10/17/14

Questions for Mayor and Council Candidates

The following first appeared in the Millstone News in mid-October. Each candidate answered the same set of questions.

Enerdu

Enerdu proposes to significantly expand a hydro generating plant in Almonte. Many local citizens oppose this plan, as it will change the aesthetics of the Mississippi River and falls, a central element in the beauty of the Town and a tourist attraction. There is also concern that the hydro plant is contributing to the death of a wetland forest at Appleton.

1. Do you support the current Enerdu proposal? If so, what are your reasons?

A. During canvassing in Almonte, the detrimental effect of the Enerdu expansion is the most frequent topic people want to talk about. Based on the 1700+ names on the online petition from people in Mississippi Mills and the hundreds of others who have voiced opposition to me directly, I cannot support the expansion in its present form. No local politician who honestly claims to represent the views of Town residents can support Enerdu.

2. If you do not support the current Enerdu proposal, what are your reasons? What actions will you take to stop or alter the proposal?

A. Enerdu’s own heritage impact study listed numerous examples of how the established heritage features and charm of the river will be forever altered. This project’s proponent has not made a case for any benefits to the Town. Given that the expanded plant will not bring property taxes or any permanent jobs, such a lose-lose outcome is unsupportable.

Working with several enlightened members of Council, I was encouraged to bring forward several motions in August and September that expressed opposition to Enerdu or that aimed to save the Appleton Wetland. These are temporary measures to ensure that all heritage and environmental arguments can be heard.

Going forward, we need to find allies. As Mayor, I will work with Lanark County Council on an expression of solidarity against the arbitrary imposition of generating stations in the heritage core of towns, whether it is Almonte, Carleton Place, Perth or Lanark Village. There are many municipalities with rivers flowing through the heart of their downtowns. And all of us should have authority over disruptive industrial projects. Lanark County Council could then present the same request to the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, which represents over a dozen regional municipalities.

The three Ontario ministers of Energy, Resources and Environment each hold a key to ending Enerdu’s expansion or modifying it to fit in with local expectations. As Mayor, backed by Council, I will take the concerns of Mississippi Mills to those ministers as well as to the Premier.

Taxes and Municipal Services

1. Since moving to Almonte several years ago, I've seen my property taxes rise significantly higher than I anticipated. Do you think current tax rates are too high, too low, or exactly where they should be? What are your reasons for your position?

A. I believe we can find fiscal efficiencies and slow tax growth. In 2012, Council agreed to a 7% increase in revenues—about 5% more in local property taxes annually, not including county and school tax—until 2018, to build a reserve to meet future infrastructure expenses. For example, in the next four years, we must repair or replace eight bridges and ten major culverts. Also, sections of Almonte’s water and sewer pipes are older than most residents. While building a reserve is sound, Council failed to first examine, as I advocated, its existing programs and services to find efficiencies that may have helped reduce that 7% increase. We could have done better.

2. Water bills are higher than the equivalent in Ottawa. Please provide your understanding of this difference.

A. Ottawa has a larger and growing pool of people to share the costs, so it is a poor comparison. Users of our water system are paying for the debt on the new sewage treatment plant, upgrades to the water tower and well pumps, and sewer line replacements. With only about 2,100 buildings in Almonte to share the cost, the annual charge is high. The more people that choose a new home in Almonte, as compared to a rural home, the more each home’s share of the costs will decrease.

3. What actions should be taken to collect unpaid and in-arrears property taxes?

A. Provincial law governs the collection of unpaid taxes. The Town has about $1 million in tax arrears, The Town’s Treasurer is as aggressive in collection as the law allows. There are three tax sales pending and several large overdue accounts will be settled by the New Year.

A Safe and Healthy Community

1. How do you propose to support the needs of the growing senior population? The Mills provides vital services but they need to have municipal support to expand their services.

A. Council already supports the important work of the Mills, when asked. Just this year, the Town donated land to the Mills for an expansion of their seniors’ facility on Country Street. Part of my “smart development” commitment is to foster more eldercare services and facilities. I look forward to working in collaboration with the Mills to ensure this is a priority of our community’s growth in the next four years.

One area that’s overlooked in our community is at the opposite end of the age spectrum—youth. We heard at the Almonte All Candidates meeting that the TYPS Youth Centre has had its funding either frozen or cut for several years. They made the point that if seniors where forced to beg for a bed or food in the middle of a Lanark winter the community would find this unacceptable.

2. Will you consider making the streets safer for pedestrians? The schools are implementing a policy of children walking to and from school, there are seniors, and sight/ physically challenged people who find the time frame for current crossings difficult.

A. During canvassing, the biggest complaint I heard across the three wards dealt with speeding cars and the risk to children. This concern is common to Almonte neighbourhoods, Pakenham village, the Ramsay ward hamlets, and the rural subdivisions. Traffic data recorded by our public works staff shows that speeding is sometimes a false perception but often accurate. The OPP usually do not respond to requests for more speed enforcement. It is time for public consultations on implementing traffic-calming initiatives or other measures that can make our streets safer.

As for the time frequency at crossings, if that needs changing, then I urge stakeholders to bring a proposal to Council.

Community Official Plan

1. The Community Official Plan is a legal document containing the goals, objectives and policies which guide the development, growth and change of the Mississippi Mills. It predicts that our population will increase from 11,650 in 2001 to approximately 18,500 by 2026. How do you think we can attain this level of growth while maintaining our existing quality of life, and while still keeping future tax increases to moderate levels?

