2019 Mayor's Address
In Council’s first year in office, as your Mayor, I thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge all accomplishments achieved thus far in Council’s mandate and recognize some of our challenges.
Last December, a new Council was inducted and the first order of business was to provide training to its four new Councillors and a refresher for its seasoned Council members. Being a Councillor and realizing that this job entails a lot more than first expected such as developing a general understanding of the Municipal Act and responsibilities to support the Municipality and its operations while ensuring that the public and Municipality’s well-being and interest are maintained is just the beginning. As policy makers, Council must remember that they are not the ones implementing and delivering the services. That’s the responsibility of the Municipality’s staff. It is sometimes difficult not to cross the line from policy development to operations but we are improving.
The first highlight for Council and one I consider to be vital is the establishment of four Advisory Council committees, each chaired by a new Councillor and supported by staff members. These committees are special as they have members of the public who bring a very different perspective to Council with their fresh and enthusiastic new ideas.
The terms of references for each committee were developed by our Clerk who successfully managed to capture the spirit of what we, as a Council envisioned.
Initially, there was some skepticism about the value of such committees but I strongly believe that the committees are effective in their roles and bring transparency to our Municipality. However, as effective as these committees may be, we as a Council have to realize that every idea put forth must be researched, costed out and presented in a report by staff. As well, the coordination of these committees imposes a great deal of extra work performed by our support staff who are assigned directly or indirectly to the committees. In 2020, each Committee will need to prioritize their projects so that they can succeed.
Community engagement is one achievement that stands out the most. The International Ploughing Match (IPM) is one that continues to resonate with our community members. Our Municipality with its staff and volunteers stood out as having one of the best booths at this year’s event. It was heartwarming to see our businesses, community partners, Council, staff, and numerous constituents donate or lend a helping hand during the IMP. People from all over are still talking about it with PRIDE.
Prior to the event, numerous volunteers and local businesses lead by Councillor Renee Carrier took upon themselves to the beautification of the Public Works yard. The addition of flower boxes, scarecrows, trees and grass cutting really made a difference to a place where a person disposes of its household waste. Councillor Carrier was relentless in getting our community involved which resulted in positive feedback.
Continuing with community engagement is the progression of the outdoor community rink in Alban. This project is led by Councillor Randy Hazlett who took upon himself to gather volunteers and donors to create an outdoor rink where everyone can gather. Thanks again to the generosity of our local businesses who provided the material and funds to make this project a reality.
The Municipality is also assisting our community partners in advancing many of their projects. Some of these ventures include building an accessible nature trail behind the Municipal office, the Cultural Industry’s arts and cultural plans that will exponentially enhance our community, the Library who is undergoing a new strategic plan, and the Alban/KC Community Waterpark thanks to the Canado Foundation grant.
This year, staff and Council faced a number of challenges but we persevered and turned those challenges into successes. Thanks our Public Works staff, we have seen the revitalization of our capital roads budget go from $300,000 a year to $650,000. We’ve seen the development of a five-year capital roads plan coming into effect for long-term planning of our largest asset. It’s important to note that the Municipality has increased its brushing budget to address 50 km of road versus 15 km a year. This also includes an increase in street sweeping services. The community feedback has been very positive and they appreciate the difference in our road maintenance, cleanliness and repairs. A huge thank you goes to Public Works and all of its staff for the hard work they perform.
Last winter was extremely difficult with record amounts of snow and rain. Throughout these challenges our Public Works staff did an amazing job. Hopefully, we will have a "regular” 2020 winter with less surprises and perhaps we won’t see our garbage bins freeze to the ground.
Council is anxiously awaiting the Environmental Committee’s report on how to improve and/or modify its current waste management system. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations from industry experts in the new year.
The 2018 Parry Sound forest fire was one for the record books and only eight months later we found ourselves facing another emergency situation as water levels rose to a record high causing devasting floods in our area. People’s homes, cottages and our tourist industry were directly affected. The flood situation was a new experience for all of us, but our staff did an amazing job with the help of Councillors and ministry professionals lead by our CAO and the Emergency Management Committee. Our team along with Councillor Dean Wenborne was effective and influential. More importantly our staff did an amazing job in tending to the public, informing our constituents through media advisories and ensuring those affected had the support and information they needed during this time.
It was astonishing to see our community come together. We saw numerous volunteers fill sand bags after sand bags, our Public Works staff continually monitoring our affective roads, our administrative staff fielding many emotional calls, and our volunteer firefighters providing assistance to our most vulnerable members of our community for weeks in order to assure their safety.
Throughout this crisis, we were successful in securing a meeting with Federal Government officials and the Provincial Government so that we could advocate for a review of the federal and provincial studies and guidelines for the Sturgeon-Nipissing-French watershed. The success of this endeavour is partially due to relentless emails sent by dozens of our constituents to both governments demanding accountability and changes to the current water levels. Their emails did not go unnoticed and shortly thereafter, the provincial government appointed a special Flood Advisor who was tasked to consult affected municipalities in Ontario.
Recently, the Ontario government released the Flood Advisor’s report and it calls for the updating of the flood plains, water levels, etc. It also recommends that both levels of government cooperate in getting this study be brought up-to-date and that funding will be available. With the Federal election is over, we met with our MP, Marc Serre to go over the provincial report so that we get his support in implementing a number of these recommendations. His support is unwavering and we’re looking forward to the study being updated.
