COMPLEX DECISIONS A few weeks ago, a group of students from Arklan Community Public School visited the Town Hall along with teacher, Heather Strachan, as part of their Social Studies program. Both Town Clerk, Duncan Rogers, and I were impressed by their knowledge of local government and the depth of their questions. One particular question stood out for me, and I’ve thought about it – and my answer – numerous times since. Ten-year old James Horne asked, ‘What is the hardest part of your job?’ Now, it didn’t take me long to answer, ‘Making sure you make the right decisions and doing what’s best for the Town’. That truly is, of course, why we were elected, and the residents of the Town should expect nothing less. Quite frankly, some decisions that we make are relatively straightforward, and do not require a great deal of research and study either by Council or Staff. However, many issues are exceptionally complex and have long-term implications for the future well-being of the community. Last year, for example, we dealt with the decision to extend McNeely Avenue linking Highways 7 and 15. What propelled us into making that decision was the fact that increased traffic was putting pressure on the 7 and 15 intersection. Further development along McNeely Avenue may have been limited until the town developed a solution satisfactory to the Ministry of Transport. A myriad of studies were conducted through the environmental assessment process before the extension of McNeely Avenue was given the green light. It then became imperative that the cost-sharing for the extension was worked out fairly among all the players – land owners, developers, various levels of government, and the Town. At the County level, following a presentation by our CAO to County Council members and staff, we successfully lobbied for the County to agree to take over the extension as a County road (the existing McNeely Avenue is already a county road) and to pay for additional lanes when growth requires. In conjunction with all the other issues, Staff worked to acquire an additional 35 acres of Employment Land west of Highway 15; this area will open for development when traffic lights are installed at the new intersection. I have really only skimmed the surface of the scope of this project, but it is an example of the complexities of the decisions that are made by your Council, be it planning for current and future sewer and water needs, lobbying for a new hospital, or scrutinizing the annual budget . Complex issues require complex solutions. They also require an in-depth understanding of complex consequences that result from decisions. This is where a dedicated staff and council working together for the betterment of the community, make fiscally, socially, and environmentally responsible decisions to ensure that the town’s present and future is strong, secure, and sustainable. Thanks, James, for your question. Sometimes, I wish we had a simple answer!
COMMUNITY COMMUNICATIONS About this time last year, a mother wrote telling me that there was nothing for her child to do in Carleton Place. Within 20 minutes, I had come up with a list of over 30, mostly free, activities that are readily available to our community’s young people. Sadly, when I sent off the email reply, it bounced back and she never received it, but I posted the list on my website ( www.wendyleblanc.ca) and hope that she did see it there. Just this past October, we held a Seniors’ Forum in the new Carambeck Community Centre. Before the event, we had heard rumblings that some folks were dissatisfied with what the community had to offer to Seniors. So, we were very pleased that at the forum, attended by just under 100 people, the consensus was that Carleton Place is a great community for Seniors and that there are plenty of opportunities to participate in a wide variety of events. The one thing common to both instances is that communication is key to letting our residents know what is available for all ages and stages of life. One of the major goals of this Council was – and still is – to communicate with our citizens. To that end, we have weekly slide shows at five public locations, set up FaceBook and Twitter accounts along with the Town website, advertised on the digital sign at Market Square, communicated through the Municipal Matters weekly column in the EMC as well as this monthly column, and published the annual Carleton Place Recreation and Culture Guide, listing all clubs and activities in town. The BIA also issues a newsletter and posts a website with town-wide events advertised. Both our Promotions Co-ordinator and our Community Programmer work hard to make sure the message is sent out in a variety of ways to ensure everyone has the opportunity to find out what’s on in Carleton Place. Yet, it seems that we still miss people! I would be pleased to hear if you have any suggestions for improving our communications. And certainly, if you have any ideas about possible changes to, or additional programs or events you would like to see in Carleton Place, please let me know or contact Jessica Smith, our Community Programmer, at 613-257-1704. One of the participants in the Seniors Forum stated, ’Carleton Place is a great town and I am thrilled we chose to live here.’ What can we do to make it even better?
2013 Budget Since late August, staff members have worked on the 2013 budget for Carleton Place, and town Treasurer, Phil Hogan, presented the first draft to Council on October 9. The goal of both staff and Council is to find a balance among the competing issues that affect how our town is run and, ultimately, the bottom line of the budget. Maintaining reasonable tax rates, continuing to provide quality levels of service, and protecting our infrastructure investments are the priorities we keep in mind as we work through the budget process. For some municipalities, Carleton Place included, the number one concern affecting our being able to meet those priorities is the Ontario provincial deficit. In order to attempt to balance their books, the provincial government has downloaded services to the municipalities who are deemed capable of being able to handle the extra costs. In other words, well-run municipalities such as Carleton Place, are seemingly penalized as we bear a greater burden of the downloaded costs. The province simply makes a cut and forces our community to deal with it. For the 2013 budget, the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund download amounts to $166,600 or a 2.14% increase for our community. And this is only the first year of a four year plan with similar downloads expected in the next three years! Add to this, the fact that after ten years of paying on the 2003 costing formula for our OPP services, we are switching to the 2012 formula, with an increase of 1.6% to the tax rate. These two costs, the additional OPP costs and the downloading, amount to a 3.74% increase that is out of the control of the staff or Council. For the past three weeks, we have carefully scrutinized the budget line by line, bearing in mind the priorities of our community, and have managed to maintain services and protect infrastructure, with a below-the-cost-of-living increase of 1.04%. As your Mayor, I have always supported holding tax increases to the cost of living. This is one year that, although the town’s portion of increases were held through sharpening our pencils and examining spending in all areas, we are at the mercy of downloads and the new costing formula. Passing the buck from the province to the municipalities means that for Carleton Place citizens the buck stops with them, since the money the province saves in one area and downloads in another is still coming out of the taxpayers’ wallets – this time a little too close to home.