by Councillor John Barclay
As we wrap up our first year on Council, we’ve each had a chance to reflect a bit individually on what we’ve learned and accomplished together. There’s been very little time, however, to discuss this amongst ourselves because we’ve charged right into budget deliberations and to welcoming a new CAO to the community. Oh yes, and Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, too.
For me, one of the takeaways of this first year was the realization of how under-resourced the Public Works department is. This was only highlighted with the election of a new Council, who embraced the opportunity to be as open and accessible as possible, prompting a lot of interactions between residents and staff. Director of Public Works, Karen Dunlop says, “Staff has seen a massive increase in the number of resident requests and inquiries”.
Responding to those requests takes time, people and, in some cases, equipment and supplies. David Shanahan wrote, in last week’s editorial, “… the workload for municipal staff has just about doubled since the new team got started.” A new Council and the continuing strains of being the fastest growing community in Leeds and Grenville has left, not only the Public Works Department, but other departments, trying to do so much more with the same complement of staff and other resources as they’ve had in years past.
In the past 12 years (2007 to 2019), the Public Works Department road crew have paved approximately 60 km of former gravel roads. The number of roads requiring snow removal has increased 43 km over the same time period, from 274 km to 317 km. Over the next four years, the roads department intends to complete an additional 19 km of gravel road rebuilds. Yet the Public Works Department has only added one new roads crew position since amalgamation, and that was last year … and it has yet to be filled.
Workload has also increased for all staff due to changes in the way things are done; provincial policies change almost as fast as technology does, and the financing of large essential municipal assets has become tighter and more complicated. For example, as the market shifts to producer responsibility for post-consumer plastic, glass metal and fibre packaging, the blue box program will undergo radical change. Continuous education and training only add to the workload of municipal employees.
As we draft the first four year financial plan the Municipality’s ever had, and drill down into the details of the first year (next year, 2020), Council and staff will be looking for cost-effective ways to increase the resources available to Public Works and all the other municipal departments. Residents expect the same, or increased, levels of service from each department, even as we continue to grow in population. Additional staff is needed across the board.
Generally speaking, all rural municipalities are lagging behind in being able to provide the level of service residents have come to expect, especially those rural communities that have zero or negative population growth. North Grenville is in relatively good shape however, and is finally taking a long range view in financial planning and asset management.
Before the reader assumes the burden of catching up will fall on the residential property tax payer, I’d like to remind them that, of last year’s $5.3M 2019 Public Works Capital Budget (including the Water/Wastewater silo budget of $1.9M), less than half ($2.2M) came from taxation. The rest was funded through grants, development charges and user fees.
You can contact me anytime over the holidays by phone (Direct: 613-322-8132 or 613-875-4012), by email ([email protected]). I might take a while to get back to you, but I will in the new year, or drop by one of my “Talk To Me Tuesdays” weekly meet and greet sessions at a local coffee shop (locations posted weekly on Facebook.com/JB4NG).