As stressful as this event may have been, I’m very proud of Council and staff for all the work they did, especially in reassuring our community that we had their backs and we were doing everything in our power to mitigate their circumstances.
Another notable highlight is the work performed by our Municipal Clerk to get the Columbarium addition at the Noelville cemetery site completed. I don’t think people realize the amount of work "dying” brings to the Municipality. We’ve received much positive feedback from families who appreciate the additional option to honour their loved ones. As well, our community welcomed the new signage at both cemeteries and at the Joe Chartrand Park.
There are many good things that go on in the background that we, as a Council or the public do not see. For instance, this year the Meeting Management Software was implemented. This software was a long overdue and a difficult process to set up and format. It has proven to be very efficient for time management, record keeping and is being used by Council and the public.
The Municipality’s building now has better connectivity and it will be extended to all of our Municipal buildings in Noelville. As well, when Voice Over IP is introduced, not only will it make it more efficient, but there will be a great cost savings to the Municipality and its taxpayers.
Speaking of connectivity, there has been extensive work done by Councillor Rick Malette with regards to getting funding to finally bring broadband to French River. Councillor Malette has spent an enormous amount of time getting support for this project. I’m hopeful that we will be successful in securing some type of grant to make this project a reality. Getting broadband to our Municipality is crucial in attracting new businesses to our community and welcoming new families. This continues to be a major priority of this Council.
Another positive change is the appointment of our Fire Chief and the new volunteers that have been recruited over the last year. It especially noteworthy to mention the new Junior Volunteer Firefighters program implemented with the Fire Chief’s recommendation. Within a year, our two new junior recruits have done so well and are now old enough to join as regular volunteer firefighters. This opens up two new spots for the program which will keep our firefighters’ services alive and well. This year, our Fire Chief also introduced a new organizational chart that is making our Fire Department far more efficient.
All Councillors have done a great deal of work on each of the Council Advisory committees but what is less known to the public is their assignments to numerous other municipal committees. Some of these committees include the Health Unit, Transportation, DESSAB, Planning Board, Chamber of Commerce, SEMA, Library, CPAC, Economic Development and many others. I know that members of the public have no idea just how important this work is to our Municipality and the amount of time it takes to serve on them. With government cuts looming and agencies panicking because of the unknown, we’re seeing what I called "safety net” increases being downloaded to municipalities.
An example of this is the Sudbury and District Health Unit’s approval of an unnecessary 10% increase to their budget simply because the Provincial Government allows them to do so. Over the last year, the Health Unit has made significant cuts in staffing in anticipation of provincial cuts. Through Councillor Randy Hazlett’s work, we found out that the Health Unit has a rainy day "reserve” of approximately $6 million dollars which brings into question the validity of such a substantial increase. This represents an additional $10,000 or a .23% increase to our budget and a permanent increase to our taxpayers. During our budget deliberations, we will look at methods of sending a clear message to the Health Unit that this type of taxation is unacceptable.
Speaking of budgets, I believe we did an amazing job in 2019 in keeping the increase under 2% while still being able to put more money in roads and other community projects. What Council and the public doesn’t see is the amount of work that our Treasury staff along with our department heads do to meet the goals we, as a Council set out for them. It’s not an easy task.
What impressed me the most is the collaboration of this Council. Not only have Councillors and staff noted a major change in the manner in which we do business, but members of the public are positively commenting on the effectiveness of our Council. This is so refreshing.
Though we may have many differences of opinions and healthy and strong debates, at the end of the day, we are all working for the betterment of our Municipality and the people who live here. And that’s what we were elected to do.
I hope I’ve captured some of Council’s achievements during our first year in office though I realize that this is only a synopsis of 2019. As your Mayor, it is a privilege for me to serve our constituents to the best of my abilities. I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time thanks to everyone but most notably to our Administrators. I appreciate their guidance and patience. Getting to know each Councillor and staff member makes me understand that even though we may be a small Municipality, we can achieve so much with very little.
What I cherish the most is the interaction I’ve had with our taxpayers. I appreciate hearing from every one of them whether they are happy or not. I realize that our constituents are not familiar with what we can and cannot do for them because of limitations imposed to us by the Municipal Act. It is our job as a Council to make them understand these limitations. This may not be a popular stand but we owe it to our community to be honest and transparent.
Now that I’ve taken the time to sing Council’s achievements, I want to take a moment to recognize why this Council is so successful. And that’s because of the support we get from our staff. Under the leadership of our CAO, our staff has made each and every Council member shine. This last year has been challenging. The summer of 2018 brought the fires and an election. No sooner was the election over, a whole new machine took over including some difficult challenges. Different ideas and/or ways of conducting business and a new appreciation of what people do to keep this Municipality going took over. This has not gone unnoticed by this Council.
This final part of the year in review comes from all Council members who wish to recognize the sacrifices staff has made over the last year. Council knows that this year presented a most unusual set of circumstances and challenges, many of which were beyond our control. Council recognizes that staff has gone beyond the call of duty. All municipal staff are the priceless gems of our community and we cannot thank them enough.
I look forward to 2020 no matter what the good, the bad and ugly may bring us. Council is up for the challenges and I’m looking forward to an exciting 2020.
On behalf of Council I wish everyone in the Municipality of French River an exciting, safe, healthy and prosperous new year.