Midland held its regular Council meeting on Monday, June 24th. Councillors dealt with a number of important subjects including next year’s municipal election, next year’s budget and the escalating cost of policing in our community.
On elections, Council rejected a report from the Clerk recommending a wholesale change in how next November’s election would operate. The report recommended abandoning the traditional election format in favour of 100% mail-in voting. Councillor File led a spirited discussion by pointing out several serious problems with the proposal. The mail-in proposal was ultimately defeated 7 – 1 with only Councillor Jeffery supporting it.
In our view Council’s decision on this issue was absolutely the correct one. Changing the method of voting would create public confusion without any significant benefits. The voters list compiled by MPAC is notoriously unreliable but ballots would be mailed out to every name on the list. Election fraud is a much greater risk with mail-in ballots that can be anonymously dropped into any post box.
On budgets, the Town Treasurer submitted a report recommending that Midland adopt rolling 5-year budget projections to help plan for the future and avoid financial surprises. This change holds real promise as a more thoughtful, disciplined approach to municipal spending.
His report went on to identify one significant challenge for future budgets – Midland’s recent purchase of the Unimin site. Midland’s interest costs to finance this purchase will be in the range of $175,000 every year starting in 2015. This amounts to about a 1% increase in operating costs and makes the annual tax levy 1% higher than it would otherwise be.
Also on budgets, Council directed staff to begin preparing the 2014 budget based on two scenarios – a 0% spending increase and a 2% spending increase. The 2013 budget started with a 0% target but ended up at a 2.7% overall spending increase because of police and fire. Council and the overspending departments will need to approach the 2014 budget much more rigorously especially when buying Unimin adds 1% by itself.
Finally, on policing, Council adopted a motion from Councillor Ross to get the OPP to bid on police services for the Town of Midland. In introducing his motion Councillor Ross made clear he was not prejudging the issue but felt he owed it to the taxpayers of Midland to get competitive bids. Council voted 6 – 2 in favour of the motion with Councillors Pendlebury and Charlebois opposed.
Council’s decision on this issue was also the correct one. Last year KPMG recommended getting an OPP bid and it only makes sense to see if Midland can reduce its operating costs by going this route. Without prejudging it, we would not be surprised if economies of scale give the OPP a competitive edge over a local force.
The June meeting saw Council make several progressive decisions that should help Midland’s future arrive on schedule.
George Dixon & Roy Ellis for midlandcommunity.ca