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Midland, Ontario L4R 4K8


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MIDLAND COUNCIL REVIEW - AUGUST

AUGUST COUNCIL UPDATE

This is a brief update on Midland Council’s August meeting.  As the municipal election (October 27th) draws nearer, Councillors are becoming more focused on that.  The result was a lengthy Agenda that Council was able to complete in just over four hours with less wrangling and hostility than at many other meetings during this Council’s term.

TIERED RESPONSE

Council heard an insightful deputation from Doug Campbell who addressed the “tiered-response system" for emergency services.  This is a voluntary dispatching protocol where police, fire and paramedic EMS are all dispatched to the same medical call.  Mr. Campbell’s submission pointed out how this voluntary practice not only wastes resources but also ironically increases EMS average response times - likely harming patient outcomes.  He added that fire-related duties are only 3% of our Fire Department’s work and medical calls represent by far the largest number of responses.

To that we can add a couple facts.  Even with all the non-fire responses, Midland Fire still averages less than 1 call every 8 hours.  Some people say “well if we’re paying them to sit around the fire hall anyway, they might as well go out to medical calls.”  But if they are limited in their first aid capability, can not transport patients and potentially harm patient outcomes, we might all be much better off to have them do something else instead or to change our fire model completely.

There is a growing chorus of voices that we are not getting fair value for the money we spend on specialized emergency services.  Mr. Campbell’s concerns need to be followed-up.  Cost is not a reliable indicator of value in public services.  You do not always get more just because you pay more and it is possible to reduce costs without reducing services.  Midland Community will continue to examine other models and options for providing the emergency services we all need.

FINANCIAL POLICIES 

Council considered a report from the Treasurer (deferred from the July meeting) in which he proposed modifications to several Town policies.  Council adopted all but two which it held for further consideration at a future meeting.  Council had concerns about the sheer number of reserve funds Midland has – 45 according to the Treasurer that are not mandatory but maintained by choice.  The other item held for future consideration involved communications from midlandcommunity.ca member George Dixon expressing, among other things, his concerns that Midland’s practices in place for many years around budget surpluses do not comply with the Municipal Act. 

MIDLAND PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION

Council considered a report from the Treasurer that recommended Council formally ask the Midland Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to increase its payments to the Town by increasing its debt to 60% from current and projected levels in the 45-49% range.  The recommendation lost on a tied 4 – 4 vote.  MPUC is a corporation fully owned by the Town of Midland.  Its rates are regulated by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and MPUC pays an annual dividend to the Town.

Basically the proposal is for MPUC to incur several million dollars in additional borrowing over the next few years in order to pay the same amount to the Town over the same period. The only ‘real’ overall benefit to Midland taxpayers (who are also MPUC’s customers) would be income tax savings for MPUC because the interest MPUC pays on its debt is tax-deductible.  We will carry out a thorough analysis of the pros and cons of this proposal the next time this item returns to a public agenda.

This will not be the last word on this subject or other matters involving the Town and MPUC.  KPMG identified sizable cost savings opportunities in excess of $1 million by consolidating administrative functions at the MPUC and the Town. None of these have yet been realized. 

A few brief comments before leaving this subject for now.  We pay all the bills and it does us no good if we are only watching a shell game where one government increases its revenues at the cost of another agency of the very same government.  This can be especially dangerous if our Town has in mind it can temporarily increase the revenue it shows on its books in order to keep tax increases artificially low and avoid pressure to actually reduce the costs that have led to Midland’s high taxes.  Governments often focus too much on looking good and not enough on being good.  

Friction between the Town and this Town agency does not help any of us any more than friction between the Town and our Police Services Board.  We end up footing the bill for all the squabbling and noise while important issues are not dealt with effectively. 

Finally, in a small twist of irony, Council decided at the same meeting it should not borrow to fund the Unimin purchase but self-finance it for now from our accumulated reserves.  

SEPTIC INSPECTIONS

We are pleased to report Council completed the process of unwinding a decision it made previously to institute a mandatory septic system inspection program.  That program far exceeded the mandatory system that was just put in place by the Ontario government to protect the Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe watersheds.  Congratulations to all Councillors for recognizing any benefit one hopes to achieve by additional regulation has to be weighed not only against the direct costs to governments but also against the costs to the economy as a whole.  And for recognizing that bragging rights for being at the leading edge of septic inspections, backflow prevention or other doubtful regulatory schemes are never worth the public costs.

George Dixon for midlandcommunity.ca

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