The year ahead
Mayor Quaiff and CAO James Hepburn offer a roadmap for the year ahead
Once the holiday season has wound down, and everyone is finished celebrating the new year, it’s tradition for mayors to host a new year’s levee.
The meeting, held with other regional politicians, the press and the public, is a chance for the municipal leader to reflect on the successes and challenges of the previous year. It’s also an opportunity to announce what is coming in the new calendar year.
On Sunday, County mayor Robert Quaiff held his levee at the Macaulay Church Museum in Picton.
But to get a better view of what’s to come, The Times asked the mayor some questions about what he has in store for County residents and businesses in 2017.
Quaiff’s focus is on the County’s Strategic Plan, implemented in the fall of 2016. The plan prescribes focal points for council policymaking and discussion. Those points include creating a plan for financial sustainability, developing economic diversity, maintaining the County’s heritage infrastructure, making the County an affordable place to work and live and improving access to local health care.
Of those points, creating a financial plan will be an important focus, going hand in hand with developing long-term operating and capital budgets, creating a sustainable water and waste-water plan and creating a plan to maintain current assets and infrastructure.
“The approved 2017 budget reflects the municipality’s intent of making 2017 a transitional year in its journey towards financial sustainability,” says Quaiff.
The goal is a lofty one in a municipality with mounting debts and stagnating income. Last year’s financial statements shows the County has $34 million in debt, with a population that can’t seem to climb beyond 25,000, making its tax-base a miniscule one relative to road and infrastructure maintenance costs.
There are few details in the strategic plan. The County needs to develop a financial plan, but there is no timeline for this, nor is there any elaboration on what the County’s financial objectives are, or the strategies used to reach financial sustainability.
For that, the CAO says it’s all about deciding what is needed and how much it will cost to maintain.
“The key is how much money we’re going to need for capital requirements on the long term,” says Hepburn. “Part and parcel with that is… we’d like to revisit the core asset and do asset management plans for all the County’s core assets, so we can look at what we need to do and what type of money we need to raise for capital rehabilitation.
“The key things that we were working with this year’s budget was to look at measured tax increases. We don’t want any surprises going forward, so we’d like to keep our increases in a reasonable range. Sustainability to me means we can maintain all of our assets with the money we have. That’s what our objective is.”
Hepburn doesn’t think the County needs to increase its revenue, but rather look at how to work with the current level of tax income.
“On the tax supported size, I don’t think we have a sustainability issue,” says Hepburn. “One of the things that council has to look at are service levels, and just exactly at what level we’re going to maintain our current infrastructure. Over time we have identified a fairly large infrastructure deficit, and it means we’re going to have to look at roads unfortunately not in as good a condition as they are now. And we may have to go through another service level review to look at what types of services we can provide as we go forward.”
Quaiff agrees. He gives road repair as an example, suggesting if secondary roads are given a cheaper surface treatment, the money saved could be redirected toward maintaining main roads.
In terms of the County’s plan to encourage growth, Quaiff says the plan is to focus on the construction and manufacturing sectors, decidedly smaller than the County’s main economic drivers—tourism and agriculture.
“I think those are the two sectors that we lack in,” says Quaiff. “We’re not very strong in that area simply because of the resources that we have. So we have to start looking at those two sectors in particular to try to encourage growth… [the Business Retention and Expansion study] will provide vital information to those looking at coming in with manufacturing.”
Council also hopes to achieve a long-desired goal of making life affordable, with sustainable housing and career options to retain County residents. The strategic plan is to create a community where “all residents can work and afford to live.”
“If you can smooth things so that developers can be confident, then you’ll get growth numbers starting to improve in that area,” says Quaiff. “Council decided that affordable housing would be one of their top priorities and we’re looking into that.”
The County will be releasing a request for proposal to build affordable housing at the site of the old Wellington arena in the next month. The requirements are open-ended leaving it up to developers to propose projects that would improve the County’s affordable housing stock.
Along with the strategic plan, Quaiff says other plans the County has worked on over the past year will come into play.
This includes findings from the water and waste-water ad-hoc committee, expected to report to council in April. Council will also see completed drafts of the County’s official plan and the downtown revitalization plans.
Some of the findings of the downtown revitalization study will be put into action, adding wayfinding signs and other features to draw residents and visitors to the County’s various downtowns.
Quaiff says road repairs in the County include rehabilitation of Wilson Road between Belleville Road and Highway 62 , the replacement of a bridge on County Road 28 in Rossmore and much-needed repairs to Danforth Road in Hillier.
The County will also work with the Prince Edward Trails committee to continue restoration of the Millennium Trail, and will use federal Canada 150 funds to redevelop Benson Park. Downtown Picton will see some work too, with the final touches from last year’s revitalization project being competed in the spring. And the County is working with Belleville to expand the annual trash bash event.
SIZE OF COUNCIL
Hepburn addressed the current appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board over council’s decision about the ward boundaries and size of council. Currently, the County’s solicitor is preparing a defence, but no date has been set.
“I think it’s important to specify the OMB appeal is really ward boundaries. They can’t appeal the size of council. But all of it is tied together.” says Hepburn.
Finally, Hepburn and Quaiff reponded to concerns about the Picton Terminals, a story likely to be well-featured news this year.
“I understand [residents] want us to enforce our by-laws, and basically that’s where we’re reviewing our options as to what we can legally do or not do,” says Quaiff. “My own opinion is that there was an issue with them storing salt on property that was zoned RU1, and they’d responded to the municipality that they’d remove that by Christmas, and I believe it has been done.
Quaiff says the company has also committed to remove and replace the large berm that borders their property by the spring.
“There’s no reason to rescind anything, because they haven’t asked for anything. It’s still there. [Support for Picton Terminals] is still a priority with the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, but it’s been put in the garage.”
Hepburn says complaints from neighbours have been investigated.
“Our position is they are moving toward voluntary compliance. At the end of the day the big questions is whether their zoning is considered to be legal non-conforming,” says Hepburn. “We’re researching that.”