This past Friday, I had the chance to address the community through my first Mayor’s Virtual Address organized by the Chamber. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the past couple of years and look forward to the future. I want to thank co-hosts Will Pearl and Cathy Sheppard for asking some excellent questions. You can watch in on the North Grenville’s website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYqD4tPum2s
In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to summarize some of the highlights here. Since the election of this new Council, keeping taxes low has been a priority. In the past three years, we have reduced the scheduled tax rate increase (which had been set at a minimum 2 percent prior to the election) each and every year.
In 2019, we lowered the tax rate increase to 1.5 percent. In 2020, we lowered it again to 1.15 percent, and this year (2021), we set it at zero. A zero tax rate increase is not likely doable in the long run, but given the chaos and upheaval of the pandemic, Council believed it was crucial as we find our way through this very stressful time.
In 2020, Council has also adjusted the base rate for those on town water, as it had gone up notably over the past few years. This new fee structure is consumption-based, which also serves as an incentive to conserve water.
These changes have been made so that residents are not bearing a financial burden for North Grenville’s growth. I have received many emails recently about new or expanding commercial and residential developments.
Some are upset that land has been cleared, and trees removed. Others are urgently looking for housing and desperately want to know when rental units or when affordable housing may become available.
The pandemic has accelerated interest in small but growing towns like ours who offer an excellent quality of life, and both rural and urban elements. Given this increased interest in a town that was already growing at twice the provincial average, one of Council’s key challenges is how to manage growth in ways that are sustainable, and that do not undermine our shared quality of life.
One of the things that became even clearer during this pandemic is how kind people in North Grenville are – not just to those who have been here for years, but also those who arrived just months ago. In a society some say is increasingly disconnected, our community is certainly a bit of a haven.
In managing growth differently than past years, in 2020 Council hired a seasoned municipal leader as our Chief Administrative Officer, Gary Dyke. Mr. Dyke brings three decades of experience in both small and large municipalities, and is very well equipped to stickhandle the complexities of growth.
Mr. Dyke has made some key changes in our planning department, including the appointment of new Director of Planning, Amy Martin. The tone, expectations and culture of that department are shifting in positive ways. We hear fewer complaints from builders and residents alike. It’s not perfect, but we are getting there.
This said, Council realizes that we need to do everything in our power to make sure that future housing and commercial developments are well integrated into the community, offer a range of housing options (including townhomes, and rentals), are walkable, have appropriate green space and are attractive to look at.
Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman and Councillor Barclay have led an effort with staff to establish new design guidelines for subdivisions. This is so things like lighting, sidewalks, and the ‘look and feel’ of these neighbourhoods are in keeping with North Grenville’s values.
Councillors O’Sullivan and Strackerjan have also signalled their interest in a tree canopy bylaw that would compel developers and new home builders to replace trees that are cut down to make way for new homes or businesses. While North Grenville is blessed to have amazing access to forests (Limerick Forest to the South, Ferguson Forest to the north, and our very own Agro-Forestry Centre with over 300 acres of protected forest in the middle of Kemptville Campus), we totally get the need to do more, and better, on this front as we grow.
These things do take time (far more than we thought when we were first elected as a brand new Council!) but we are on our way.
Another significant effort on the part of this new Council is setting a new road safety standard given increased traffic and road use patterns. Many have reached out asking for speed reductions, or stop signs, and the existing road safety standard often didn’t make it easy to say yes to these requests.
The Municipality will pilot this June a ‘new standard’ that sets the bar higher and should give us more flexibility to do more, not just here in Kemptville but in rural hamlets. We are also taking a serious look at speed radar and related traffic calming measures for rural and urban areas of our community where we know there is chronic and persistent speed issues.
Another sticking point has been the internet. The Municipality has recently launched a rural broadband strategy given how the pandemic has forced many of us to stay at home for work, school, connecting with family and friends, and entertainment. I have spent much time conferring with my provincial and federal counterparts about the urgent need to invest in broadband, and am optimistic that some larger provincial initiatives will bear fruit. But, in the meantime, Council has decided to develop its own connectivity plan this year to identify some steps we can potentially take on behalf of under-served neighbours and rural areas, in particular.
County Road 43
Finally, we were excited this past month to review plans for County Road 43. With the federal/provincial funding commitment last July from Ministers Steve Clark and Maryam Monsef, a 3.1 kilometre stretch of CR 43 will be expanded to 4 lanes.
More than that, however, there will be segregated multi-use pathways for walkers and cyclists, much improved lighting and trees. The proposed roundabouts will be better designed for pedestrian-crossings, and vehicles. The bridge will now also be fully rebuilt, however, construction on the bridge portion will not begin before 2022. Traffic flows will, for the most part, not be disrupted as a parallel bridge will be built while keeping the current one open.
It is safe to say that our plate as a Council has been very full (often over-flowing!) and there are many more initiatives to come. The pandemic has certainly consumed some of our time and energy, but many of our priorities for this amazing community are moving ahead.