Some highlights from 2015 you should know about …
Council Meeting Reductions:
Approximately 3 months into this term, in February 2015 Council made the decision to reduce the number of Council meetings per month from 2 to 1. There were also changes made to the Town’s 4 standing committee meetings in that rather than occurring on 4 separate days they would now be held over a 2 day period.
At the December 8, 2015 Committee of the Whole meeting further discussion occurred about the meeting schedule. On December 22, 2015 amendments were again made to the meeting schedule and the Council Procedural Bylaw was updated and approved by the majority of Council. I was not in favour of some of the proposed changes.
One of the changes was that all of our standing committee meetings (Development Services, Public Works, General Government and Community Services Committee) would now be held in one day and called Coordinated Committee of Council. While this new schedule would mean that Council Members would have fewer personal days affected by meetings, I did share my concern about Council members being as engaged at the end of the day as they are first thing in the morning. When I ran for council I understood the time commitment and had no issue with it, however others wanted change and I am willing to give it a try.
In particular I had an issue with the change to our full agendas being done through a consent agenda. For a few months we had conducted a trial for consent agendas at our Development Services Committee meetings which worked well. Items not requiring action by council or items just being received for information were voted on all together by one motion in a consent agenda. However, what was being proposed at our December 8, 2015 meeting was different. ALL items would now be done in this manner.
My personal opinion is that this new way of doing things, while allowed, is not as transparent or easy to follow for residents as what I believe it should be so I was opposed to this change. Council has approved this new process and we will be moving forward with it in January 2016.
Meeting agendas will be posted on the town’s website by 9am the Monday preceding the meeting at www.wasagabeach.com I hope you can attend!
New Committees Struck:
Two new Ad-hoc Committees were created in 2015.
A High School Task Force Committee has been established to work towards bringing a Secondary School to Wasaga Beach.
A Tourism and Events Advisory Committee has been established to look at ways to best promote tourism and attract/develop events that will bring tourist to town.
Both of these committees work as advisory committees to Council and have no delegated authority to direct staff or bind the Corporation. Actions from these committees must first be approved by Council.
These meetings are open to the public and I encourage you to attend as observers. Meeting dates and times can be found on the Town’s website.
Code of Conduct changes:
On Tuesday June 23, 2015 Council approved a new Code of Conduct which included the following changes in bold:
-Section 22.3 Employees serve Council and work for the municipal corporation under the direction of the Chief Administrative Officer. Council directs staff through its decisions as recorded in the minutes and resolutions of Council. Members have no individual capacity to direct members of staff to carry out particular functions. The Mayor has the authority to direct all staff.
-Section 22.5 Only council as a whole and no single member has the authority to direct staff, (except the Mayor), approve budget, policy, committee processes and other such matters, unless specifically authorized by Council.
I have already commented on this issue in two of my newsroom articles titled “Six Month Review For Council” and “Code of Conduct Passed by Council” so I won’t go into great detail but will reiterate that I did not support this change.
In my opinion and as someone who has been on council for 9 years, I have seen the change in staff that has occurred since the Code’s update. I do not believe it was in the best interest of the community nor do I believe that it helped boost morale. I can most certainly tell you that other municipal councils are still talking about it and wondering WHY we would make that change as it was not necessary. But, the majority of council voted for the change so that is what we have in place.
Purchase of beachfront Properties:
Less than 5 months into this term of Council, the taxpayers of this community were committed to a $13.6 million debt ($13.8 minus $200,000 for work that the seller didn’t conduct as per the agreement) for the purchase of the aging beachfront properties.
January 28, 2015 The Mayor approached the owners of several beachfront properties (Wasaga Beach Waterfront Developments Inc.) prior to any discussion with council and asked if the properties were for sale. Their initial reaction was that the property was not for sale, however, they changed their minds.
March 10, 2015 The first discussion was held with Council members regarding the potential beachfront purchase.
March 18, March 31, April 3 and April 7, 2015 further discussion amongst council was held to discuss the purchase.
April 10, 2015 The Mayor conducted a phone poll of council members in order to gain support for him to sign a purchasing agreement for the beachfront properties which he advised he would be signing within an hour of the phone call I received. Apparently it had to be done that (Friday) night. I did not support this action.
April 21, 2015 further discussion was held by council to discuss the purchase. I shared the many reasons why I could NOT support the purchase and asked for a recorded vote.
