Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Mayor's Life is Always Interesting-and I love it!

The last two weeks has been quite busy as we approached the summer season.

We speak of Springwater as a community of communities. Canada Day illustrated the uniqueness of some of those communities.

Canada Day
In Minesing there was a family oriented event with a special competition for those that wanted to dress up their bikes in a Canada Day motif. It was great. Everyone in the community participated with grandparents, parents and children all having a great time. Thanks to Tracy, Wanda and the rest of the local Recreation Board for their efforts.
In Phelpston, their annual fireworks was fantastic. Everyone buys fireworks from the Kinsmen Club and the Kinsmen Club come and facilitate the safe lighting of the fireworks. I would say there were about 200 people in attendance. A few brought their own POP!. Thanks to Danielle, Rick and the rest of the Phelpston Recreation Board.
All of our Boards are becoming quite alive and energetic, which I find encouraging. I have spoken to a few people and possibly, for next year, we can have a special event for each of the major holidays in a different area of the township. Our small communities are simply great!

Farmers Market
The Elmvale Springwater Farmers Market has been open for a few weeks but the official opening was on July 3rd. It was a great day and the market was well attended with a lot of locals and visitors partaking of our excellent locally grown foods and crafts. A number of new participants have signed up and, on speaking to them, are pleased with the attendance and the venue. Come up to Elmvale on Friday mornings from 9:30 to 1 and get your fresh foods. It does taste better!

Official Plan Workshop
As many people know, the Springwater Official Plan dates back to 1998 and has a number of amendments. Parts of the Plan do not appropriately reflect new planning regimes especially the impact of the Provincial Policies and Plans from 2005 and beyond. This makes it challenging, both for landowners and planning staff. We staged our second workshop with Bob Lehman and Associates last week and it was very fruitful. The report to Council will be tabled on July 20th and we will then begin the process of developing a “Made in Springwater” Official Plan. It is our desire to move away from an external driven planning approach, to a township internally controlled planning process. We hope to be proactive rather than reactive. That will assist the township in being able to better project OUR future.

Strategic Planning Session
One of the things that I found very useful in my 40 years of business was developing a direction for the organization that had buy-in from everyone. It’s called a Strategic Plan. The last Council created one in 2010, updated it in 2012 and you see mention of it on staff reports. Times have changed with this council and we want to develop a Strategic Plan in concert with those that elected us. We had our first session last week and we have now set the direction for the development of the plan. In the near future you will be asked to respond to a questionnaire on your vision and needs in Springwater. So please participate. Being a great believer in Branding, I have asked Council, Staff and anyone that is interested to come up with a slogan that we might use as an umbrella for both our Official Plan and Strategic Plan. To show the interest and enthusiasm at the meeting, CAO Robert Brindley provided one that I think shows the direction we as township want to embrace, “Our Springwater, Our Future”. I have already had some other suggestions, some not for the faint of heart.

Springwater Park
We received great news last week with the announcement of the returning of Springwater Provincial Park to operating status. Beausoleil First Nations and the Province of Ontario have entered into a 5 year co-management agreement along with an operating agreement with BFN. The Park opened its gates for visitors last Friday. As a Township, I am pleased that we were able to provide assistance during the last six months and I kept in communication with both parties. The Township provided snow plowing to the gate during the Winter months and our Parks and Recreation Department trimmed the grass in advanve of the recent POW WOW at the Park. Congratulations to all for reaching the agreement. I encourage us all to visit the Park once this Summer. I know in the last term Councillor Hanna and McConkey tabled and passed a resolution to set aside some money for the Park. I think we will hear more on that in months to come and possibly a cooperative initiative.

Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture 75th Anniversary
I sit as the County Council representative on the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture. This is a wonderful organization that is both protecting the future of farming in the area and at the same time educating all of us about importance of agriculture in a healthy economy and society. This year they celebrated their 75th Anniversary and it was hosted at the Partridge Family Farm in Oro Medonte. Over 380 people were fed. There was a great showing of vintage vehicles and farm tractors that was enjoyed by all. The food was great and the audience had the pleasure of dancing and celebrating to the tunes of the Martels Rock and Roll Show. The People’s Choice Award  Trophy for Vintage Vehicles was Ron and Linda French with their beautiful coral coloured ‘56 Mercury Convertible. I hope Mike has a photo in this edition. Special mention should also go to Wayne Hawke of Anten Mills and his really cool 1929 Model A hotrod and Gary Strachan and his pristine 1933 Ford Vicky street rod as both were close runners-up. The next time you see a farmer, say “thank you for feeding us”. You will get a broad smile back.

Compliance Audit

As some of you are aware, a defeated candidate in the Fall Election has requested a Compliance Audit on my election expenses. Since I am the only candidate in Springwater that, in addition to my financial statement, provided an Independent Auditors Report, I look forward to the meeting on July 20th starting at 9 a.m. If you have time, please come out and witness the exercise. I will definitely be writing about the matter when it is complete.

The Mayor's View

In early June we had our second strategic planning session at the County of Simcoe. The purpose of the meeting was to reaffirm the direction County Council is taking over the next few years. Many confirmed that as a County we must be fiscally diligent but at the same time respond to the growing needs of the 450,000 residents it services.

