Taxes and Finances

Without a history of regular financial reports to Council from the municipal administration and departments, it is hard to say how taxes will go.  The debt is currently about $4 million more than the $18 million that the soon-to-be-ex-mayor claimed it would be at the end of 2018.

Council said that the reserves would be built up so much by 2018 that we could borrow from ourselves. The mayor wrote “…if Public Works needs $300,000 for a new piece of heavy equipment, the money comes from reserves.” However, at the last regular meeting, this Council voted to borrow nearly another million dollars to buy a grader, a fire truck and other equipment. When asked by a councillor if reserves could fund it instead, the staff response was no. Reserves have  dropped below what they were supposed to have been at this point.

Where did things go wrong? Well, mismanaged projects and programs  headed and directed by council have cost far more than expected; in the worst case, the library renovation project alone was approximately 100% over its budget (final figures have not been reported). On some projects, milestone and cost updates were so late that potential corrections could not help.

Most big-ticket projects were headed by small groups of councillors who made the spending decisions; the ill-fated library renovation and Gemmill Park projects are examples. Meanwhile, no investment of time in real public consultation was made in the Official Plan review and ill-fated park sales proposals. How much time and money were spent on ideas like the paving the recreational trail for the imaginary hundreds who “commute” (when no funds were allocated – or likely – for upkeep)? Development charges earmarked for Almonte growth were spent elsewhere. The downtown infrastructure replacement project seems to have been dropped after spending thousands in consulting fees. The result of the lack of public consultation and poor decision-making is that the Municipality has  incurred far too much in legal costs. Was there a contingent liability fund to pay for these mistakes? Or have they cost us some basic services?

The Long Term Financial Plan apparently did not account for things like the ever-rising costs of energy, interest rates, salaries, benefits and shaky management. Residential property taxes and sky-high development charges can no longer remain the only sources of revenue.

I would like to see taxes as low as possible. With so little fiscal information in the face of some obvious misadventures, it will be a challenge. I think that a fiscally prudent back-to-basics approach will be required.

Crossing Guards and School Patrols

School patrols help children cross safely on less busy streets.

The safety of children on their way to school has been raised by many people in Tait McKenzie, Holy Name of Mary and Naismith schools neighbourhoods. Several people there have told me that traffic is more congested in front of the schools because some parents, whose children are within walking distance of the school, drive the kids to avoid an unsafe street crossing.

In some cities and towns, school routes are patrolled by the “school patrol,” older students who have been trained to help younger ones cross intersections safely. Their training is provided as a joint project by the province and the Canadian Automobile Association, in cooperation with schools. Paid or volunteer adult crossing guards are used on major streets. Parents are more willing to let their children use active transportation to school (walking or cycling or scooting) if there are crossing guards and school patrols.

You can read more about the Manitoba program here (search for “crossing guard” or “school patrol”):
https://www.gov.mb.ca/mit/traffic/pdf/school_area_guidelines.pdf

Some people say that the municipal paid crossing guard program in Almonte was discontinued because it was thought too expensive. Some say no one wanted to do it. Some say the schools should look after it. There are suggestions that the high school students might do it for their volunteer experience. There are kindly retirees in Almonte who might volunteer, too. I think that we can all work together on this.

There are 40 school weeks. In Almonte, a crossing guard is most needed on busy Ottawa Street at Paterson, for elementary school children. To pay one crossing guard $15 per hour, for two hours a day, 5 days a week, for 40 weeks would cost $6,000. Two guards would cost $12,000. Additional insurance might be required. School patrols, who are older students who do not control traffic but rather ensure that children cross safely, could be stationed at other intersections on the routes. They are usually let out of school a bit early, given high-visibility vests and flags and work with a volunteer staff person or parent. People have suggested that high school students perform this function as part of their volunteer hours.

I could not find information online about a similar program here, although the Canadian Automobile Association does help with it where it exists.

I would definitely vote to fund such a service in Almonte and Pakenham.  The schools and boards would need to be involved. What do you think?

Mill Run Subdivision Information

While I was visiting the Mill Run neighbourhood, a number of people asked me about the status of two neighbourhood features. As a candidate, I am allowed to obtain information from the Municipality. Here are my questions and the responses I received:

New Road Question: Please provide a detailed update on the progress of the road and public works going in behind Honeybourne Street from Paterson.

Answer from Town Staff: “Menzie Street is being constructed by the developer of the subdivision and being cost shared with the Municipality.  The works are well underway and expected to be completed by the end of October.”

New Park Question: Please provide a detailed update on the development of the 4-acre Park on one side of Horton at the end of Laroche Street.

Answer from Town Staff: “At this stage Council has approved the concept plan for the Mill Run park but no detailed designs have been completed. The goal in 2019 is to complete the detail design for the park as well as try and have some of the construction completed.”

