Ladies and Gentlemen
Happy New Year - 2017
The New Year starts with celebration but 2017 will also be a critical year for Midland. The Town’s agenda contains a number of major items and the time to accomplish them is short. I expect that by 2018, an election year, Council’s energy will be increasingly focused on politics and less on the important work before us.
In this first News from the Town of 2017 I will take you through those major agenda items. But before doing that it is important to step back and ask the question “Why?” – Why are these items important to Midland and for our future? Why can’t we just stop and do things the way we did them 10 years ago?
The answer to that question is that you the citizens told us that you want to move Midland forward. That direction has come in a number of ways: by electing your progressive Council in 2014; by participating in the many planning/information sessions organized by the Town; but most importantly by being engaged in the many supportive and civic activities that make Midland such an exceptional community.
In my many conversations with residents I hear about how they want Midland to be a livable community for the elderly, for children, for families, for all. They want to have access to a healthy lifestyle that includes good healthcare and recreational opportunities. They want good schools for their children and educational resources for adults. They want quality jobs that will attract and retain young workers. And they want a tolerant community where they can socialize with their friends and confidently welcome new citizens, such as our Syrian refugee family. A community for all to take pride in.
It’s a high bar but it is doable. Your Council’s 2017 agenda takes major steps in realizing your vision. But remember it is your vision too. Make 2017 your year for getting it done.
Council Issues Update
Town Hall – Planning and Staffing
Before starting any major job you need to have the right people in place and a sound plan of action. In September 2016 Council brought in our new CAO John Skorobohacz and new CFO/Treasurer Susan Turnbull. They have spent the last three months coming to grips with the realities of our municipality and are now ready to turn to the major work items of 2017.
In late 2016 Mr. Skorobohacz presented Council with a “strategic critique” of our municipal operations entitled Midland Forward. http://www.midland.ca/Shared%20Documents/CAO-2016-9%20Midland%20Forward.pdf#search=midland%20forward
The report identified many areas for improvement including communications, information technology and the need for a complete operational re-assessment. Many of the work items in Midland Forward will be actioned throughout 2017-18.
Some further staff adjustments will also be required. Our Clerk, Andrea Fay has announced her move to Wasaga Beach. Mr. Jamie Galloway, our Engineer, has decided to move back to the private sector. These positions will be filled over the next few months.
A quality policing service is vital to our community’s safety. The Midland Police Service provides a great policing service but it comes at a cost - approximately 26% of our 2015 tax levy is devoted to police costs. While most residents are satisfied with the quality of the service, many have raised the question “Are we paying too much?”
In the previous term of Council, the decision was made to have a fair look at other policing options. The initial review showed that only the OPP was in a position to service Midland. At the start of this term of Council the OPP was asked to provide a costing for their service. I expect that costing estimate to be provided to us later this month. Council will then have approximately 6 months to assess their service offering and decide on how best to maintain Midland’s high standards of policing service.
Midland Bay Landing
Even though Midland is situated on the shores of Georgian Bay residents have told Council in numerous ways that they want better access to the Bay. In 2013 Unimin Inc. announced it would be closing its operation. Council took the bold step to purchase the Unimin property - some 40 prime downtown acres located right on our waterfront. At the same time many Midland citizens worked with the Town to develop a vision for the land. That vision came to be known as Midland Bay Landing.
Two year ago, Council entered into an agreement with a private sector developer to work with us in implementing that vision. While some preliminary work has been undertaken on the site, much remains to be done. Over the next four months Council will be addressing this gap and making plans to ensure that our vision for Midland Bay Landing becomes a reality.
Both residents and the municipality agree that the Midland Power Utility Corporation (MPUC) is one of our major assets. Since MPUC was formed as a corporation in 2000 it has faithfully supplied electricity to the Town. But just distributing electricity is no longer enough. Changes in energy technology, new business models, increased provincial regulation and provincial emphasis on consolidation make operating a small power utility a risky proposition. Is there a better way to ensure citizens will continue to receive quality electricity services while reducing the risk for everyone?
Council decided some two years ago to ask that question. After a lengthy public discussion Council decided to retain a legal firm to solicit bids for the sale of MPUC. The bids are expected in February/March. Council will then have to decide if any of these bids provide Midland with the electrical services it requires for its future. A final decision is expected before year’s end.
Downtown Health Clinic
Midland citizens clearly identify healthcare as one of their top priorities. One of the key needs in our community, even though it is not widely recognized, is having convenient access to mental health services. Mental health services should be as available as any other visit to the doctor’s office would be.
Two years ago Council was approached by Chigamik/Waypoint to help them provide these needed services to many residents in our downtown. Council agreed to lease a portion of land at Edgehill Park for a downtown healthcare facility. The project has been approved by the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN and is waiting scheduling by the Ministry of Health. I expect that the site plans will be back before Council this spring with construction to start shortly thereafter.
It has been a tumultuous year for our hospital. Citizens have been engaged in the debate about funding our hospital and more recently the consultant’s report recommending the closure of a number of clinical services. The good news is that the clinical services are staying and the hospital has received nearly a million dollar increase to its base funding plus additional funding to complete its Emergency Department.
While Council has no formal responsibility for the hospital, a sustainability community hospital is essential to Midland’s future. Council will continue to participate in the healthcare discussion in 2017, especially as the provincial strategy for homecare services is rolled out.
The key annual planning document for Council is the budget. Far from being “a lot of numbers” this budget identifies specifically what Council and staff intend to do and how we are backing that up with your taxpayers’ dollars.
The 2017 budget has been delayed due to getting new key staff in place. The public budget process will start in late January and is expected to wrap up by March. The delay should not affect Town operations. Look for some of the strategy ideas from Midland Forward to appear in the 2017 budget.
Official Plan Review
Another key document that guides Council and our Town’s future is the Official Plan. This provincially mandated document describes in some detail the physical shape of the Town – what the roads look like; where people will live; where the parks will be – and much more. The Town is currently updating its Official Plan, which will keep staff and Council busy for most of 2017. http://www.midland.ca/official-plan-review
One of the challenges of planning is ensuring effective public engagement. While planning can be a dry topic, it none-the-less gives all citizens the opportunity to see what is proposed for the next 5 years and to make comments on those plans. Some of the ideas that staff have come up with to improve engagement include:
- Informal meetings with staff to discuss specific Official Plan topics
- An “Official Plan 101” meeting to improve interest in the process
- Public Open House on the draft Official Plan
Look for these opportunities for your participation in the months ahead.
Without economic development (jobs and wealth creation) we will not be able to sustain our standard of living. The wealth created by good jobs puts money in the pockets of residents plus provides the tax base for delivering the public services that we all rely upon.
In 2014 your Council, together with the other North Simcoe municipalities, created and funded the Economic Development Corporation of North Simcoe. Its purpose is to attract and retain local businesses (especially manufacturer) plus promote our tourism economy.
While EDCNS is off to a good start, economic development requires a long-term commitment. This year Council will reaffirm its commitment to economic development in the budget and potentially start to focus on other areas for development such as healthcare services and entrepreneurism.
As you can see Council and Staff are in for a busy year.
The Week Ahead
Despite the busy agenda (above), the first week of January looks pretty quiet. Enjoy it while it lasts.
On a reflective note, the past Deputy Mayor of Tay Township, Bill Rawson, has passed away. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday January 7th at 1:00 pm at the Oakwood Community Center in Victoria Harbor.
The Year for Getting it Done - 2017