex, and you are tired and pressed for time.

However, the question of changing the one-way designation for Little Bridge Street and how it was broached and then dealt with, was awkward. After the many, many opportunities for public consultation during the original Downtown Core Infrastructure Renewal Project (started in 2014), and then the many additional opportunities for public input a second time, followed by extensive revisions, how did this come about?

Perhaps the solution is more communication between staff and Council members to minimize these complicated, last-minute requests for changes?