November Council Review

Midland Council Meeting November 27


November’s council meeting opened with three deputations.
First on stage was Ms. Crystal Witzke, CEO of the Midland Public Library.  Ms. Witzke reported that in the past 12 months, library visits are way up, the library is now open 7 days a week and circulation is “skyrocketing”.  Their new website has recently gone live as has the upgraded WiFi system. Plans were shown detailing the first floor building re-design including the ‘makerspace’ interactive area.  Through focused leadership, innovation, and a commitment to place the customer first, it is apparent the library has become more relevant to local residents.  Keep up the great work!
Next to appear was Mr. Gary Worters who advocated Council make the decision to reduce its number of councillors from 7 to 5 (plus mayor and deputy mayor) prior to the next election.  Mr. Worters spoke passionately about Midland having fewer jobs and slower growth in recent years.  He framed his comments around Midland’s high tax rate coupled with low-income levels – clearly a challenge to maximizing our full potential as a community.  Mr. Worters’ comments prompted a rebuttal from a few councillors and the mayor, whose defence centered mainly on heightened activity and opportunity around diversity.  Coincidentally, the matter of council size is highlighted as an opportunity in the service delivery review (SDR) study, which we’ll comment on later.
Ms. JoAnn Warren on behalf of Hospice Huronia provided the final deputation.  This highly valued organization has been providing the community with in-home hospice care & bereavement support since 1993.  Plans are underway to break ground in May of 2018 on their new $3.125 million residential hospice on Fuller Avenue in Penetanguishene, the details of which were presented.  The hospice needs to raise $1.5M locally, which the province will match to cover the build costs.  Penetanguishene donated the land upon which the structure is being built, the Township of Tiny has contributed $10,000.00 and Ms. Warren was seeking a financial contribution from Midland.  Council agreed to look at Ms. Warrens request during the upcoming 2018 budget discussions.
Speaking of the budget, Midland’s town administration was seeking Council’s permission to pull together the first draft of the 2018 budget with a recommended target of +2.5%.  A visibly agitated Deputy Mayor Mike Ross blasted the request and immediately put forward an amendment holding the increase to 1.5%, and later wished he had suggested 0%.  Deputy Mayor Ross’ friendly amendment was defeated and the town’s guidance remains at a 2.5% increase.  The Deputy Mayor clearly expected a more responsible approach in 2018, believing Council and the administration had ample opportunity to clean up some of the mess that continues to limit our effectiveness and full potential. supports the Deputy Mayor’s indictment and remains hopeful that when the budget is presented in its final state, Midland’s 2018 budget will be very close to 2017’s.  ‘Enough is enough’ on this front.
Another contentious issue was the creation of a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) for the purpose of developing significant real estate assets like Midland Bay Landing.  A Municipal Development Corporation is intended to allow a municipality to manage an opportunity by drawing upon private sector expertise in such fields as real estate, finance, construction & project management – skills that often do not reside within local government/administration.   Some progressive communities are using this strategy to more effectively manage their complex assets by taking day-to-day decisions out of the hands of the Politicians, who often lack the capability, and to prevent the strategic development of assets from being derailed by election cycles.  If defined and executed correctly, Council would retain control while benefitting from expert advice, but that’s a big “if”.  Problems arise when politicians also lack the skills to properly define an MDC and surround it in an effective regulatory framework to prevent developer exploitation of weak bylaws (e.g. Tiffin duplexes) combined with an MDC that is given the wrong mandate (e.g. “maximize value for Midland ratepayers”, which could be interpreted in many different ways).
The Federal Phoenix pay system is a good illustration of what can go wrong.  The feds subcontracted the experts at IBM, but the government didn’t have the skills to write an effective specification or contract, and now it is an unparalleled disaster.  We foresee the possibility of an MDC facing similar issues, albeit on a smaller scale.  We’ll all have to watch this issue very closely to ensure Midland Bay Landing is properly set up for success.
A separate meeting was held earlier in the day to brief Council and the public on the Service Delivery Review (SDR) process and findings to date.  The summary presentation can be found on the town’s web site and deals with recommendations around Services, Processes, Governance, Communications, Technology and Organizational opportunities necessary to drive value for the customer (ratepayer) in everything the town touches.  While the consultant’s report highlighted 68 opportunities to consider, the top 20 spoke primarily to the need for technology and systems solutions accompanied by a significant training need for staff.  One of their recommendations, as with the KPMG report from four years ago, was to reduce the size of Midland Council by two councillors.  They observed that Midland has more councillors than any comparators they found in Ontario, and more than many larger towns and cities.
Policing and Fire were outside the scope of this mandate for reasons obvious to most.

Midland Policing is transitioning on schedule to OPP services and should be concluded on or around February 12th.  Everyone remains hopeful and confident that all valued employees will be retained by OPP.
Fire Services received a brief comment at the council meeting but only in the context of receiving the Chief’s long-awaited Fire report, which was to include ‘tiered response’.  The CAO commented there continues to be conversation at the County level to explore a ‘regional model’ of sorts.  The expectation is we will hear more about Midland Fire and the possibilities in the first quarter.  A more impactful, more meaningful and less costly role for this department is how Midland should define success.
Finally, all four councils (North Simcoe) conducted a joint meeting to consider the Provincial Growth Plan Implementation.  While this may not have been the first meeting of its kind it is certainly extremely rare, and it should likely happen more frequently as no small single town can afford to ‘go it alone’ anymore.

One big take-away is that County is becoming more and more powerful with respect to having greater approval authority on planning matters.  County will have a more significant role in where we grow … how we grow … and even if we grow.  Yes, we said “if we grow”.

A comment was made by one of the four planners at this combined meeting that “the proposed Provincial NHS mapping does not apply in primary settlement areas like Midland and Penetanguishene”.  Midland’s planner went on to state, and we quote, “the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) obligates each municipality as part of their Official Plan to identify and protect a Natural Heritage System.  The PPS requires Midland to not only provide policy guidance but also to provide for the mapping and designation of the NHS in keeping with Provincial policy and guidelines”.

We the sceptics remain unclear as to what this really means and what the consequences are for Midland.

To this end, we have forwarded our concerns to the ‘Official Plan’ committee, various town planners and Council in an effort to garner more energy and clarity around this comment.

We do not need to be ‘Out Front’ and have another ‘made in Midland’ broader interpretation of what was intended by the Province.  While we all desire a clean and natural environment, Midland planners have a history of reaching far beyond federal, provincial and county standards, particularly on environmental issues (e.g. Shoreline study, Sourcewater Protection Plan, Backflow Protection, etc.), and we simply can’t afford to continue to push Midland to the front of the pack on regulation while we fall to the back of the pack on economic development and growth.  Please visit the Town’s web site for updates on this important matter.

This is how we see it!

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