Transparency and Accountability
Some newcomers to the municipal governance scene are commenting that they perceive a lack of transparency and accountability in municipal decision making.
I am here to tell you that over the last 4 years we have turned that criticism on its head.
Every major initiative, all planning matters and even just things we are considering addressing are posted on thecounty.ca as well as advertised in local papers, on Facebook, and CountyFM radio.
We established the “Have Your Say” microsite to provide everyone with opportunities to read about upcoming projects as well as make comments. Throughout the pandemic, we have held live, virtual public meetings on all significant planning matters.
We rewrote the Council Procedural Bylaw to ensure that everything we do is open and provide more lead time for the public to learn about and comment. People are always welcome to make 10 minute deputations to Council as well as 3 minute comments from the audience.
During the Procedural Bylaw review, two seasoned consultants we engaged expressed their opinion that the County is the most open and accommodating municipality they have ever worked with. These individuals have 60+ years of combined experience advising on municipal affairs.
I encourage everyone to look at agendas for upcoming meetings. These are generally published and available online approximately 5 days in advance. Much more than just agendas – these documents include full staff reports – often hundreds of pages.
Value for your taxes is important. At my instigation, we asked staff to start applying "Lean Management Principles" to the operation. This has been done to some extent but there is more work still to do.
We have kept tax increases either at or just below inflation (averaging 3.3% over this term) without reducing service levels. The County is a first tier municipality with all the same responsibilities for providing services that big cities like Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, etc. have. This includes everything listed on the “All Services” page of the County website. When faced with the tax question, I always ask people to look at that page and see which box they are prepared to do without – Police? Fire? Museums? Welfare?
In the last term of Council we have also, thanks to new internal efficiencies, been able to expand or bring on new services without increases in taxes beyond inflation. Some examples include:
Affordable housing corporation
Funds for the new hospital
Major repairs to our community centers
Physician recruitment initiatives
Rehabilitation of the Crystal Palace
Secondary unit creation grants
Significant Covid response and support for vaccination clinics
And much more...
Road repair and replacement remains the biggest pain point for many people and this simply comes down to money. How much more do you want to pay to speed up the improvement of our roads? I have proposed without success, so far, that we use debt to finance surface treated road projects.
The cost of double surface treated roads that was completed two years ago on County Road 13 from Whattams to Gravelly Bay and this year on Old Milford Road from McInley Cross Road to Miller Road is about $95,000 per kilometer.
We pay for this with cash even though the road should last 10 years before it needs to be done again. We can do 9 times more such roadwork for the same amount of tax dollars if we financed these projects with 10 year debt.
We use debt to purchase depreciable capital goods like trucks - why not roads?