MARCH 2015 COUNCIL UPDATE
Midland Council held its March meeting on Monday, March 23rd. The meeting opened and concluded with special tributes to former Deputy Mayor Stephan Kramp, who passed away suddenly last week.
Several Councillors spoke fondly about the positive contribution Stephan made to everything he did and how his life touched our community in so many ways. Members of Council described Stephan using such words as selfless, caring, energetic, passionate, dedicated and supportive, to name a few. Thank you, Stephan, for giving us your best and for making Midland a better place.
1) Midland Bay Landing development: Although we did provide an interim update on the recent agreement between the Town and Mountain Ridge Estates Ltd, we will briefly comment again on this significant, perhaps once in a life time, development opportunity for Midland’s waterfront.
On March 20th, the Town hosted a formal signing ceremony with its development partners. Those of us in attendance left the event feeling enthused and hopeful that residents of Midland will see the vision for the former Unimin site come to fruition. Now it’s time to put away the pens and ribbons and begin the real work.
2) Council meeting highlights:
a) Awards of Merit: Our town is blessed to have so many people who put others and special causes ahead of themselves.
This year’s recipients were recognized for their lasting and significant contributions to Midland’s quality of life:
• Sue Mackenzie
• Julianna Matyas
• Royal Canadian Legion – Pipes and Drums
b) 2015 Budget: The final 2015 operating budget was adopted except for the budget for the Midland Police Service and the Downtown BIA. Both of these remaining pieces should be finalized soon.
Our comments on the 2015 Budget:
Although some want to celebrate a budget increase modestly below the rate of inflation, we believe this is still an incremental effort that does not confront the big financial challenges Midland faces.
The Treasurer spoke about “pressures” on the budget and highlighted several areas:
* Increases in tax write-offs and bad debts
* Salaries and wages – especially for Fire and Police
* Health and Dental costs
* Legal fees
* Reductions in Development Charges collected
These “pressures” are symptoms of a bigger problem requiring focused leadership as follows:
• New models needed for more efficient service delivery;
• New programs needed to control Health and Dental insurance costs;
• New policy needed to control high legal costs (2014 legal costs were $234,000 over budget)
• Vigorous new efforts needed to attract growth through lower taxation and more growth-friendly policies.
c) 5-year Planning:
The meeting also saw some discussion on 5-year spending projections created by projecting past spending levels into the future. Mayor McKay immediately provided clarity by stating, “the projections need to be viewed in the context of our strategic plan and the direction we set”.
The Mayor was referring to Council’s recent strategic planning session, at which the benchmark was set that Midland must reduce its annual operating expenses by at least $1.3 million just to achieve the 75th percentile level in local taxation.
In other words, these projections are not only not approved, they do not conform with council’s strategic plan and a lot work needs to be done to get Midland’s financial house in order.
d) Sunshine List: March also brought public disclosure of the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of all Town employees paid $100,000 or more in 2014. Midland saw 31 employees achieve this distinction, 16 in Police, 9 in Fire and 6 others in senior management positions at Town Hall.
When considering this fact, please bear in mind that the median household income in Midland is less than $50,000 per year (combined income for all members of the household).
e) Backflow Prevention Devices: We will introduce this topic by repeating one of Midlandcommunity’s long time criticisms that “Midland is over-regulated with unwelcome, onerous and costly policies that do not achieve the public benefits claimed”.
Some recent examples of this kind of policy-making include a Septic Inspection program exceeding provincial standards, proposed Source Protection Plan regulations exceeding provincial standards and requirements for Backflow Prevention Devices where no public benefit offsets the private costs incurred.
While it can make us feel good to think we’re better or smarter than everybody else, the truth is we’re not and getting out of the gate first with unproven regulations of doubtful value just creates barriers to investment in our community. Our Town needs a better sense of reasonableness and proportion. And we can’t afford costly mistakes.
The Town made a mistake with the Septic Inspection program which it is now attempting to fix. The Town was too ambitious with Backflow Prevention Devices and is now requesting public input. The Town jumped the gun on the Source Protection Plan, and is now facing an OMB appeal. And some wonder why the Town’s legal bills are excessive and business owners are frustrated.
More to come on this subject as the Town seeks community input on proposals to amend the by-law requiring Backflow Prevention Devices.
Thanks for reading,
Roy Ellis and George Barber on behalf of Midlandcommunity.ca
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