This year promises to be an exciting one as our newly elected Council finds its equilibrium and creates the framework for getting Midland back to work. Thoughtful steps and decisions must be taken to balance Midland’s economic challenges against the Town’s historic propensity to spend.
As a first step, Council recently concluded two visioning sessions. Mayor McKay characterized the direction established in the following way:
“We talked about moving Midland from the highest tax rate jurisdiction in Simcoe County to the 75th percentile – this involves removing some $1.3 million from the operations budget. We discussed driving our economic development projects forward – the Downtown Master Plan; Midland Bay Landing; commitment to EDCNS – offsetting the job losses from the decline in manufacturing”.
This is a welcome statement of purpose. Clearly during election time, virtually every candidate embraced controlling town spending, re-visiting outdated, onerous and unfriendly town policy and pursuing economic development. These are the same areas we characterize as three legs of a stool, which must be in “balance” or it will topple. While it is encouraging to hear the words spoken, we also need action and results.
1) Policing: A report at the February Police Services Board (PSB) meeting showed a continuing decline in criminal incidents in our Town. This is a Canada-wide trend but incidents in Midland have been declining by a much greater rate. Well-done Midland.
At the same meeting, the PSB struck a negotiating committee to deal with the various police collective agreements that have matured. We are looking for the Midland Police bargaining groups to realistically assess the local environment when making their demands for pay and related increases. Lower crime rates, high local unemployment, comparatively low household incomes, and residents’ ability to pay are a few reasons Midlandcommunity.ca would expect a 0% budget increase and modest if any salary enhancements. Someone also needs to examine why legal cost are in excess of $150,000. High legal costs can indicate there are other problems within an organization.
Realizing the Midland Police budget now accounts for approximately 25% of Midland’s total operating budget, it remains our view that the current model is simply not sustainable and driving out unsustainable costs remains “job #1”.
2) Fire: There are still municipalities that continue to negotiate unrealistic and unaffordable budget increases for Fire; witness Pembroke which just voluntarily negotiated a 5-year term averaging a 2.7% annual pay increase. The trend at Queen’s Park with respect to wage settlements for Nursing, Doctors, Education, Police, and other key public service groups ranges from mirroring inflation at around 1% all the way to negotiating rollbacks. Why then do some municipalities not get it?
Fire negotiations are currently taking place and we’ve asked Midland Town Council to keep the following two facts in mind when defining success:
a) In 2014, 12 Midland Fire personnel appeared on the sunshine list (showing public servants earning in excess of $ 100,000).
b) Midland’s median household income as reported by Statistics Canada (2011 census) is $48,496. Meaning half the households in Midland have incomes below this number. And remember, households include all people with incomes living in the same dwelling.
3) The next and probably final 2015 budget review meeting is scheduled for March 5th at 6:00pm. The latest draft operating budget sat at around 1.4%, meaning Council has more work to do to achieve its 75th percentile target.
In closing, it’s encouraging to witness Council continue to work well together as a group and put the interests of Midlanders first and foremost; meetings appear to be more focused, better organized, and there appears to be a will to act and think differently.
2015 will be a telling year for Midland. If you can fix the first two legs of the stool (taxation and friendly town policy), growth will inevitably occur. Entrepreneurs and business-savvy people go to markets where they can make money without unnecessary bureaucracy. People retire to places where they can afford to live and where the value of the investment in their home is preserved. Then and only then, having found comfort in their financial skin, will they truly appreciate the life-style benefits here and begin to tell friends and others what we already know- we live in one of the really great places in the world.
Roy Ellis and George Barber on behalf of Midlandcommunity.ca.