Open letter to the Merrickville-Wolford community

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Dear Residents and Taxpayers

This Letter is to serve as a community update for the first quarter of 2018. As many know, your Municipal government has experienced both highs and lows as Council moves through the final year of their four-year elected mandate.

Let me start by acknowledging the tremendous effort put in by Merrickville-Wolford volunteers. The Municipality is proud of all volunteer’s efforts with a particularly large thank you going out to those who serve on Municipal committees. As an example, the community now has an approved strategic plan which is serving to help Council and staff focus on prioritizing for 2018.

At this point, the staffing situation is unsettled. The Treasurer’s position has been vacant since early January. This has contributed to the inability to finalize the 2018 budget as soon as one would hope. Interim appointments have been made and a permanent new Manager of Finance/Treasurer will hopefully be announced soon. As of the writing of this letter, Mr. Richard Bennett, the acting Treasurer for Montague Township has agreed to assist Merrickville-Wolford part time. The focus for him will be on the 2017 year end and the 2018 budget. Should there be a surplus from 2017, it will go into our reserves. If a deficit is found, it will be covered out of existing reserves. This ensures that there is no carry over impact on the 2018 tax rate.

Your CAO/Clerk is currently on leave. In order to try to keep up with the normal workflow and to ensure continued staff leadership, I was retained in the middle of February on a part-time basis as the Interim CAO/Clerk/Treasurer. I’ve previously served this community for seven months in 2016. My experience includes working through difficult Municipal situations for a variety of Municipalities.

As well, in late February a receptionist gave her resignation in order to accept a position elsewhere. Staff of been actively recruiting to fill this key frontline position. Council has indicated that they are most appreciative of the efforts put in by remaining staff to try and cope under the circumstances. As the Interim CAO/Clerk/Treasurer, I have overseen the completion of staff annual performance reviews and Council has approved salary grid adjustments where appropriate.

Until we can return to a full staffing complement, our customer service levels may be compromised. Be assured that Municipal funds are being properly accounted for and critical issues are being managed on a day-to-day basis.

All of this staff of people comes at a financial and staff morale cost. We do not know what this may amount to, however we do have the opportunity to adjust the 2018 budget to account for unanticipated costs. The school board has for 2018 reduced their levy to us and the County has passed on a straight line budget. The Merrickville-Wolford draft budget in January included a small increase to the Municipal rate. This was rejected by Council and

Council and staff will continue to work at keeping any increase to a minimum.
The Village did get some excellent news on the grant front with the announcement of a 1.9 million provincial OCIF (Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund) grant for infrastructure work. This was the largest grant available in Ontario, so congratulations to our former Treasurer in putting together the application. The total cost of the project is 2.12 million. The draft Municipal budget has accounted for the Village share of $120,000.00 and the water/waste water infrastructure share of $109,818.00. As well we expect to hear very soon on an application under Rural Economic Development for funding for Economic Development staff support initiative under the leadership of our Economic Development Committee. This group of volunteers is also spearheading a Business Retention and Expansion exercise with the County to gather feedback on the state of our business community.

Council has approved a 10% increase in the water and sewer rates for 2018. This is the continuation of a multi-year effort to ensure that these costs are carried by the users and not all taxpayers. The service is expensive and the customer base is limited. Council will be putting out a request for proposals for the operating of the waste water plant and our water distribution to determine if savings can be found. Our current operators OCWA (Ontario Clean Water Agency) have operated the system since 2009 and have ensured that it is well maintained and our water is safe. They will be encouraged to bid on the renewal. The planned infrastructure work noted earlier will allow additional users to be added and future growth on services to occur. This will assist future sustainability of our water and sewer services. It is of interest to note that slow but steady growth is occurring with 17 new homes built in Merrickville-Wolford in 2017. Those will be added to our overall tax base.

A final recent challenge for Council has been the mechanical failure of our only road grader. Purchased in 2016 as a used unit, this Volvo grader is currently out of service with significant estimated repair costs. Council will need to decide on options around repair, replacement or contracting out the services. Municipalities, including ours carry financial reserves and we may need to access those to address this unplanned expense.
The above are just some of the highlights and challenges faced in 2018 by Council and staff. Details in some of these issues are available through our senior staff or members of Council. Personnel issues by their very nature are confidential. As a result,Council has had to hold numerous closed meetings. Provincial legislation governs our ability to do this and I can assure citizens that only issues that qualify for closed discussion are addressed in this fashion. Council is committed to openness and transparency and as such will continue to hold public meetings when appropriate (eg. January draft budget meetings) and encourage public attendance and participation at Council meetings. These meetings are held every 2nd and 4th Monday of the month at 7:00 pm.

Serving on a Municipal Council can be both rewarding and challenging. 2018 is an election year and starting May 1st residents who wish to run for Council may obtain the necessary forms from the Deputy Clerk. As a cost-cutting measure, Council did in 2017 agree to reduce the size of Council from 7 to 5. After the next election, the Village of Merrickville and Wolford will have 2 Councillors from each of the wards of Merrickville-Wolford and a Mayor elected at large.

As a Municipal consultant, former full time CAO/City Manager/Clerk and a current elected official in the neighbouring Township, I can attest that providing a consistent effective and efficient local government is everyone’s goal. I appreciate the support received to date from Council, staff and the public as we work through these issues.

Sincerely
Arie Hoogenboom
Interim CAO/Clerk/Treasurer
The Village of Merrickville-Wolford

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