Monday, February 14, 2011

Springwater Council – moving forward

I want to correct a misperception I may have created in my last posting. Councillors Webster, McConkey and Hanna approached me at the last council meeting and mentioned that I left the impression in my last article that this council was focused on percentage in the budget deliberation. This is not true. There was a brief discussion at one of the early budget meetings on whether a simple percentage approach should be taken and it was rejected. The new Springwater Council has went through the line items and are cutting costs where possible and at the same time trying to avoid any service delivery disruption. They will be tabling the budget at the next meeting and I am sure the residents will appreciate the thoroughness of the process. When I reread my posting I realized I failed to separate the process that was used by the County and the Township. The County was more focused on the percentage approach. My point in the budget process is that it should only include what is needed to meet the needs of the tax payer. It should not include unneeded expenditures such as outside consultants doing the work that staff are paid to do or that could be done with key stakeholders and volunteers in the community. The council in the budget deliberation has been very effective in this area and should be congratulated.
With 5 of the members of Springwater Council being new, they did an excellent job at the 2011 budget and I am sure next year will improve their efforts and give us more value for our hard earned tax dollars. A positive move on this front was from Councillor Jack Hannna who suggested the establishment of a budget committee at the Feb 7th Council meeting under Items for Future Consideration. It received support from the other councilors which illustrates there is an eagerness by all to better serve the residents of Springwater from a fiscal perspective. This Council is getting things done by planning ahead and the addition of the Items for Future Consideration on every Council Agenda is quite effective in having new ideas brought forward. It prompts the council to think into the future. It is subtle, but you are now seeing a council driven agenda rather than a staff led exercise which I find quite refreshing
I was also pleased that the Council has passed a resolution to allow the Elmvale Foodbank to move to the unoccupied Knox Building and use the old Council Chambers. This should have been undertaken by the past council as the need was stated clearly in a deputation last May.
My next comment is truly a personal perspective and is not a concern for most people. Councillor McConkey asked about adding a public portion to the Items for Future Consideration section of the agenda before the closed session part of council. Deputy Mayor McLean and Councillors Webster and Clement spoke against the idea and were not interested in opening the actual council agenda up to open dialogue which I find disappointing. I think the reasons stated for not doing it were weak and not well discussed as few people attend the meetings. The good news is that there is an opportunity to ask questions and make comments at the end of the meeting after the adjournment which I guess will suffice for most people. Wasaga Beach have used an open 15 minute question period in the body of the Council Agenda for some time and have not encountered any of the fears expressed by Deputy Mayor Dan McLean. I do find the council position a little disappointing and contrary to what everyone stated at the public debates during the election campaign.
I also have one minor complaint which is easily corrected and was probably a simple oversight. I addressed a point to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Council via email. Two councilors phoned me and we discussed the issue which is great. The disappointment is that the written response I received which told me things I already know, which I found condescending, was provided by staff. If correspondence is addressed to council it should be responded by someone from council and most likely the Mayor. If it is a highly technical issue than the response from the elected official should say something to the effect that the matter was referred to that person, but the response should come from the elected official. If you check the correspondence that the council received on their agenda at the Feb 7th meeting, Premier Dalton McGuinty provided a written response to a letter from the Mayor and Council regarding the specimen collection issue in Elmvale. That is common courtesy.
I know this council has only been at it for 3 months and still in the honeymoon stage but it is great to see individual ideas are encouraged and yet still able to retain a common purpose of doing what is best for the Township of Springwater. I hope when we start addressing the real challenges such as growth and development that this council will dedicate the same energy to those important and difficult issues.
Council can only be as responsive to the needs of the residents of Springwater, if they know what they are. Come to the Council and Planning Committee meeting as that is where the future of Springwater is shaped. If you cannot do that email or write to your councilor and tell then what you think is important in your area. Far too few of us speak up and simply grumble behind the scenes. That is not effective or productive.
Since I follow it diligently, I know that we do have a council, that I think can get the job done and has a lot of fresh ideas and few personal agendas. That is what we wanted and that is what we got. I can only hope that the openness I have seen with the individuals remains for the next 44 months. Effective councils will have a healthy level of conflict. That is good as it challenges the individuals to do their job and not rest on their laurels. They can only do that, if they are held accountable and yes supported in those things that matter.
Keep abreast of what is going on in Springwater. It is our community, so let’s be part of the solution.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Township and County Missed Opportunities

