With school cancelled because of blowing snow, hosts Landry and Belch were uncertain if many would turn out for their Town Hall meeting Monday evening to discuss their concerns about issues facing our municipal government. With fifteen attendees, many came with something specific on their minds.
The meeting was opened by Councillor Landry who asked the audience for topics. The meeting began with some tension as some Millbrook residents expressed concern about rising water bills, believing that the existing users were subsidizing the costs of infrastructure for the new development. Councillors Landry and Belch explained that the water infrastructure was over 40 years old and well past its useful life. New provincial legislation known as the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that municipalities charge the full cost of providing safe water, preparing the cost recovery plan, providing a long term financial strategy to their customers through user fees. They assured the residents that as the new development comes on stream, new user feels will help cover this infrastructure, but the upgrades and expansion must come first. These higher user fees will ensure the municipality meets its legislative responsibility.
Frustration over the history of higher municipal taxes was also expressed, with some participants expressing the view that Council had not managed its finances well in the past. Specifically the spending on the Maple Leaf Park was criticized. Councillor Landry explained that the soccer fields were dangerous in their previous condition, and that over 1200 youngsters from the community were Soccer club members, making it the most well-used community asset for youth and families. Council decisions are designed to make the area more attractive to families and this investment, subsidized in part by the Soccer club, was an example of building for the future. Eventually the discussion moved on to address questions surrounding the Buddhist Temple, the future of the Millbrook water tower, curbside garbage pick-up and the beloved transfer station. Councillors Landry and Belch confirmed that there are no plans to decommission the old water tower, a move applauded by the audience. It will remain in place as a back-up in the event problems arise with the new tower and as a supplement to possible increases in water demand in the future.
The economics of curbside garbage pick-up was also discussed, as many in the audience were unclear about how this service can be less expensive than having residents deliver their garbage to the local transfer station. Garbage production in our township is significantly higher than for neighbouring municipalities, and curbside pick-up allows for the compaction of garbage as it is received, reducing tippage fees incurred by the township. Councillor Belch explained that we do not have a garbage compactor at the transfer station, resulting in bins that are full by volume but not by weight, making the disposal of garbage dropped there more expensive. Council is exploring the ability to install a compactor but require the approval of ORCA to do so. Both Councillors confirmed that there are no plans to close the transfer station, a rumour that persists in the community. Other issues raised were concerns about the development of a specific parcel of land and restrictive fire by-laws that were hampering the ability of rural landowners to economically manage the brush and wood debris on their properties.
At the meeting’s conclusion, many participants agreed that the opportunity to speak directly with Council members in an informal format was welcome. Councillors Landry and Belch agreed, so expect to see more of these meetings in the spring, as Council members continue to reach out to the community to encourage open discussions about the decisions they are making on behalf of residents across the township.