Please find below a brief update on several Town matters for the month of March.
1. Sunshine in Midland, for some.
Midland has about 150 full-time employees. 33 of them made Ontario’s ‘sunshine list’ of public employees paid wages or salaries exceeding $100,000 in 2013. The 33 include 14 in the Midland Police Service, 12 in the Fire Department and 7 senior employees in other Departments. This is 73% more employees on Midland’s ‘sunshine list’ than in 2012.
Retroactive pay from a Fire arbitration award probably added 5 or 6 new members to this exclusive club in 2013. But it won’t really change the situation next year if their earnings end up a bit below $100,000. Whether their pay is $105,000 or $95,000, it is still a huge amount to expect the citizens of Midland to pay when police and fire keep receiving annual increases way above the rate of inflation and residents are lucky if they keep up with inflation.
What can change is whether our town has leadership with the skill and desire to better manage the current situation because it is obviously not sustainable. Several Councillors were predictable in openly supporting and justifying having more than 20% of town employees getting paid above $100,000 – and in failing to see both the challenge and the opportunity.
In our view, we need changes to the service models, we need greater restraint, we need community reps on negotiation and compensation committees, we need to make “ability to pay” a serious issue in bargaining and we may also need new talent to replace those who don’t recognize limits to our ability to pay.
Policing continues to get lots of attention. Several months ago the Police Services Board (PSB) commenced their three-year community based strategic plan. This process consisted of public meetings and approximately 400 telephone surveys. While crime has declined significantly, communication, transparency and a tighter policy and procedural framework remain priorities. The police budget has just been concluded to the satisfaction of the Police Services Board and we now need to wait to see if Council will accept a budget that exceeds Council’s target. It remains our view that in a town with virtually no growth, police and fire need to reign in expenses as they account for more than 40% of the town’s annual operating budget. Be sure to check out midlandcommunity’s deputation on our web site, on the right side in the “Must Reads” list.
3. Council matters:
Monday March 24th witnessed a marathon Council meeting that ended at approximately 11:15pm. The meeting adjourned with many items deferred to a special meeting held on March 31st to complete the agenda.
It is clear that Council needs to adopt a different and more efficient process to deal with these lengthy agendas so that time can be directed and focused on those things that matter most.
Items of interest:
a) The 2014 operating budget, while not fully concluded, appears to be in the 1.7% increase range – about twice the size of 2013 inflation.
b) Dissension among Council members continues to undermine efficiency. Witness marathon Council meetings and frequent recorded votes.
c) Two sizeable reports are nearing completion, those being the HATS report (Huronia Area Tourism Strategy) and the Municipal Cultural Plan. The Cultural Plan report highlighted an inventory of 274 of our region’s significant cultural assets. Both studies are comprehensive and will provide guidance to this and future Councils. We commend Council for bringing awareness and focus to a sizeable economic development opportunity, which clearly needs to get maximized to its full potential.
Increased funding will continue to be a struggle until Midland again becomes a growing community and can shore up its depleted development fund and enjoy tax base growth. The real opportunity is to get the 274 assets working in harmony, talking to each other, pooling and sharing resources, and having more effective branding and marketing. Midland, lets be “proud out loud” of our cultural and tourism advantage!
d) Sumac property official plan amendment. Apparently in the early stages of this application, planning staff was ok with developing one additional lot here as it was site specific and could therefore be tightly controlled. Later at the public meeting there was considerable opposition to the application. Planning’s position was to recommend rejection of the amendment relying upon aspirations/direction in the Official Plan along with an opinion from the public meeting that there was “no overwhelming public benefit”. Council supported Planning’s position by casting a 6-3 recorded vote.
e) Possible disposition of Town identified excess land. There were several properties that were being considered for re-purposing and sale by the town. The lack of consistent criteria coupled with a property specific public outcry resulted in all four properties remaining the property of the Town – status quo. It looks like our Town always has a healthy appetite for acquiring more property but is reluctant to ever dispose of its excess holdings. When Midland holds on to excess land, it reduces our tax base and adds to annual operating costs (no taxes are paid on land Midland owns).
f) Proposed Septic By-law.
PROPOSED BY-LAW – SEPTIC SYSTEM MAINTENANCE INSPECTION PROGRAM
Stu Leggett spoke on the proposed Septic System Inspection By-law and questioned both the need and the communication process. Since the Town did not make available either the wording of the proposed by-law or the information package until just a week before the scheduled vote, he asked that Council postpone its vote until the public could be better informed on the issue. Wes Crown agreed saying that due to several difficulties the Town had been unable to provide the appropriate information in a timely manner and therefore Mr. Crown also supported postponement of the vote.
Mr. Leggett then went on to describe how a similar by-law (the Back-Flow Prevention By-Law) passed by Midland Council in 2005 now affects well over 1,000 commercial properties at a direct cost to property owners measured in the millions of dollars. Mr. Leggett (an ex-firefighter with the City of Mississauga and also past President of the Canadian School of Rescue Training) requested that the town provide Councillors, himself and the residents of Midland with evidence showing whether any actual injury the by-law could prevent has ever occurred in the Town’s history and whether any such risk could be realistically expected.
Roy Ellis on behalf of Midlandcommunity.ca