I was pleased that a few more people were out for the January 24th Springwater Council meeting. You can see that the councilors are beginning to build their confidence and taking charge of their responsibilities. I have great hopes for this council and I think they may take our township to a much more successful level over the next 45 months.
At Monday’s meeting the only thing that I thought was shortsighted or not fully explored was the response to a simple request for a donation to the Annual Simcoe County Plowing Match that is being held in Beeton in August. There was a request for a $300 donation as the previous council had made in the past. I appreciate the focus on controlling costs but I can guarantee there is an easy $300 to save in administrative costs that could be better utilized supporting the core part of Springwater’s economy, farming. Mayor Collins was the only person to speak against the motion to turn down the request. I am surprised that councillors, Ritchie, Webster and McConkey did not support the request as many of their constituents are farmers. I should also chastise the author of the request as it was addressed “To Whom it may Concern”. If the Plowmen’s Association hasn’t taken the time to know the new council members, then maybe they don’t deserve the support. Common courtesy would have the letter and request addressed to mayor by name and the council as a whole. One good piece of news is that there is now an open session at the end of each council meeting for the public to ask questions. This is your chance to bring issues to the floor for future consideration. I hope our two County Representatives, the mayor and deputy mayor suggest a similar procedure at the County Meetings.
The other matter that concerns me, both at the township and county level, is the focus on the percentage increase in spending rather than the actual expenditures. Springwater Councillors have been doing a good job at questioning the line items which I find refreshing, but there is still too much focus on making the decision based on percentage. I agree that most people will be pleased with a 1.5% increase in their overall taxes, but in business we always strived for lower costs year over year. There are continually new technologies that assist in improving efficiencies, better ways of doing things such as a continuous improvement programs that can ultimately deliver the same quality of services at a much lower prices therefore reducing the overall operation of the township. I don’t think there is a lot to find in savings for those people that actually do the work like plowing our roads, keeping our recreation facilities in order, or protecting our safety, but as business has discovered in the last ten years, bureaucracy needs to be the focus and reduced. Council may feel they have done their job by holding taxes to a 1.5% increase, but did they really do the complete job? They can be excused this year as a budget has to be finalized and time is of the essence. I just hope next year they really look into all aspects of the cost of running this corporation. There are many capable minds on this council that have the business background and experience to do so.
I attended the Simcoe County Council Meeting on January 25th and it was also a refreshing change with a new attitude. There was little condescension, negative comment or people simply pushing their agendas. Many good questions and comments were forthcoming and I was pleased to see Mayor Collins and Deputy Mayor McLean engaged which is no easy task as they are new on this 32 person council. The previous council definitely lost the respect of the general populace because of the arrogance and high pressure tactics of both the head of council and a few bureaucrats during the Site 41 fiasco. The quarter million dollar public relations campaign did very little to fix it. One thing that would have went a long way to heal some of the ill feelings was missed at the meeting. Ray Millar the Tiny Mayor tabled a motion to add Gord McKay the Midland Mayor to the Waste Management Committee. The committee positions were appointed when McKay was absent. Gord is one of the most well read and researched person on the council when it comes to understanding the big picture of waste strategy. The motion was defeated as the old guard that supported Site 41 still has a lot of influence which is not conducive to rebuilding trust. This could have been a giant step forward and provided a new voice and perspective on this pressing issue.
It is important that we make ourselves aware of the actions of council. In 2011 over $20,000,000 will be spent by the Township of Springwater and over $400,000,000 by the County. Most of that comes out of our pocket.
We are the shareholders of these operations. If we do not engage, or ask questions then we have no right to complain. Come out to a few Springwater Council and County of Simcoe Council meetings and see how your elected representative is working for you.