April 28, 2015 Council ratified the decision to purchase the properties for $13.8 million.
May 11, 2015 After much urging council members finally toured the properties (in which we as a town were already committed to purchasing) just days before the deal closed on May 14, 2015. At the closing of this deal Council still had no idea of the financial requirements of these buildings/properties.
To date there still is no defined vision or business plan for this purchase. However, if you look at the town’s purchase of the beachfront properties/buildings as a business and based on the plan we have today, that business showed a loss of approximately $800,000 in 2015. A similar loss/situation is expected in 2016.
Main Street Market:
On October 13, 2015 staff brought forward their idea for a Main Street Market to be located at the beachfront in the area that burned down in 2007. There was no layout of the proposal and minimal information provided … but the pictures were interesting and even included some local business names.
The budget at that time was $200,000 which I indicated I struggled with due to the amount of work and staff required for this project. There were talks of the town hiring lifeguards … but no indication as to what kind of liability that puts on the taxpayers of this community. There was talk about a “partnership” with a brewery company … but details about that partnership were not shared. I indicated at that time that I wanted to see specs for the units, hydro servicing, legal opinion on liability if the town hired lifeguards, how volunteers would be used, staff wages, etc. in an attempt to validate the staff report.
This issue came back to the table again on December 15, 2015 with a budget of $350,000 (for 2016) with most of my previous questions NOT answered. I indicated that I want to see progress at the main end but that there were a number of items in the report that I couldn’t support and I questioned again, the budget staff attached to this project. I shared that I don’t support using tax payer’s money for private business. I also shared my concern that the past visioning that was done on the beachfront has been completely disregarded by staff. This was a visioning that encompassed the vision of the community as a whole for this area. As an example, many felt that it was important that when you drive over the Main Street Bridge you get a view of the water. The proposed beer garden, to be built by the town, to provide a venue for private industry, would now obstruct that view.
The staff report had some mathematical errors in the projected revenue, lacked information about the size of the buildings and their construction materials which in my opinion was required to try and understand the budget staff were proposing.
At the end of the discussion it was agreed by Council that staff needed to do a little more work on this initiative before moving forward. This information is expected to come forward in the New Year.
Identifying a Downtown/Main Street:
During the early part of 2015 discussion occurred about the desire by some council members to identify a Downtown or Main Street. One public meeting was held with 5 options available. Not a far stretch to find out that “Main Street” was the preferred location.
It was proposed by staff that an approximate $350,000 study be completed to see what we need to do to develop a Downtown Master Plan for this area.
At the December 15, 2015 Committee of the Whole meeting a motion that directed staff to create policies, hold a public open house and public meeting, create a draft Terms of Reference to undertake the development of a Downtown master Plan and to seek private sector funding contributions was approved by the majority of Council and ratified on December 22, 2015. I was opposed.
I commented that I have no issue putting policies and land designations in place (which our staff are capable of creating) for Main Street or any of the other nodes in town that were identified if it will assist with development of those areas. However, I had to oppose the motion because I didn’t support spending $350,000 on a study that in my opinion will result in pretty pictures and ideas that aren’t financially feasible for anyone to make happen.
Staff will be coming back to the table in the future during each step of the process. Staff will need to secure money from the Province and from the development industry to go along with the town’s share of $100,000 for the study.
At the December 15, 2015 Committee of the Whole meeting Council supported Beach Areas One and Two to be added to the list of identified sites within Wasaga Beach for a potential OLG operator to consider as a location for a Casino.
I opposed this recommendation as I do not support a casino being located on the town’s beachfront properties.
This decision was ratified by Council at its December 22, 2015 Council meeting and the beachfront is now a 5th option for operators.
At the May 20th, 2015 General Government Committee meeting the Clerk brought forward “for information” only, information about Bill 8. She indicated that more information would be forthcoming. I asked that when she brought it forward again I would appreciate more information regarding the Auditor General.
My comments were quickly followed with a surprise motion from Mr. Mayor to hire an Integrity Commissioner.
It was explained by the Clerk that this item was only for information and that further information was required before a decision was made.
Mayor Smith stated he was prepared to make a motion NOW and requested a recorded vote.
While supportive of an Integrity Commissioner being appointed, I felt this was premature as we didn’t have all the details or potential costs associated with this action so I voted against it. However, the majority of the committee supported it and it was later ratified by Council at a future meeting.
