Fall 2012 will be a pivotal period in setting Midland’s course for the future.
For the past few years the people of Midland and Council have discussed the structural challenges that confront our community. While the specifics may be debated the underlying facts remain:
- Our population is growing very slowly and aging rapidly
- Our incomes are low and unable to support the likely tax rates we face in the next five years
- Our economy is in flux , moving away from manufacturing towards an uncertain future
- The state of the federal and provincial budgets makes it unlikely that we will receive any new financial assistance from these levels of government
And while for many these are just statistics, Council knew that these challenges left unaddressed would significantly limit our choices for Midland’s future.
The time had come for action. This past spring your Council asked KPMG to review all municipal operations and advise us on how we should “steer the ship”. This month, Council received the final KPMG Report. It contains 58 “opportunities” that could potentially affect almost every service provided by the municipality. The Report makes some efficiency suggestions that are relatively easy to adopt – for example better cooperation with neighbouring municipalities. But it also identifies areas where Midland is providing services well beyond what similar communities are providing and causes us to face the question “Should we provide and can we continue to afford providing these services?” For example, the Report identifies that we are over-serviced in Parks and Recreation as well as Public Works. We are also underserviced in areas such as Economic Development. The challenge before Council is to select from these 58 opportunities in a way that moves us towards resolving our structural challenges while providing the services that the public truly needs.
The next few months could be a remarkable time of setting a clear direction for our future and making the necessary adjustments. It could also be a period where we descend into bickering and confrontation as every opportunity is debated in isolation and well intentioned citizens argue that their service expectations could not possibly change. If we go that route we will surely end up with “last year’s budget plus 3%”.
Our way forward is one guided by an understanding of our long term vision combined with the flexibility to adjust our service expectation while ensuring we retain those services that really contribute to our municipal quality of life. There will be trade-offs. There will be changes. But if the citizens and Council engage in an honest and respectful discussion about what is in the best long-term interests of Midland, I am confident that we will choose the opportunities that lead to our future prosperity.