Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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StephenVance bw 225w 200hAfter taking the hot and hazy month of August off, Meaford's council was back in action on the Meaford Hall stage on Monday. This council is less than three months away from a full year on the job, and while they have for the most part had an impressive year, the year to come is looking to be a tough one, and will really show what this council can do.

This council, with its four rookie members, has been quite productive in their first ten months in office.

They gave approval to a municipal budget with the smallest increase in years: just 1.3 percent, and the overall blended rate increase was less than one percent.

They listened to the many calls to rein in staff costs, first by limiting the staff pay increase to 1.5 percent this year, and then by directing staff to conduct an organizational review which resulted in six departments turning into four, and two upper-level staff positions being axed at a savings of some $233,000 per year.

They approved an overhaul of Meaford's waste collection system, which will save another $50,000 per year while at the same time expanding services.

They gave direction to staff to explore the possibility of working with the school board to take unused space at the high school and convert it to a public library, and, according to Treasurer Darcy Chapman, they have been doing just that. We are going to need to get more creative in the coming years, and I believe we are also going to need to compromise more, and two government bodies coming together to see if they can share resources is a progressive step no matter the outcome.

And just this week, this council kept Meaford on the path toward becoming a greener community with their vote to approve a plan that will see all of Meaford's more than 700 light fixtures converted to LED technology, and despite borrowing funds to finance the project, it will still result in some $20,000 per year in savings, and when the loan is paid off, those savings skyrocket to more than $60,000 per year.

These are all good things. These are accomplishments by anyone's standards. And good for this council for having such a positive start, with none of the sideshow antics we've seen in the past, because my crystal ball tells me they will need to lean on these positive experiences in the coming months because the temperature is likely to rise on the downtown development issue, beginning with an OMB challenge by the Heritage Meaford folks, and no doubt to be followed by more resistance as the project works its way through the system.

Infrastructure, of course, will continue to be an ever-growing headache, with roads that will continue to crumble, pipes that will continue to burst, and there will never be enough funding to put a proper dent in the backlog of infrastructure that should be repaired. This council will need to put pressure on staff to get creative when it comes to sourcing outside funding for infrastructure, and council, along with all municipal councils across the province, will need to increase pressure on upper levels of government to do the same. Infrastructure needs to find its way out of the partisan sphere, and into the URGENT: IF WE DON'T ACT QUICKLY, WE'RE ALL SCREWED sphere.

There could also be some backlash once the reality of the closure of the Transfer Station sets in, and people find themselves having to make a trek to Owen Sound in the middle of the winter to discard large items that can't wait for the fairweather collection schedule adopted by council for these items. It's a tough balancing act for council. The public screams to cut costs and save money. Council approves a plan that saves $50,000 per year, and people scream that their service has been cut. As I often say to people who are adamant about tax cuts – which services are you willing to sacrifice? That question is often followed by awkward silence, or birds tweeting in the distance.

I expect to see more pressure on council to reduce staff size in spite of the recent review which eliminated two positions. Two positions won't sound like much to those who are bent on slashing staff, and in this age of meaningless large numbers, $233,000 in annual savings doesn't sound like much either – except it is when viewed through the scope of a small town municipal budget.

It's been a good start for this council, let's hope they've armed themselves with the tools for the really tough stuff ahead.

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