Mr. Robert Swayze has been appointed as the Town’s Integrity Commissioner. Any member of the public can contact him if they have concerns about Council as a whole or an individual member of Council going against the Code of Conduct.
ATVs now allowed on Wasaga Beach Streets:
At the September 22, 2015 Council meeting, Council passed a by-law to permit all-terrain (ATV), multi-purpose off-highway utility and recreational off-highway vehicles to travel on the shoulder of municipal roads.
Residents and visitors to Wasaga Beach are now able to drive these vehicles from April 1st to November 30th between the hours of 7am and 11pm seven days per week on the shoulder of municipal roads, with the exception of travel between the North and/or Northwesterly limit of any shoreline road allowance under the jurisdiction of the Town of Wasaga Beach. These vehicles are NOT permitted on the beach.
Drivers must operate these vehicles in accordance with Ontario Regulation 316/03 as amended, and the Highway Traffic Act. The maximum speed permitted is 20 kilometers per hour. More information can be found on the Town’s website regarding this by-law.
It is suggested to me that I should resign:
At an inappropriately held meeting on August 25, 2015 following a council meeting, I was told by a Council Member that if I don’t like what the Mayor and Council are doing “just resign Nina.” It was repeated a couple of times during the meeting along with the phrase “cat fight” tossed in my direction during this ridiculous conversation. I’m still here, still standing and will continue to do so!!
Also at this meeting it was suggested that we should be speaking to each other in person or by phone as documents such as emails become part of the public record. I don’t believe in meeting secretly with anyone. I will continue to forward correspondence by email to ensure that important items are part of the public record.
2016 Budget passed:
On October 20, 2015 a Committee of the Whole meeting was held so that half of the town departments could present their first draft of the 2016 budget. The other departments were to present on October 22nd.
Past practice has been that the treasurer briefly goes over her cover letter of the budget then each Department Head provides the rational for their budget. The intent is not to go line by line but to hit the highlights. This is an opportunity for council members to ask questions and for the public and media to hear this discussion. This is also an opportunity for staff to hear thoughts from council so that they can incorporate them into the 2nd draft of the budget.
Past practice was tossed out the window this night. Staff were told that “it would be a waste of time to hear their presentations.” How’s that for morale? A vote by council was held (which I opposed) to NOT allow staff to make their presentations. More meetings were to be scheduled to just talk about big ticket items.
At a previous meeting Council had voted and approved a 1.5% increase in taxes. However, tonight, December 22, 2015, some Council members tried again for a 0% budget increase. The motion was defeated. I voted against it as I don’t believe in 0% budgets. The reality is that 0% budgets only delays the inevitable and the tax payers pay the price all at once down the road.
Then Councillor Smith put forward a motion that would see the $1.5% ($288,000) put into a special Corporate Initiatives Account to go towards Council initiatives. The Councillor also suggested that by putting it into a special account it should alleviate my concerns about the current use of town reserves. I pointed out that if it was for council initiatives then those initiatives should already be listed in our budget and that I did not support creating a slush fund for something unknown at this time. I asked the Councillor if she had a specific project in mind that would assist me in better understanding why she wanted to do this. I had to ask twice then finally was told no, but then the Councillor did mention the Main Street Market. This is the one I commented on earlier in this article whereby we are still waiting on a realistic budget for this project. Hopefully Council will have an updated plan and budget for this project early in 2016. The majority of council voted in favor of the $288,000 being put into another account. I was opposed.
The total budget for 2016 is $49.8 million ($34.3 million in operating and $15.5 million in capital expenses). This compares to an overall budget of $47.2 million in 2015.
My advice … question everything:
I know that everyone has busy schedules and more exciting things to do than sit in on our council or committee meetings, however, it is so important that you attend to hear the discussions that occur and to know what decisions your council representatives are making on your behalf.
Unfortunately media can only cover a small portion of what is said at a meeting. What I find important for you the taxpayer to know, might not be important to the media and may not make it to the newspaper or radio. Social media is a whole other ball of wax. Much of what I read has a specific spin on it, usually by certain council member supporters, and rarely is it accurate. If you want to be properly informed, please do NOT use social media as your avenue to do so.
All Town Council meetings, Coordinated Committee of Council (more discussion occurs here than Council meetings) and Council appointed Ad Hoc meeting dates and times can be found on the town’s website at www.wasagabeach.com
Please feel free to contact me anytime.
ALL THE BEST FOR 2016!
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