December 20th, 2010 Deputation to Council

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CALL TO ACTION:

The Town has prepared a draft By-Law to amend Midland’s waterfront zoning which we believe is both UNNECESSARY and CONFRONTATIONAL.

WE BELIEVE THE TOWN NEEDS TO FOCUS THEIR EFFORTS ON FILLING EMPTY BUILDINGS AND GETTING MORE RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT, WHICH WILL TRANSLATE INTO LOWER TAXES:

FACT: We don’t need more restrictive policy and more local government involvement

FACT: Higher levels of Government already protect the Fish habitat and the environment

FACT: We don’t need Town time and monies directed at low priority items

FACT: There is no public demand for change, so whose agenda are we responding to?

FACT: Unnecessary regulation diminishes the appeal of Midland’s great waterfront communities

FACT: We are a Town of respectful, law-abiding citizens and to suggest otherwise is confrontational

Please copy and paste the petition into an email  to Midlandcommunity.ca

We encourage you to send this to friends and neighbours so they too can have their say.

PLEASE COPY Midlandcommunity.ca ON ALL CORRESPONDENCE YOU SEND SO THAT WE CAN CONSOLIDATE AND PRESENT TO THE DECISION MAKERS:

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PETITION:

I/We the undersigned do not support Waterfront zoning changes and want the Town’s elected officials to focus on Fair taxes, Progressive Policy and Economic Development.

NAME:

ADDRESS:

–       We’d like to formally congratulate council elect and thank you for the opportunity to address this distinguished group this evening.

–       My name is Stewart Strathearn and I’m speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Fair Taxes.  I’m proud to say; I’m a 4th generation Midlander and, having lived in a number of communities in Ontario, can’t see myself living anywhere else but here in Midland.

–       The coalition is a community-minded group, approximately 150 members strong, from all walks of life, that was initially formed to encourage debate around key election issues.  It was also our mandate to support the community challenge, to help get the vote out.

–       We sent each of you a summary letter of our concerns and our stated goals that included the results of the broadly distributed survey we conducted with residents of Midland through the newspapers.  We asked residents to respond to 5 questions that dealt primarily with the effective management of our tax base and shared service opportunities.  As you know, the responses were 100% unanimous and when viewed in the context of the election results, expresses the need for different thinking and importantly, different ACTION.

–       As we only have 10 minutes, we will focus more on guiding principals, recommendations and conclusions versus the rhetoric that has been free flowing of late- said differently, we will now serve up our holiday wish list:

1)   BUDGET SPENDING AND PROCESS:

For perspective, we would like to take a moment to discuss the budget being contemplated for next year and ask you to reflect on my comments with this as a backdrop. The budget being considered is an approximate 5% increase in spending over last year which by our math is in the neighborhood of $800,000- (5% X $16 million).  Debating the universal formula used for determining our tax rate or whether we’re the highest taxed community in Simcoe County, the third highest or the 5th is pointless and divisive.  We can however, all agree we’re not the lowest and simply conclude that, our taxes are too high defined by any rational or reasonable measure.

Town council and the town’s personnel, have no business spending money at a pace greater than the rate of inflation, which is directly linked to one’s ability to pay. If you look closely at trends and community dynamics, you see, a trend to higher unemployment. You’ll witness a tough economic and business climate and we note a significant residential population on fixed income.  Many of the latter have witnessed their “nest eggs” eroded and their return on investments diminished. When local Government fails in their responsibility to control spending by not making tough choices, you in effect abrogate your responsibility to lead and pass the burden on to the taxpayers.

Please, put these realities in the context of decisions you make and are about to make.   Decisions such as; awarding pay increases, or adding more staff, or perhaps buying supplies for the expanded town hall, or contemplating buying a new pumper truck, to name but a few. This exercise is about making the right choices knowing that every activity is important to someone, yet every activity comes at a cost. No business and/or government economic model can sustain spending more money year over year than it collects- it’s called bankruptcy or insolvency if you prefer.   Continued tax increases that are beyond one’s ability to pay is no different!

The increase contemplated in the neighborhood of $800,000-, if approved would be highly irresponsible on the part of this new team. The operative word of course is team. We urge you to get on one page, with one unified agenda defined by the residents of Midland, your customers, to whom you are accountable too.

