Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Springwater Council Update

Budget-Blood Specimen Clinic-Elmvale District High School-Midhurst

I think generally the Springwater council did a good job at the 2012 budget for the Township of Springwater. They basically kept the operating budget flat by cost cutting measures without impacting the service levels. The budget committee and efficiency committees that were established seem to be working. I agree that the roads and bridges must be dealt with since they were ignored repeatedly by previous councils. That is a big expense and will only increase over time. The borrowing of over $2 million next year for roads and possibly for each of the next 5 or 6 years does concern me however. The CFO notes that after this initial borrowing the township will only be at 25% of its debt capacity. However based on the compounded spending the township could well be at 50% of its debt capacity by the end of this council’s term. With an uncertain economy, that could be a problem. Ultimately we will pay for it.

I was very impressed with the approach to staff wages that council took last year in the budget. Those at the lower end of the scale received a higher percentage increase than those at the top. Extra dollars at the lower end impacts the overall economy when placed with the lower wage earners as they are able to afford that newer car or small renovation in their house which adds to local businesses. Money goes back into the economy. This year council went back to the flat percentage, effectively negating the good work they did last year. Mayor Collins, Deputy Mayor McLean and others argue that if there is a higher rate given at the lower end of the wage scale it will close the gap between the high and low wage earners and does not reflect the value of the higher educated workers. I don’t agree. As a matter of fact a fixed percentage approach widens the divide between the low and high wage earner. If you earn $30,000 and receive 3% that amounts to $900 annually. If you make a $100,000 that represents an increase of $3,000. In one year you broaden the gap by $2,100. Even though not well identified in their sit-ins, this is the very reason for the recent Occupy movements. Early industrialists like Henry Ford, Dupont, Vanderbilts and others realized that a healthy economy only works if you give a better wage to a broader base of the population as it immediately goes back into essential goods and services. I would have preferred that the council had continued with its creative approach used last year. It appears this council is falling into the routine of the councils before them. Possibly a visit to the Elmvale Food Bank would make our councilors aware that it is no longer just the unemployed that use their services but they now provide support to those on lower income who just can’t make ends meet. I guess when you have two former civil servants now heading council that are used to automatic and indexed pensions, giving fixed percentage increases probably all makes sense to them. Unfortunately about 70% of us don’t have any of that automatic indexing in our savings or pensions.

I am concerned with the delay in the establishment of the blood specimen clinic in Elmvale. I am concerned it came as such a surprise to the mayor as noted in a Barrie Advance column. With such an important local service, it would seem advisable that a status report be tabled at every council meeting to ensure things don’t go awry as it seems to have happened. Hopefully this is a short term delay for those in desperate need of the service in Elmvale. I think we need a little more focused approach by council considering the township has invested in improvements to the Knox building to facilitate the service.

It also appears to be time for the council to ramp up its efforts and support for Elmvale District High School as once again it could be a potential victim of short sighted School Board members. The moratorium has been lifted and again EDHS could be closed based on the previous arguments of age, efficiency etc. The mayor and local trustee should be working together with the board, and our MPP to protect this important part of our township. Aside from actions initiated by the former council, not a lot has been said or done by this council for EDHS.

At the same time as I make the foregoing comments, I agree with some statements that councilor Rick Webster has made at the recent council meetings. As municipal tax payers we should not be burdened with the cost of health care or education as that is a provincial responsibility. But to protect the welfare of Springwater, we must do what we can to retain health services and the high school in our community. It is a difficult challenge and balancing act that the council is faced with and no easy answer.

I attended the Midhurst Ratepayers Meeting last week, and this council may have another Site 41 type issue on its hands. It is unfortunate that the position of the residents of Midhurst has not been heard even though it has not changed since the introduction of the growth strategy in 1996. A majority of the residents, except those that own the development land, are against the building of 10,000 homes and an increase to 30,000 people over the next 20 years. It is unfortunate that most of the current council support this development and think it is good for the township. The residents complained in 1996 that there was little discussion, public input or information provided to the residents. The same complaint is being heard today. I know Michael Jacobs made a comment in his editorial about the fact that the last council motivated by personal interests moved the publishing of township information to the Barrie Advance for over a year. Most people do not turn to the Advance for Springwater information. Unfortunately this was the time period when there were a number of meetings held to outline the mega plans of development around Midhurst which explains why most Midhurst residents were unaware of it. I just hope the council does not waste over $100,000 of our tax dollars to fight the Province’s appeal of the Midhurst Secondary Plan as it is wasted money. Being a small township, we cannot sustain a growth rate of more than 2% a year which has been a manageable trend over the last 20 years. We do not have the staff or resources to sustain what effectively would be a compounded growth rate of about 5% a year based on the Midhurst and Centre Vespra growth plans. Even a more curious question is the lack of focus of building out Elmvale in recent years. Elmvale and Midhurst were identified as the major residential growth areas in the 1996 growth strategy. It is ironic that most of the development was focused on Midhurst. Since Dan McLean our current deputy mayor was part of the planning committee that approved the 1996 plan, I suggest Elmvale residents should challenge McLean and councilor Clement on why the township has put little focus on the growth of Elmvale. That is where growth of another 1,000 people over 5 years would make a huge difference to both the Elmvale economy and probably bring jobs and people to Springwater. We know that most of the dollars of future Midhurst residents will go to the Barrie economy, not much help to Springwater.

I will say it again as I have repeated a number of times. Get involved with your township. Come to a few council meetings and planning meetings a few times a year. I have observed, that unless something is of particular interest to a group of residents, most of the time it is only me and one or two others that are monitoring your council. That is a sad reflection of the democratic process that we seem to now take for granted.