Dramatic impact if financial projections are miscalculated
In early June we had our second strategic planning session at the County of Simcoe. The purpose of the meeting was to reaffirm the direction County Council is taking over the next few years. Many confirmed that as a County we must be fiscally diligent but at the same time respond to the growing needs of the 450,000 residents it services.
The meeting was very productive and the engagement of all the Councillors is encouraging and a true effort of “for the greater good” was prevalent in the lively discussions.
There is much work to do in County capital projects which needs to be balanced with confirmed sources of revenue. The Administrative Staff were directed to come back with different scenarios for next year’s budget based on low tax increases and what the impacts may be for the Long Term Financial Plan. Keep tuned to the County information as 30% of your taxes goes to the County.
At the Township level our Long term Financial Plan, based on three growth scenarios is progressing quite well with lively dialogue from all parties involved. The challenge is projecting the assessment values of the new developments since higher density development is new to Springwater. I have difficulty accepting a premise that just because it is being built in Midhurst, the assessment value will be more than a similar property in Barrie. We need to make sure we have this right as the future financial sustainability and viability will be based on what we conclude in this plan. If we get it wrong, and overestimate the assessment values, our revenues could fall short of projections and we, the tax payer, will pick up the difference. A good example is with the County as a comparison. The County conducted a DC Charge study in 2011. It included projections based on some optimistic forecasts. Starting in 2012, through to today, it has come up dramatically short of the projected revenue levels leaving a large DC reserve shortfall. Even using an optimistic view it will take many years to stabilize this shortfall. With Springwater being a smaller municipality, if we miscalculate our financial projections, it will result in a dramatic impact and could hit your wallet significantly. We will persist until we have the financial projections correct.
I was pleased to participate in a number of events in the township recently. The Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival Banquet was a sold out event and Kevin Frankish’s Elmvale centric version of Jeopardy was great. I found a few things I didn’t know about the history of the local area. Great laughs were had by all. Many local organizations benefit from this annual event and its 50th Anniversary was one of the best they had in recent years. The Bike Safety poster competition in all our schools brought over a 100 submissions from area elementary schools. The schools narrowed it down to four winners and the Community Policing Committee hosted a lunch at the Township Administration Centre for these students and their families. I had the opportunity of presenting the certificates and had each of them explain the meaning of their particular posters. This type of peer education is so effective. Kids accept and absorb information more readily from their peers as compared to someone in a position of authority. I congratulate everyone involved with this fun initiative.
The Pow Wow on June 13th at Springwater Park was well attended and put life back into this sacred and special ground. Working with the MNR and Ontario Parks, our Springwater property maintenance staff assisted in preparing the grounds for the event in exchange for some consideration from the MNR. Working together we can provide benefits and opportunities to local area residents without burdening the taxpayer. We have been in dialogue with the Ministry and our First Nations People offering our assistance in expediting the reopening of this valuable asset. For a point of clarification, the MNR and Ontario Parks has confirmed that Springwater Park will remain a Crown asset and owned by the people of Ontario. There is no intention of handing over ownership to any other party. There is certainly discussion on uses of portions of the Park, so it is important to keep things in perspective.
Since people keep asking about the progress of the potential developments in Midhurst, we will be adding correspondence to the Township website in the Midhurst Secondary Plan section to make everyone aware of some of the challenges we encounter when trying to resolve a growth plan far beyond anything we have ever experienced. We are progressing as fast as possible with the Environmental Assessments and Long Term Financial Studies and all parties are committed to the process. Whatever happens, the execution must be well managed and must prove to be a net benefit to all residents of Springwater.
Even though we, as a Council are being more transparent than ever before, with many public meetings and open hours, the Township has received a Freedom of Information request to have access to my personal email account, which would suggest that some party feels there is something untoward. It is an interesting request as my personal email is not under the control of the Township and they have no access to it. On the other hand my Springwater email account is under the control of the Township and would be subject to such a request. The Act is not clear and we await direction from the Privacy Commissioner. The request was predictable and will not detract me from doing what is best for Springwater.
Two important matters for Elmvale came to the table at the last Council Meeting. The Elmvale Curling Club as many know had a major facility failure which cut their season short. Even though, the Township is not a lending institution, Council responded to a request for a loan to replace the equipment. The Curling club will repay the loan over a 5 year period at prevailing borrowing rates and are expected to actually repay it in 18 months, after they apply and are successful with some grant applications for 2016. Of greatest importance to the Elmvale Community is Elmvale District High School and its long overdue renovation and expansion. Even though Education is a provincial responsibility, the previous Council agreed that we as a Township had to show our commitment. Councillor Ritchie was a crusader in the last Council and this term supported by Councillor Austin, Council increased the commitment from $200,000 to $300,000, using part of the Elmvale Hydro Fund reserve which can only be used for Elmvale based projects. I know Councillor Ritchie would have preferred more and has made me clearly aware that he felt we could have done more. The positive thing here was that the resolution was supported unanimously by all of Council.
In closing people have been asking me, “so what do you think of the job so far”. The simple answer is “I love it”. I have always able to get the best out of people throughout my career and I feel I am having a positive impact on Springwater and we have just started. The support, enthusiasm and involvement of this council, with their fresh ideas, working closely with our management and staff, makes it even that much more enjoyable. We had a great turnout for our staff BBQ and all Council were present to express our appreciation for the work they do. I also really enjoy the visits when people drop in on Friday afternoons.
There are definitely challenges as anyone at our last Council Meeting will attest, but we are all in it for the right reasons is my belief. Come to Council Meetings and judge for yourself.
Keep informed and involved with Springwater by checking out our website www.springwwater.ca and the especially our calendar of meetings. Also stay close to the action and read this excellent local paper, the Springwater News, and check out our regular Springwater Link and Council Corner columns. Be part of the solution and have your say.
Contact me at 705-728-4784 ext. 2040 or my cell at 705-718-7031 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on twitter @MayorFrench A reminder these articles are my thoughts and perspectives on issues and I am but one voice on Council. These opinions may not reflect the position of other Councillors.