|Today's date: Saturday April 29, 2017|
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Residents pack hall for township’s spring town hall meeting in Fergus
by Mike Robinson
FERGUS - The Victoria Park Seniors Centre here was packed for Centre Wellington’s spring town hall meeting on April 12 as Mayor Kelly Linton talked to the audience about the township setting priorities and taking action.
The mayor quoted Mahatma Gandhi stating, “Action expresses priorities.”
“It is really important for us to demonstrate what our priorities are in what we do,” said Linton, who outlined actions taken by the township over the past year and work projected for the future.
“One of the things to recognize in Centre Wellington is that we have advantages that many other towns and cities do not have. Our job is to leverage these advantages to unlock our potential.”
Linton said the municipality cannot accomplish that in isolation.
“One of the things that is so clear to me over the past couple of years is how many people volunteer their time in Centre Wellington,” he said.
“If we lose those volunteers ... that would be a travesty.”
Linton said, “We know we are a great place to live … but we have more potential.”
He added some of the local advantages are sometimes overlooked as residents see or experience them on a daily basis.
At the same time, Linton said, “Just having potential is not enough ... we want to make sure we establish an action plan.”
One of the first actions of the current term of council was to establish a strategic plan outlining priorities of the municipality and making sure those priorities lined up with those of its residents, he said.
“If we are not doing the things we said we were going to do ... then you know what to do in 2018,” said Linton.
He added the plan was driven by citizen feedback/input.
He said having a plan “contributes to accountability for results … establishes priority actions to direct spending and resources.”
Those priorities include:
- reliable infrastructure;
- healthy growth;
- economic prosperity;
- pride of place; and
- good government.
With those priorities in mind, Linton said the municipality has to face numerous challenges and opportunities, including reliable infrastructure, economic prosperity, and two-way communication with residents.
“The big question is ... how can we address our crumbling infrastructure?” Linton said.
Councillor Mary Lloyd explained the township faces a significant infrastructure challenge, “Whether it is protecting water for generations to come or protecting the water we are using right now and making it safe and potable for us all to use.”
She added one of Centre Wellington’s challenges is its size compared to its population and the infrastructure required to support it.
Centre Wellington covers an area of 408 square kilometres and has 108 bridges.
“When you hear that number ... it’s a little daunting,” said Lloyd.
In addition, the township has 912km of road, she said, adding, “At the same time, the municipal tax base is less than 30,000 people.”
Lloyd compared the local situation to that of neighbouring Halton Hills which encompasses 276 square kilometres but is supported by a population of 60,000.
Lloyd said provincial funding has been limited and unreliable.
“We hear lots of great announcements from the federal and provincial governments putting money into infrastructure. However applying for and getting those grants are two different things,” she said.
Lloyd stated significant dollars are allocated to large urban centres such as Toronto and not as much to local urban areas.
She noted Centre Wellington currently has 15 closed bridges along with another 11 bridges at risk for closure.
In 2016, the township undertook a professional asset management plan.
Results of that plan indicated that in order for the township to raise the money needed to address its infrastructure deficit, it would have to increase taxes 4.9% every year until 2030; in addition to annual tax increases of 2.9% from 2031 to 2036.
“The bottom line is that since 2000, the township has not done enough to address our crumbling infrastructure. We needed to look at a new approach,” said Lloyd.
She stated that in 2015, the current sitting council made the difficult decision to introduce a dedicated 2% capital levy strictly dedicated to a bridge rebuilding program.
Lloyd said the township had to change its fundamental thinking that the upper levels of government would automatically provide funding.
“We are on track to build or rebuild seven bridges in this term of council (not including the St. David Street bridge or the Victoria Street Pedestrian Bridge),” Lloyd stated, adding the bridges being addressed in 2017 are those on the 7th Line, 4th Line and Sideroad 20.
She noted the township was successful in obtaining funding for at least one infrastructure project - up to $646,000 for the replacement of bridge 27-WG - “So we are starting to see a little flow of money.”
In addition, the township will be getting over $2 million for work on the St. David Street bridge in downtown Fergus.
“We haven’t stopped applying (for funds), but it isn’t always coming.”
However, she stressed township infrastructure is more than just bridges and roads.
The township kicked off its long-term water master plan in 2017 rather than 2019, Lloyd said.