Jan’s Comments: The “concept plan” was prepared quite a while ago.  Many more people have moved into Mill Run since then, and their views must be considered on a refreshed “detail design” for their park.  If you have thoughts on this, I would appreciate hearing from you and promise that you will be consulted should you elect me.

Other Concerns:

I heard from about a dozen households that traffic control is still a concern. A four-way stop was suggested at the intersection of Sadler and Honeybourne and a three-way stop at Honeybourne and Maude. Several residents  complained of noisy stunt driving, often at night, behind the businesses along Ottawa Street.  A reduced speed limit of 40 km  in residential sections and by schools was also requested.

Residents on the side of Ottawa Street from Mill Run down to to Martin Street want better and safer pedestrian crossings, especially for school children, who must cross Ottawa Street to get to one of the two elementary schools on Paterson. People reported that parents drove their children to school because they think that crossing Ottawa Street is unsafe, especially at the Sadler intersection. I have written a separate post on my thoughts about crossing guards and school patrols.

A few people talked about the pond in the park, how it may be used and if it might breed mosquitoes; they wondered if aerating it in some way might prevent that. There are issues with ponds: do they function as  retention for run-off? Will they provide a degree of filtration for water destined eventually for the river (wetland); will weeds or algae be harvested, pests controlled etc. That should be something to be discussed at a public meeting on the park addressing the concerns.

Mill Run is a “Friendly Town” neighbourhood, with so many people who know each other. Thank you for your warm welcome!

Change

Am I the change you want? I want to:

Improve the Democratic Process in Mississippi Mills:

  • more public input into council and committee meetings
  • elections, not appointments, to be used for Council vacancies
  • see that residents’ fundamental freedoms and democratic rights under the Bill of Rights 1960 and Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1981 are supported
  • improve accountability through recording of all public and closed meetings (including committee meetings) as recommended by the provincial Ombudsman
  • amend municipal bylaws and policies to be consistent with public rights and freedoms under provincial and federal acts; remove any provisions that attempt to suppress them
  • implement a redress mechanism used by other municipalities that empowers citizens between elections

Improve the Service Experience in Mississippi Mills:

  • codes of conduct that deal with service to the public by Council and employees and a user-friendly recourse process
  • institute a hierarchy of response by elected representatives so that queries no longer fall through the cracks
  • promote problem-solving, time management, quality control, accessibility services and resolving issues to staff and train if necessary

Improve Roads and Public Works

  • seek input from residents on the future of sidewalks and roads
  • seek a heavy vehicle and dangerous good transport route through consultation with the public, commercial users, the province and federal government
  • pay attention to public needs, such as placing municipal trash receptacles in areas where people need them, not just downtown

Deal with Conflicts of Interest:

  • require annual declarations by council, public board and committee members, and employees of their pecuniary  interests and those of their family/conjugal relationships that may cause actual or perceived conflict
  • corrective actions for violations
  • support the new Integrity Commissioner and seek her/his suggestions

Improve Communication and Critical Information

  • ensure public access to recordings of Council and Committee sessions (except those closed under exceptions in the Municipal Act, which will be recorded for the purpose of potential investigation)
  • improve web services
  • meet with residents regularly
  • digitize and organize by-laws, policies and financial reports
  • allow public message access to non-profit community organizations

Improve the Business Environment

  • seek advice and vision from all businesses in Almonte and consult with our neighbours in Ramsay and Pakenham: what works? What doesn’t?
  • If expanding the settlement areas, where does business fit in? Is there a better place for more industrial-type use (instead of over the groundwater protection area)?

Improve the Fairness and Management of Heritage Buildings

  • allow opt-outs
  • establish priorities through municipality-wide consultation on support from public funds (such as community-owned, service organizations, commercial, residential)
  • encourage arms-length management and distribution of any financial heritage support and resources chiefly through owners, with municipal support as available and needed

Respect Parks and Recreation

  • no parks will be sold for residential or commercial development without public support
  • make park access, maintenance and development equitable
  • establish consistent and reliable information for residents on scheduled events and servicing

Utilize Volunteers

  • recognize and train volunteers who help the community by providing services and sitting on boards
  • seek advice from volunteer groups, including firefighters
  • Mentor young people in civic government through volunteering and shadowing

Enhance a Variety of Tourism

Tourism investment and support of festivals and the arts will be available and equitable to all in Almonte and Mississippi Mills.

Give You a Voice in Planning

  • As recommended by the Planning Department, over the next two years, look at expanding the settlement boundaries of Almonte.
  • Collect input from residents on what changes to the Community Official Plan they envision, and what requires clarity and certainty for their own future planning.
  • Discuss youth projections and needs with schools, parents and planners
  • Consider moving commercial and industrial business away from the groundwater protection area.
  • Explore transportation to Ottawa with neighbouring communities
  • Consult more formally with residents on senior services needed in future

Other
A community conversation needs to happen around drug hazards, addictions, policing and the effects of marijuana legalization in Mississippi Mills: what do we want from provincial services?