Mayor David Gordon met with the NG Times recently to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing North Grenville in the coming year. This is the second part of that conversation.
Times: After serving as Warden, how do you see North Grenville in the context of the United Counties?
Mayor Gordon: North Grenville is considered the administrative capital of Leeds & Grenville: people look for our advice and they contact our Planning Department because Phil Gerrard is a walking encyclopaedia of the Planning Act and everyone respects his knowledge. So we have something to be proud of: we are the administrative hub. We may not be the industrial hub, because, unfortunately, major industrial corporations are looking for quick transportation access, which is the 401.
But I think we will become the academic hub, we’ve got three new schools on the go now. The two French schools are growing, which I think is great. And we have a new Public School going up. This creates a lot of jobs, so it’s very good for the municipality. Another thing going in is the seniors’ residence, which will be, I think, another 85 jobs. This is a very labour-intensive place. We are in a more enviable position that other municipalities because we are getting these institutions.
Times: How does that work in terms of getting infrastructure in place to deal with the increased populations and business?
Mayor Gordon: It’s the issue of doing business. When it comes to infrastructure, people think it is all on the taxpayers, but it isn’t. The way we have it set up in North Grenville, the developers supply the infrastructure. A new development in the Northwest Quadrant supplies the roads going in, and the pumping station. That is something taxpayers don’t have to pay for. So the initial infrastructure that goes in, the developers pay for it, the school boards pay for it. Needless to say, when we take over, when they sign off to the Municipality, then we maintain the roads. But until then, they pay for maintaining the roads. Our Development Charges keep the taxes down for ratepayers, and that’s the important thing for us.
Times: Speaking to some builders, they say it’s not the DCs, it’s the price of land that is the problem.
Mayor Gordon: Yes, but we don’t own the land. The developers own the land. And I agree that the price of land is high, but the developers are buying from other developers. This is where the high prices come from, and when I see the cost of land here, I think it is amazing, because you go down to Rideau Lakes and you might get land for a third of the price. But I guess that’s the nature of success too. If you go to Rideau Lakes, they might get ten new houses built in a year, if they’re lucky, where we would be in a panic if we only get ten houses in a year.
Times: There’s also been a development within the municipality itself with the CAO, new Director of Finance, and a new Director of Planning.
Mayor Gordon: The one thing Council said to the CAO when he was hired was that we wanted him to bring the municipality into the 21st century, and he’s doing that. You can’t wave a wand and suddenly it’s done: it’s a slow process. People don’t always like change, but with the funding as it is with the Province and the Federal Government now, you have to keep on running the developers, or the taxpayers will sooner or later have to pay higher taxes. There’s no way around it. Things have to change. Development means a higher tax base for commercial operations, which means a lower tax rate for residential.
Times: Looking to the next two years, what do you see are the other challenges we’re facing?
Mayor Gordon: At this point in time, it’s funding, funding, funding. It’s plain and simple. And when governments come out with funding, I defy you to find a way to get at that funding. It is amazing the games they play. I predict that in five years, maybe ten years, if things keep going the way they are now, municipalities will have very little provincial funding. The Province is going bankrupt.
Times: Where will they get alternative funding then?
Mayor Gordon: Development. If you don’t develop, you die. There’s one municipality in Leeds & Grenville where, either this year or next, their entire budget will be taken up by policing costs. They won’t even be able to afford to plough their streets. And I know that some mayors think I’m crazy to talk about amalgamation, but that’s what they’re going to have to do. You have to do more with less these days , because the Province is not flush with money and the money is not coming. And I don’t think it will be coming for the next fifty years, because we’re in such a mess. But most people can’t relate to that. There’s new regulations every year which changes the landscape of how you do business. Are we in the loop? Do they ask us our opinion? No. I mean the provincial meal allotment for seniors in a seniors residence is less than that in the Regional detention centres, which I think is a travesty. I was on the bandwagon about that for the last two years, but nobody picked up on it. That’s all I could do.
Times: So, basically, the future of NG depends on the community?
Mayor Gordon: Definitely. We look after ourselves. You can phone someone up and say a senior needs a new roof and, next thing, you’ve got ten guys. And all they ask is: “is there muffins, sandwiches?” That’s the way it’s done here. We operate with less employees than other municipalities, and we do a good job.