A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Thankless Task?

With municipal elections now underway and many of us struggling to select the best candidates for the task my thoughts go to why these candidates have put their name forward for what must be a largely thankless job. No matter what decision individual counsellors or council as a whole make there will be those that disagree, and some that voice their disagreement quite forcefully. There will be groups of citizens that come together to oppose or support this issue or that initiative who present to council their particular point of view. Counsellors must take all this into account and try and come to a conclusion that in their view is best for the Municipality bearing in mind that on many issues they are constrained by not only funding issues but provincial or federal constraints or mandated programs.

As I said a thankless task, so I thank those who have in the past, are now, or are seeking to fill this important roll in making these decisions on our behalf. That said lets take a quick look at some of the issues and difficulties they have, or will, face in my own municipality of Chatsworth, Ontario.

The issues highlighted by the candidates in their flyers and at all candidates meetings include:-
Accountability & transparency
Policing costs
Infrastructure upkeep and upgrades
Taxation & fiscal responsibility
Biodigester operating costs
Business development and zoning issues

Accountability & transparency seems to be a recurring theme through most (but not all) of the candidates 'platforms' with a fair bit of focus on the Chatsworth Township Website which is for many of us the only source of information on what issues are before council at any given moment. In days long past when small local papers sent reporters to council meetings and reported on them the following week we had a largely independent synopsis of such things, this is no longer the case, we must rely upon official documents published by township staff. Unfortunately the minutes and agenda documents tell us almost nothing of the details and are 'hidden' in PDF documents which must be fully downloaded to find out that they do not contain the information you are seeking. If council is to become more open and accountable reports on council meeting and associated issues must become much more comprehensive & accessible.

Policing costs is obviously a major item in the budget and we have just learned that “The OPP billing formula means the township will pay about 125 thousand dollars more next year, than the 772 thousand dollars it cost for policing coverage this year.” This is one of those thing that council can do little about other than continue to question the criteria of the OPP billing formula, little is to be gained in spending a great deal of time on fighting such costs when council has almost no control over same!

Infrastructure upkeep and upgrades and Taxation & Fiscal responsibility sort of go hand in hand it is a balancing act to maintain our 'infrastructure' ( read roads & bridges &?) as costs for everything increase whilst keeping taxes from escalating but in most cases its a case of fix or maintain it now or see vastly increased costs to do it later. This is another area where municipalities are damned if they do and damned if they don’t!

The Biodigester........ any one who has been taking notice knows this is the elephant in the room right now and whilst mistakes may have been made when making the original decision, which was based upon what can only be called incorrect and misleading information provided by the engineering firm that first proposed this project. That the projected annual surplus of $300,000 has turned into an expense approaching that amount and that several pieces of equipment had to be replaced a considerable cost shortly after it came into operation says more about the engineering than the operation. What to do now given the shared ownership with Georgian Bluffs is going to be a major issue with the new council but I do note that “Ministry of the Environment officials are prepared to declare the facility a provincial pilot project”, what this means in regard to operating costs and other issues has yet to be seen. For a detailed study of this issue go to Trevor Falk's blog at http://shininglightonchatsworth.wordpress.com/.

Finally on development within the township, or for that matter within any rural municipality, the challenge is to bring in (or keep) businesses that provide jobs, goods & services to local citizens whilst still maintaining our rural look, feel & lifestyle that so many of us value. I for one do not want to see development at the cost of turning us into an industrial wasteland but if we are to maintain our community as a viable place to live and work we must have local jobs, particularly for our youth, or we become part of the general rural decline.

So here is what I am looking for from the new council. An openness to new ideas, working together to solve problems, more information available to taxpayers, and more opportunity for more citizen input because non of the issues outlined above are simple and no one person or idea is going to solve them.
In other words Communication, Compromise, Consensus

PS. Today, Oct 17 is the last day to mail in your ballots however you may hand deliver untill election day Oct 27th.

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