The meeting was very productive and the engagement of all the Councillors is encouraging and a true effort of “for the greater good” was prevalent in the lively discussions.

There is much work to do in County capital projects which needs to be balanced with confirmed sources of revenue. The Administrative Staff were directed to come back with different scenarios for next year’s budget based on low tax increases and what the impacts may be for the Long Term Financial Plan. Keep tuned to the County information as 30% of your taxes goes to the County.
At the Township level our Long term Financial Plan, based on three growth scenarios is progressing quite well with lively dialogue from all parties involved. The challenge is projecting the assessment values of the new developments since higher density development is new to Springwater. I have difficulty accepting a premise that just because it is being built in Midhurst, the assessment value will be more than a similar property in Barrie. We need to make sure we have this right as the future financial sustainability and viability will be based on what we conclude in this plan. If we get it wrong, and overestimate the assessment values, our revenues could fall short of projections and we, the tax payer, will pick up the difference. A good example is with the County as a comparison. The County conducted a DC Charge study in 2011. It included projections based on some optimistic forecasts. Starting in 2012, through to today, it has come up dramatically short of the projected revenue levels leaving a large DC reserve shortfall. Even using an optimistic view it will take many years to stabilize this shortfall. With Springwater being a smaller municipality, if we miscalculate our financial projections, it will result in a dramatic impact and could hit your wallet significantly. We will persist until we have the financial projections correct.

I was pleased to participate in a number of events in the township recently. The Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival Banquet was a sold out event and Kevin Frankish’s Elmvale centric version of Jeopardy was great. I found a few things I didn’t know about the history of the local area. Great laughs were had by all. Many local organizations benefit from this annual event and its 50th Anniversary was one of the best they had in recent years.

The Bike Safety poster competition in all our schools brought over a 100 submissions from area elementary schools. The schools narrowed it down to four winners and the Community Policing Committee hosted a lunch at the Township Administration Centre for these students and their families. I had the opportunity of presenting the certificates and had each of them explain the meaning of their particular posters. This type of peer education is so effective. Kids accept and absorb information more readily from their peers as compared to someone in a position of authority. I congratulate everyone involved with this fun initiative.

The Pow Wow on June 13th at Springwater Park was well attended and put life back into this sacred and special ground. Working with the MNR and Ontario Parks, our Springwater property maintenance staff assisted in preparing the grounds for the event in exchange for some consideration from the MNR. Working together we can provide benefits and opportunities to local area residents without burdening the taxpayer. We have been in dialogue with the Ministry and our First Nations People offering our assistance in expediting the reopening of this valuable asset. For a point of clarification, the MNR and Ontario Parks has confirmed that Springwater Park will remain a Crown asset and owned by the people of Ontario. There is no intention of handing over ownership to any other party. There is certainly discussion on uses of portions of the Park, so it is important to keep things in perspective.

Since people keep asking about the progress of the potential developments in Midhurst, we will be adding correspondence to the Township website in the Midhurst Secondary Plan section to make everyone aware of some of the challenges we encounter when trying to resolve a growth plan far beyond anything we have ever experienced. We are progressing as fast as possible with the Environmental Assessments and Long Term Financial Studies and all parties are committed to the process. Whatever happens, the execution must be well managed and must prove to be a net benefit to all residents of Springwater.

Even though we, as a Council are being more transparent than ever before, with many public meetings and open hours, the Township has received a Freedom of Information request to have access to my personal email account, which would suggest that some party feels there is something untoward. It is an interesting request as my personal email is not under the control of the Township and they have no access to it. On the other hand my Springwater email account is under the control of the Township and would be subject to such a request. The Act is not clear and we await direction from the Privacy Commissioner. The request was predictable and will not detract me from doing what is best for Springwater.

Two important matters for Elmvale came to the table at the last Council Meeting. The Elmvale Curling Club as many know had a major facility failure which cut their season short. Even though, the Township is not a lending institution, Council responded to a request for a loan to replace the equipment. The Curling club will repay the loan over a 5 year period at prevailing borrowing rates and are expected to actually repay it in 18 months, after they apply and are successful with some grant applications for 2016. Of greatest importance to the Elmvale Community is Elmvale District High School and its long overdue renovation and expansion. Even though Education is a provincial responsibility, the previous Council agreed that we as a Township had to show our commitment. Councillor Ritchie was a crusader in the last Council and this term supported by Councillor Austin, Council increased the commitment from $200,000 to $300,000, using part of the Elmvale Hydro Fund reserve which can only be used for Elmvale based projects. I know Councillor Ritchie would have preferred more and has made me clearly aware that he felt we could have done more. The positive thing here was that the resolution was supported unanimously by all of Council.

In closing people have been asking me, “so what do you think of the job so far”. The simple answer is “I love it”. I have always able to get the best out of people throughout my career and I feel I am having a positive impact on Springwater and we have just started. The support, enthusiasm and involvement of this council, with their fresh ideas, working closely with our management and staff, makes it even that much more enjoyable. We had a great turnout for our staff BBQ and all Council were present to express our appreciation for the work they do. I also really enjoy the visits when people drop in on Friday afternoons.

There are definitely challenges as anyone at our last Council Meeting will attest, but we are all in it for the right reasons is my belief. Come to Council Meetings and judge for yourself.