There were a number of significant items on Council’s docket this month. We’ll deal first with the General Committee meeting on Jan 9 and then the Council Meeting on Jan 23.
The Jan 9 General Committee meeting started off on a disappointing note, when Council chose to keep the public and Rogers Community Television waiting 30 minutes while they continued to discuss undisclosed issues in a closed session. Given that Council is accountable to the public, we find it unacceptable that these items could not have been held over until after the public meeting.
Once the meeting finally got started, the most significant item on the agenda was a 20 minute presentation by Tristan McCredie of The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs regarding the “Ranked Balloting” system of voting and the option for Midland to adopt the process for the next municipal election in 2018. Unfortunately, this too was a waste of time for Ms. McCredie, Midland Council and Midland residents as it was clearly a non-starter from the outset. Frankly, the Clerk should have been directed to decline the presentation before it ever got to the agenda. Otherwise, the agenda was packed with mundane items such as requests for approving soap box races, sign leases, bicycle ride events , etc. – all worthy matters, but hardly worth occupying an entire GC meeting.
The regular meeting of council on the 23rd saw the delivery of 4 deputations. We’ll start with the second one which was Mr. John Hauser, Event Chief of the Silver Goose Cycle-Cross Competition seeking the Town’s approval & continued support to hold another event in Little Lake Park in October 2017. Mr. Hauser detailed the enormous success and growth the event has enjoyed in just 3 short years, growing from 70 competitors in the original race in 2014, to an expected 300+ competitors attending a 2 day event in 2017. Mr. Hauser went on to say that the group plans to bid on bringing the Canadian cycle cross national championship race to Midland for 2018. Council was very enthusiastic and supportive of Mr. Hauser’s group’s efforts, and hopes this event becomes another Midland cultural staple. The hard work of various groups like John and his team who organize and host high profile events like these greatly enhance awareness of Midland and bring vibrancy to the community. Our hats are off.
Councillor Jonathan Main then delivered an update from the active transportation committee detailing their efforts to date. He discussed the group’s focus on promoting increased bicycle usage through social media, the Town’s website, etc. He talked about efforts to expand the community’s trail system, work with the engineering department regarding bike lanes on road reconstruction projects, and promoting bicycle tourism, all in an effort to make Midland a “bike friendly community”.
Deputations #1 and #4 went somewhat unintentionally hand in hand. The first saw Ms. S. Lovelace representing the county (with a cameo appearance from Warden Gerry Marshall) to discuss affordable housing. She presented some interesting statistics – of the 895 affordable housing units that the County targeted to create for the years 2014-17, only 420 has been completed, despite a $7.5M budget. The term “affordability” also seems rather arbitrary when a single family home valued at $212,800, a one bedroom apartment at $764/mo or a two bedroom at $877/mo are deemed affordable. With a local median household income of $53,200 a year, those numbers seem rather implausible. The County posits that one solution to the affordability issue is the promotion and creation of secondary suites.
This dovetails into deputation #4 by Mr. Alan Arlett who represents the Tiffin Homeowners Association. He presented his group’s request to the Town regarding the County’s probable rejection of Midland’s Official Plan Amendment #9. The amendment enabled Midland to limit second units to homes 3 or more years old and was an attempt to plug a loophole exploited by a builder in Tiffin who constructed 20 duplex units under the guise of secondary suites and avoided, among other things, $140,000 in development charges. These units are clearly not “affordable”, even by the County’s rather rich standards.
This deputation was followed by a protracted discussion among Councillors, including a suggestion for a modification to allow secondary suites to occupy a maximum amount of a home’s living area; perhaps 25-30%. In the end, Council decided to continue the discussion with County for now, but we see this idea about percentage size as a possible out for both sides. Once again, stay tuned.
The other big news of the night was Council declaring surplus the parking lot at 526 Bay Street (behind the Chamber of Commerce) and approving its sale to a developer who intends to construct an “exciting new development” along the waterfront, details to be provided to us all soon. The motion was passed unanimously.
On January 18th, the Town of Midland held a public meeting to share with members of the BIA and the broader community its vision for the King Street re-design, otherwise known as ‘the BIG DIG’.
The meeting was well attended and the participants were passionately engaged. Questions were raised around timing, projected costs, parking matters along with some concerns being expressed regarding how the effort might impact the structural integrity of our historic buildings.
While the project is not completely defined, the comprehensive pedestrian-friendly design boasts both flexibility and a tasteful tie in to our heritage. Council will now need to decide on the timing and the budget. More detailed information can be found on the town’s web site.
On Jan 25 and 26, members of MidlandCommunity.ca attended the Town of Midland strategy workshop in order to better understand Council’s and senior staff’s long term thinking and what their aspirational priorities are.
Five “Strategic Pillars”, previously established, set the foundation:
1. Fiscal responsibility and cost containment – 2017-2018;
2. Organizational excellence;
3. Economic development & tourism;
4. A healthy and sustainable community;
5. Develop partnerships, promote collaboration & alignment.
After articulating the guiding principles (vision, mission, and values), a series of breakout groups arrived at the highest priority “must do” and “put in motion” initiatives for the 5 pillars.
In the end, our Town leaders were left with a list of initiatives to choose from for the remaining two years of their term. The next challenge will be to flesh out those initiatives (timelines, budgets, strategic fit, etc.) in order to finally decide which ones the Town will approve in the coming months.
Our CAO, John Skorobohacz, also reminded participants that he will be leading a complete service delivery review, including restructuring the budget process to improve transparency and allow open pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness. This will surely impact Council’s deliberations on their priorities.
Last but certainly not least, make plans to attend Council chambers on February 8th at 6pm, when the OPP police costing will be presented to Council. This is a subject of great importance to the community. It may become a highly-charged political and emotional debate. In this new world of “alternative facts”, we must all dedicate ourselves to see through the smoke and clearly understand the realities – pro or con. Self-education on this subject is a MUST as is awareness of any vested interest on the part of information sources.
Steve Saltsman and Kevin Cowie on behalf of MidlandCommunity.ca