Midland and it’s residents experienced both an interesting and an exciting 2012! Midland’s economy, like economies in much of the rest of the World continues to struggle. Striking the right balance between providing and meeting service expectations while balancing costs with ability to pay preoccupied much of the discussion throughout the year.
Midlandcommunity.ca believes that the town, in order to grow and prosper needs to be anchored by three strategic imperatives: fair and competitive taxation, flexible town policy and economic development. These imperatives, like the legs of the three-legged stool, must be balanced or the stool will topple.
Town Council needs to have a vision that encompasses these imperatives, and they need to put resources towards those things that most effectively allow Midland to meet these imperatives. Council and senior staff need to be respectful of each other, and along with all departments need to support goals that achieve the three imperatives.
Communities can no longer continue to spend their way to prosperity without regard to alarming increases in debt and taxes. Leaders must be calculated and disciplined in defining a vision that supports Midland; a place rich in heritage, culture and natural beauty. A vision that supports Midland as the destination for tourism, commerce and industry alike! Growth in these and other as yet unimagined areas provide Midland the economic power to achieve significant social objectives in an affordable and sustainable manner
So how did we do in 2012 on those things that truly matter? With this as a backdrop, we can now take a look at the year in review.
1) Midland town’s vision remains unclear. Council member’s theatrics, block voting and personal vendettas often hijack progressive actions for which Council was elected. Hopefully year three of Council’s term will foster the much needed focus on the opportunity and garner greater respect for one another so that Midland can maximize and exploit it’s full potential.
2) Like Santa, in 2012 the Ombudsman came to town. Santa left presents while the Ombudsman left a spanking for many who comprise town Council. He acknowledged the wrong doing and the lack of cohesiveness. While an embarrassment to the Town it remains an opportunity to get better at what we do and finally work as a team.
3) Council rightly hired the consulting group KPMG, to help us better define our future as it relates to optimizing the balance of necessary services and town spending. KPMG in it’s review, often characterized Midland as having Cadillac services with high year over year spending. Sadly, growth in general has stalled. Our assessment growth at 1% added modest monies to the town’s revenue stream. The dynamics of low income and high spending cannot be sustained without significant year over year tax increases.
4) Council’s goal for a 0% increase in taxes for 2013 was a welcome stake in the ground; especially on the heels of the KPMG study that offered $1.6 million in savings. With that said, the New Year budget is still not concluded and we’re searching for $250,000 in savings to achieve our target. Thankfully, this Council’s trend to fairer taxation and controlling spending is consistent with the electoral mandate and course corrects previous Council’s propensity to spend, which became their hallmark.
5) Council has moved to enhance economic development and taxation levels. Yet, despite the progress, some Councillors continue to engage in reactionary rhetoric to hold onto their legacy from previous Councils. They continually rely on three types of argument: jeopardy (reforms will cost a lot and endanger previous gains); perversity (reforms will harm the people they are intended to help); and futility (problems are so huge that nothing can be done about them). Fortunately, the majority of decision makers have clarity around their purpose and remain true to their conscience.
6) The 2013 budget debate saw the Fire Chief embrace his own sense of reality. The Fire budget, which more than doubled over the past ten years, has left the residents of Midland challenging the deployment model and asking, “where’s the beef”. To this reality the Chief initially proposes a 6.5% budget increase for 2013 and consistently resists change. Council’s request for suggested ways to constructively meet the 0% increase target met with lists without priorities assigned and claims that the Collective Agreement tied his hands. Here too we find the chief using the same three arguments: jeopardy, perversity and futility.
7) The Police department needs to come to the fiscal party as well. They currently are deliberating a budget increase in excess of 6%, and an unconscionable wage increase of approximately 5%. Salaries will now exceed those of the OPP. This at a time when the average income per person in Midland is approximately $27,000! Talk about driving a hole through the concept of financial sustainability.
8) The Library suggest reducing their hours of operation as the only way they can achieve the budget target. Closing earlier Thursday and Friday night appears to be a solution the Chief librarian supports. Not Monday morning or Tuesday afternoon when our students are in school, but at a time that would inconvenience those who need it and would benefit most.
9) Perhaps the most cynical event in Council this year was the suggestion that Council take a zero percent increase to show leadership and commitment to Town employees as they redefine how Midland gets work done. However, the suggestion that senior staff show that same leadership by taking a 1% increase versus 2.5% allocated, brought howls of protest and outrage from the same advocate for Council showing leadership. Such cynicism; especially when one recalls that this same Councilor, a 27-year veteran of Council personally advocated for and received significant benefit over the years! Life is about making the right choices and playing on a bigger team; so please Councillor, and to all other outliers, start doing your part.
10) Unimin closing it’s doors signals the end of an era, yet presents the ‘opportunity of a decade’. If Midland’s magic is the waterfront, then we truly have a new gift. Council’s recognition of the significance of this opportunity is seen in their $70,000 allocation to define what the waterfront and Midland’s economic development can look like. On the heels of The Midland Cultural center opening this year and all the joy this great gift will bring, we begin to see Midland’s prospects for economic growth and prosperity redefined.
In closing, we are blessed with a town that is very generous and for the most part motivated to help those less fortunate. This Council has made progress on two of the three legs of the stool; fairer taxation and economic development. More success is still needed in both areas and much remains to be done in the area of flexible Town policy particularly where business is concerned. Having said this, Council deserves our continued support as they attempt to move a progressive agenda forward in 2013 and beyond.
Happy New Year