Mayor David Nash sat down with the Times last week to discuss the direction Merrickville-Wolford is going, and the tools that he believes are needed to take the community forward. One of the major steps that have been taken is the recruiting of the new Chief Administrative Officer-Clerk, John Regan. But the Mayor was also keen to acknowledge the role that has been played as interim CAO by Arie Hoogenboom.
David Nash: “Arie was a real gift to us while he was Interim CAO, and closed off some important files, using the tremendous amount of expertise he brought in. He moved us along and was very involved in hiring the new CAO. John Regan was President of Economic Developers Council of Ontario and CAO of the Municipality of French River. He will be working closely with Ann Weir, the Economic Development Manager with the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville, on various economic development projects with the Counties. His appointment complements the direction this Council has decided to take.
“To me, the three tools we needed for long-range planning were economic development, a strategic plan, and the asset management plan. There had been an economic development plan already drawn up in the past, but there was no money to implement it and it stayed on the shelf. But we pulled together a Committee and brought in some of the people who had originally developed the plan. These guys are sharp, and my idea is to gather the experts and get out of their way. We’re just fortunate to have that level of expertise and that will only be complemented by our new CAO.
“I always say to people that, unless you know where you are and where you want to go, you’re never going to get there. Those three tools will be the primary tools for successive Councils to use for the budgeting decision making. I’m really looking forward to that as it comes together.
From the top down, I think we’ve got some really good talent here.”
David pointed out the importance of preparing the ground before applying for the various grants available to the municipality from government sources. It’s not enough to fill in the application forms, there has to be a specific project already identified and with detailed parameters, so that grant applications can be successful.
“One of the things we were never really ready for was that we miss opportunities for grants because we don’t have shovel-ready projects. We have to have plans in place before applying for grants. We’ve started to recognise that, and we’ve asked the Strategic Planning group, most of which is made up of our Economic Development Committee, to examine that idea. We’ve brought in the primary stakeholders, like the Medical Centre and the Lions Club, the Legion, and these different groups, to sit on that committee as well. We’ve asked them to identify what they see as priorities, to make a short list of the top three projects that we have to cost and be ready to bring forward when we can apply for grants. It’s just a matter of doing your homework.”
The other essential link in the chain is to use people who have expertise in actually applying for these grants. The job is not simple, and the wording of an application can make the difference between success and failure. David has already identified some potential partners that could be very useful in future applications. But the key, as he repeats, is: “Pick what you’re going after and get the right expertise in place to give yourself a chance.”
To succeed in achieving the strategic goals set out by the Council, the Mayor sees relationships between the Municipality and community partners to be essential. That is why, for example, Council have invited community stakeholders to be part of the strategic planning process. One of these partners is the Merrickville Chamber of Commerce. “I attended the AGM of the Chamber when they elected the new Board, because it is very important that we have a strong relationship between us and the Chamber. One of the projects I mentioned at Communities in Bloom was the issue of the eyesore of the CN bridge coming into Merrickville. The Chamber got right on to that. They have been looking at various ways to cover the ironwork with welcoming signs, or event banners, prominently displayed as you come into town. The Chamber came up with the idea of a Canada 150 banner, but this needs more discussions with CN.”
David Nash believes that a strong foundation has been laid for future growth, positive recruitment to the municipal staff, like John Regan and Treasurer Sheila Kehoe, and, by reaching out to involve the community, the best use can be made of the expertise and energy that exists in the municipality. The future is looking bright in Merrickville-Wolford, as the Mayor says: “We have some good steps ahead of us”.