–       Some observations, and suggestions if we may, that might get us all to a better place:

a)    We believe the role of Council should be to set the strategic framework, the budget target and the guiding principals around the budget process. The department heads, with clear direction and accountability from the CAO should then make it happen.   Council is presented with a budget document that most appropriately reflects the Strategic Vision of the elected Council.

b)   Once agreement is concluded on a budget target, (less than 2% on overall spending in 2011) it is the Department staff’s responsibility to achieve that number.  The Department Head is in the best position to make the decision between staffing and tools needed to do the job within the fiscal constraints in play at the time and importantly, within the strategic guidelines laid out by Council.   Nonetheless, you must focus on the items that have the largest impact on budget.  For example, staffing and related costs which likely represents the Lion’s share of expenditures.  All else pales in comparison.  Freezing hiring seems a logical place to start strategically, and, much less costly in the long haul. In our view, leadership today is defined by the tough choices you must make.

c)    Service levels do not have to be a casualty of a constraint process but they may have to be realigned to fit with the economic realities, and, benchmarked against agreed and measurable standards.   The recent announcement of Urban Node Status speaks of Midland and Penetanguishene de facto as one.  It implies shared infrastructure and services.  This may indeed present both Councils and their respective Staffs with an unprecedented opportunity to amalgamate services and reduce costs through the sharing of resources and services.

d)   Given the scale of the issue involving escalating staff costs, there should be little if any debate around accessible transit and the necessary and intuitive funding of programs for those less fortunate. The thinking should be that if we only have $1 to spend, then .99 cents of that dollar should be spent on supporting the most needy in our community.

e)    In response to the communities changing needs, some departments may need more resources than others or a reduction in services demanded.   It is difficult to sustain champagne results on a beer budget. Perhaps convert levies for parklands into funds for affordable housing.  Partner with organizations like Habitat for Humanity to provide that affordable housing.  Parks and Recreation are relieved of the operating costs for yet more parks and the affordable housing requirements get a boost.

f)     Some caution going forward. When the town avails itself to Federal and Provincial Government grants and various other forms of stimulus spending, please keep in mind that after the initial funding/capital is in play, the town and ultimately the people have to support financially the increase in operating spending to support same. Prudent planners look out beyond the first year and often out 3-5 years when contemplating these decisions. The challenge is obvious when you look at the library expansion and it’s resulting request for three more staff additions, not to mention other monies needed to support the size of the expanded facility.  We may experience the same financial challenges with the town hall expansion; increased heating and cooling costs, funding the interest on equipment purchases, etc, etc. this reminds us of that old saying; “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

g)    Please park the heavy garbage debate. This needs to be viewed under the umbrella of a broader waste strategy and with full alignment with the county.  We cannot afford to add $50,000- to next year’s budget and in affect, go backwards. Under the heading of “thinking out of the box”, maybe there’s a partnering opportunity with, 1-800, got junk!  Habitat for Humanity can certainly be part of the broader waste solution (E-waste, building materials, appliances etc).  Target your ‘tippage’ dollars to those who lack the wherewithal to remove their own large pick up items rather than a broad application across the entire population.

h)   One last comment if I may and we’ll move off budgets. Stop throwing out comments like, and I quote “we’ll get sued if a fire truck breaks down on the way to an event”.  We know we can also get sued if one slips on the sidewalk. I suspect you can get sued on almost every thing you do and every decision you make.  If being sued is your only screen for responsible decision-making, we are most certainly in trouble..

2) A few brief comments on our second priority, that being ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

a) Clearly this challenge is, as Ford might say, JOB #1.  The prize in every community, clearly being, more business, more residents and a resulting tax base growth.  As previously mentioned, the ongoing decline of the industrial and commercial tax base has shifted an even greater financial burden onto the backs of the residents.

b) We ask council to develop policy and programs which support the following three imperatives; New and expanded business, a relevant/happening waterfront and core downtown along with exploiting the differentiators needed to keep and attract new residents: perhaps all done under the mantra that Midland, located on the beautiful shores of Georgian Bay, is open for business.

c) The most recent announcement of our urban node status with our neighbour Penetang, is indeed welcome news and presents a tremendous opportunity we must truly maximize. This means we need every stakeholder singing from the same hymn book, to include, our neighbouring municipalities, our elected officials at all three levels of government, town personnel, the Chamber, the BIA, and of course, the broader business community. Again, we need to create one vision, one agenda re-defining the words, inclusion and partnership.

Our group has many talented individuals who’ve performed work all over the World, and under many differing and trying circumstances. We remain ready and willing to lend our support by way of supplying volunteer talent, and by marketing the town on our newly launched web site known as, “midlandcommunity.ca”

In summary, we believe the future is bright. However, we need to get focused, in fast time, on the town’s key priorities. We have new faces in new positions on council testimony to the fact that the people of Midland have spoken. We have a town that has been gifted the beauty of Georgian Bay and generous citizens that truly define Philanthropy, the art of giving back. We are indeed fortunate.

Finally, we applaud council’s commitment to invest time in the New Year to define your vision by way of a strategy-setting meeting. The outcome will serve as your “guiding light” or if you wish, in the spirit of the holiday season, your “North Star”.

In the interest of respecting your valuable time, this now concludes my remarks on behalf of the coalition. Thank you, on behalf of our group

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