The plan was moved forward as a result of changes in Centre Wellington, including a private business purchasing property with a private water taking permit.
“It was very important for us to move forward quickly and to also tie that water plan to the GRCA Tier 3 water study,” said Lloyd.
The plan is to understand and document current and future water needs to accommodate the area’s anticipated growth and to complete the plan within the two-year provincial moratorium for new and expanded commercial water-taking permits.
She also spoke of Centre Wellington’s transportation master plan, which will look at current and future transportation needs until 2041 and include downtown parking (in Elora and Fergus) and active transportation.
Options include additional bridges, roads, trails, redirection of traffic or even mass transit.
“We hope to have that completed in early 2018,” said Lloyd.
Centre Wellington is also in the midst of updating its parks, recreation and culture master plan, which will look at whether its facilities are appropriate for the needs of the community.
Ongoing work includes replacement of the pad A roof at the Fergus sportsplex, Forfar Park upgrades (soccer field and expanded parking lot) and accessibility upgrades to various parks and recreation facilities.
She also noted that even though the Victoria Park Seniors Centre recently underwent a major expansion in 2015, the centre is already nearing capacity as membership reaches 1,000.
Capital plans may require planning for membership to double within the next 10 years, she said.
Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce past chair Janet Harrop noted this is the sixth year the chamber was involved in hosting the town hall session - for the past two years partnering with the township.
On behalf of the business community Harrop stated parking is something business people are always passionate about.
“From a business perspective (a lack of parking can be) a missed opportunity for sales,” she said, adding one chamber member went as far as offering certain drivers $5 to move their vehicles.
With more construction in the forecast, Harrop asked what steps could be taken in the near future to address the parking issues.
Mayor Kelly Linton agreed parking is a significant issue and very important to downtown businesses and said, “We need to have a rigorous long-term plan for the downtown areas.”
In the short term, the township is “working with the BIA” on solutions, which may include some three-hour parking limits in the downtown areas.
He added work is also being done with Fergus Marketplace to add possibly 10 more parking spots.
“We know there is no solution which is going to be perfect ... but we need to try to do whatever we can in the short term prior to being able to build another lot or parking garage.”
Linton noted that in Elora, plans are moving ahead to expand the parking lot adjacent to the LCBO building.
Wellington County Councillor Rob Black offered assurances that Fergus library staff park at the Ontario Works Building on St. Andrew Street and walk to the building.
He added about 5,000 people went through the Fergus library branch during March break “... so there is a lot of people coming downtown.”
Harrop’s second question was about the status of the municipal sign bylaw.
She noted that several years ago the sign bylaw was revised and she understood that within the next year, the bylaw may be reviewed.
“We do have a lot of small businesses ... because of the sign bylaw (that) do find it difficult to advertise they exist ... especially if the business does not have a street frontage,” she said.
Linton said sign bylaws are a balancing act in any community, noting, “No one wants it to look like Highway 24 at the south end of Cambridge ... but we do recognize there needs to be the right balance.
Some residents expressed concern over the township’s growth plan and the short deadline provided for residents could respond (the online deadline is April 21).
In late March, Stantec provided the township with a report that outlines residential and employment growth options to 2031.
The report presents three options for meeting the provincially-mandated density target of 40 people and jobs per hectare: status quo, consistency with historical built form and natural environment, and shifting density in strategic urban areas.
The report notes the municipality must also provide a plan for employment growth to 2031.
Based on provincial numbers, the 2031 growth projection requires an additional 7,070 jobs in the township.
Linton said the growth management strategy is tied in with other projects and strategies and will require more public input.
He explained the growth strategy is a way for the municipality to have more control over which areas have certain population densities.
“Essentially, it is how many people are being packed into which parts of Centre Wellington ... we do not want to take the one-size-fits-all approach across Centre Wellington,” he said.
Planning and development director Brett Salmon noted the goal is to provide a draft report with of recommendations in May.
Others in the audience were concerned they were just hearing about the growth strategy now.
Linton stated the growth strategy plan has been discussed at town hall meetings, at council, in the newspaper, on the radio and on social media.
“It’s been talked about significantly over a period of time ... and will continue to be,” said Linton, who noted the township offered assurances to developers that the plan would be done in a certain amount of time.
April 21, 2017
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