As we head into a new year, the Times sat down with Mayor Doug Struthers to discuss the past year, and his hopes for 2021.
Although 2020 was clouded with the threat of COVID-19, the Mayor says there were still some positives that came out of the year, because of the hard work of municipal staff and volunteers. Using provincial parameters, the Public Works staff was able to determine that the municipality has over 100 years of use left in its landfill, even with projected municipal growth. “In the context of that being one of our most valuable assets, this is incredibly great news,” Mayor Struthers said.
Early last year, the Mayor and municipal staff played an integral role in supporting landowners whose land had been deemed Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW), with little evidence to back it up. Through a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), conversations with MPP Steve Clark and Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski, the MNRF repealed the PSW designation from affected Merrickville-Wolford lands, conceding that the wetland update had not been documented as required on the provincial wetland record. “It’s more than just a successful outcome for the property owners directly impacted, but it allowed us to have the correct wording in not just our official plan, but also the County official plan,” Mayor Struthers said.
Staff also worked with MPP Clark’s office to get an extension on the main street revitalization grant, which allowed for the redevelopment of the parkette at the corner of Mill Street and Main Street, as recommended by the ad hoc committee set up to look at how best to spend the funds. The County has also committed to redeveloping the boulevard portion of Mill Street as far as the swing bridge, making the area even more pleasant for residents and visitors alike.
“That’s a tremendous project in having the construction portion completed, and we are looking forward to late spring for the county portion being completed and having the plantings put in,” Mayor Struthers said. “It was a great project coming to fruition pretty much during 2020.”
The municipality did the best they could to help support the Merrickville-Wolford business community through the pandemic. Mayor, Council and staff worked with the County Economic Development office to offer the Digital Main Street program, which assisted local businesses in creating or bolstering their online presence. Through that process, they were also able to reach out to 150 businesses throughout the municipality to make sure they knew about the federal and provincial programs that were available to help them financially during the shut down and beyond.
The municipality also launched a shop local campaign, to encourage residents to shop at local businesses throughout the pandemic. “When you put it into perspective, it’s not just great during a pandemic, it’s something that we reinforce in the daily activities of residents of Merrickville-Wolford, knowing that there is a significant value in shopping local as much as possible, pandemic times or not,” the Mayor said.
Even with significant challenges and some delays due COVID-19, Mayor Struthers is proud that they were able to maintain service levels for their residents. “As the days went on, we knew it was going to be a marathon. Usually, in a marathon, you know what the course outline is; but at times in the Spring, it was changing daily. And yet, in all of that, with care and consideration, we maintained services to all the residents and had those quiet achievements.”
Mayor Struthers is hoping to lead Merrickville-Wolford into 2021 with a steady hand on governance, while ensuring that staff have the tools and capacity to continue delivering services to residents. As council moves into the budget process, the Mayor is focused on having care and consideration for taxpayer dollars, while enhancing and maintaining the assets available in the municipality. He is also committed to keeping in contact with MPP Clark about the value of bringing natural gas to the north side of the river in Merrickville.
In all of his plans for the coming year, Mayor Struthers is cognisant that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. “The municipality did well last year in terms of what council and staff did, and so we have the same expectation coming this year,” he noted. “There will be achievements over the course of the year, and a significant part of how many things we achieve will be significantly impacted by the pandemic and the roll out of the vaccinations.”