A. Predictions in the COP are long-range forecasts set 10 years ago, which like weather, are not a sure bet. Recent census figures show that populations in rural counties, such as Lanark, are not increasing. Our Town is gaining slowly due to being Ottawa’s neighbour. Our population was 12,385 in 2011. Will it grow another 6,000 by 2026 as the COP predicts? Not likely. Housing starts have averaged 80 annually between 2008 and 2013. The average number of residents per household has declined steadily due to out-migration of youth. It averages 2.2 people per household. At this rate, our 2026 population will be under 15,000. Expect 70% of newcomers to settle in Almonte based on past trends. We can absorb this modest growth rate without negative impacts.

Tax increases are another matter. While more homes in Almonte will slow the rise of water bills, studies show that new suburban residential growth does not pay its own way because the province limits how much we can charge for new homes to “buy into” existing and proposed infrastructure. As noted above, we need to review expenditures to find fiscal efficiencies.

Council Business

1. Would you support opening some portion of Council Meetings so that the public can both comment and ask questions of the Council? If not, why not?

A. Yes. In 2011, Councillor Val Wilkinson and I proposed to extend citizen participation in meetings of Council. Dubbed the “one-minute speakers corner,” the plan was to allow anyone to speak at the start of a meeting for one minute without being on the delegate list. We’d allocate up to 10 minutes for this. We suggested a three-month trial period. Eight members of Council opposed it.

2. How do you propose to increase community involvement in municipal decision-making? How do you plan to stay in touch with citizens?

A. Residents I talk to often say they appreciate how my regular articles and blog posts keep them informed. That won’t change. On top of that, expect Town Hall meetings once or twice a year—more if it seems useful—where people can drop in and tell me what’s concerning them, or ask questions of me and the staff. We also need to hold budget meetings each year before the budget process starts, rather than at the end as we do now; that way we can incorporate good suggestions. And Council needs to get out more. Let’s hold regular meetings in other halls through the Town, such as in Pakenham and Clayton.

3. How important are the views of the community to you, as opposed to your own personal point of view?

A. The community shapes my views. After knocking on 1900 doors so far, and having hundreds of conversations, people have told me what they like about their Town and want to preserve and grow, and what they’d like to change and improve. We are blessed with a wealth of smart people in this community and I welcome the ideas of businesses and residents. To be an effective leader I strongly believe one must use trust, respect and collaboration to meet our community's goals. There are many types of leaders. My favorite definition of a leader is someone motivates others to be the best they can be.

Questions for All Candidates

1. Could you outline what contribution you feel you have made the community of Mississippi Mills over the last five years?

A. Our community is famous for its heritage, culture, entrepreneurship and quality of community. I am an active supporter of the Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month, and the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists. I support a great many artists, their inspirations and shows. I volunteer at local festivals and events. I served as Vice Chair of Five Arches Community Housing in Pakenham. For four years, I’ve been a member of the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee, and now act as its Chair.

2. What particular qualities do you think you have that should make residents vote for you?

A. Over the last four years, my reputation has spread as an advocate for people with legitimate problems. Any group of people, large or small—whether in my ward or not—that had a clear case and presented a reasonable solution, can count on me taking the issue to senior staff or Council. The Mayor should be the Town’s ombudsman.

Four years as a Councillor has taught me the power of consensus building within Council. Of my many policy initiatives since elected in 2010, the only successes came when I first made a series of phone calls to colleagues to work out details ahead of presenting the policy motion to Council. Such collaboration is an essential role of the Mayor, and it is presently lacking.

Not once in my first term did the current Mayor call a meeting just to brainstorm—an essential ingredient to build a common vision. As Mayor, I will hold informal brainstorming meetings with Councillors to exchange ideas and set policy goals.

3. Are there any issues that you think are important to the community that have not been raised in this interview? If so, could you tell us what they are and your position on them?

A. The economy of Mississippi Mills has perked up in the last few years and we must make sure that mini-boom continues. Success is most evident on Mill Street in Almonte. Tourists have discovered our Town’s many arts, culture and heritage charms. Shopkeepers tell me that up to 80% of their business comes from visitors. Those same charms, complemented by natural beauty and lifestyle, attract entrepreneurs who set up novel and growing businesses, like Hummingbird Chocolate and Equator Coffee. To keep the economy growing in a clean and sustainable fashion, the Town must maintain the environment for growth in tourism and small business through intelligent zoning and minimal red tape. We need to promote Pakenham more so that it can share in the tourism wave.

We can also invoke a section of the Planning Act that allows for the creation of a Community Improvement Plan (CIP). Peterborough has several such plans in action, allowing them to give incentives—property tax breaks on the increased assessment and building fee rebates—to encourage fa├žade improvements, brownfield redevelopment, and heritage-building upgrades. Central Almonte and Pakenham village could be prime candidates for a CIP.

The Town needs to replace the sewer and water pipes under Mill Street in 2016. While it gives everyone a chance to contribute to the makeover of the street, it also poses a threat to business. Advance collaboration with all Mill Street stakeholders on both the design and construction schedule is essential.

We need to encourage companies to set up here who provide local jobs without also bringing smokestacks and parking-lot sprawl. One such industry is eldercare, such as the Orchard View facility under construction near the water tower. Its 120 apartments will mean our elderly can remain in their community. Its 80 jobs mean more local service providers can work close to home. Let’s provide reasonable incentives to attract more such facilities.


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