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Questions & Answers re: Council and Programs

Thursday November 17th, 2011

November 17, 2011

There were several questions asked recently regarding North Huron Council and our programs and services.  The answers are as follows:

1. Has the accounting for the trailer park been reconciled to reflect the true financial status of the park?
     • There is an overall Recreation and Facilities Administration Budget.  It is pages 34 and 35 of the budget.  This is treated as a separate budget in the department but contributes to the overall costs of running the department and providing services to all the areas that the department oversees.  Each of the facilities operated by the department share some of this expense.   If a cost accounting method were to be applied to the Trailer Park cost centre, we would need to allocate a percentage of this administration budget to that facility in order to determine the true cost of operating that facility.  This was explained to Council when they calculated out the actual cost of operating the Wingham Trailer Park, and why Council came to the conclusion that the Wingham Trailer Park does not realize a profit at the end of the day.

2. Is the information package ready for the trailer park?
     • The package is called the Trailer Park RFP (Request for Proposal) document.  Creating this document was delayed because two key pieces were important to complete before it was ready for public distribution.  The land survey and the title search were necessary steps and were delayed by the Goderich Tornado that left the land registry office unusable for days, and then back-logged.  The Township now has that information and a draft survey.   Once Council is satisfied that the document reflects their wishes for the RFP, it will be circulated to the public.  Notices will be prepared for media outlets to inform the public that the RFP document is available.  This document will outline the steps and time lines necessary for any proposals to purchase the Wingham Trailer Park property to be submitted to the Township for consideration. 

3. What is the current status of the Bill Knott complaint investigation?
     • The Clerk will provide Mr. Knott with a letter regarding this matter.

4. Has council agreed to the proposed "Code of Conduct" and what is the time frame for passing it?
     • A Code of Conduct has been drafted and has been discussed by Council.   It will be reconsidered this fall.

5. Will COW meetings continue to be chaired by Deputy Riach, contrary to North Huron's procedural guidelines?
     • The Committee of the Whole meetings will continue to be chaired by Deputy Reeve Riach.  Council will be passing an updated procedural by-law sometime in the new year.

6. Will the public be allowed to offer input and question council before motions are voted on?
     • As per our procedural by-law, the public can request to appear before Council as a delegation and provide input on Council decisions and local issues.  Also, the Public Gallery section of the agenda provides an opportunity for the public to ask questions of Council and make comments pertaining to items on Council Agenda.    Also, residents are encouraged to email, call, or write to Councillors to express their views and provide input on current issues, challenges, and priorities.

7. Will Council instruct town staff to post this package online for the public to view?
     • The Council and Committee of the Whole agendas are posted on North Huron’s website on Friday afternoons and we’ll continue to do this.   We would encourage residents to attend Council meetings for more information about the issues, decisions, and priorities that Council and staff are working through.

8. What are the current plans for the bridge that is currently closed to vehicle traffic (near the foundry)?
     • The estimated cost to replace the bridge is $1.5 to $2.0 million.   In our opinion, this bridge has insignificant traffic value.  Also, it’s unlikely that there is a lot of resident support to borrow $2 million to fix/replace this bridge.   We are exploring the idea of generating hydro from the dam.    Preliminary estimates indicate that a hydro dam might generate $140,000 worth of hydro.  However, it would cost $1.4 million in addition to whatever would be done with the bridge.    To borrow $1.4M at 5.5%, it would take 20 years to pay back, the hydro dam would have a 70 year lifespan.  This project has considerable potential, but the municipality doesn’t have the resources at this time given it’s current financial commitments and the debt obligations we assumed to complete major infrastructure projects.   That being said, we’re continuing to research this project and possible funding sources.

9. What steps have Council taken to bring our tax rate in line with the surrounding areas?
     • As we all know, the Township of North Huron offers far more services and programs and operates many more buildings and facilities than any other municipality in Huron County with a population of 5,000.  And therefore, it makes no sense to compare North Huron to neighbouring municipalities such as Morris-Turnberry which does not deliver similar services.  Take a look at just some of the differences and it is quite easy to see how the difference in service level delivery affects the taxes.
o North Huron Fire Department – Wingham Station and new ESTC  Centre (Blyth Station)
o North Huron Museum
o Sanitary Sewer Systems in Wingham and Blyth
o Water Systems in Wingham, Blyth and NH share of Belgrave
o Wingham Police
o North Huron Childcare Centre –with programs Before & After, Early Years, Best Start
o Parks, Trails and Playgrounds – Sprinkler Park, Ball Parks and Soccer Fields
o Wingham Trailer Park
o Blyth Campground
o LeVan Airport
o North Huron Wescast Complex
o Blyth Arena
o Memorial Hall
o Wingham & E/W Landfill and contribute to Blyth/Hullett landfill
o Wingham Library
o Blyth Library
o Streetlights
o Wingham and Blyth Cemeteries

It also makes no sense to compare to Listowel (North Perth) when their population is listed at 12,254 (more than double of NH).  All of these assets make North Huron unique but come with a considerable price tag.  Council and staff are in the process of the expenditure review and revenue generating program.   The purpose of this review is threefold: (1) explore revenue generation opportunities; (2) consider different ways to deliver services and maintain or enhance customer service; and; (3) identify cost savings and efficiencies.  Many municipalities are going through a similar process as the cost of delivering services is increasing and municipalities have taken on a considerable debt load over the past few years to finance their infrastructure projects.    These projects are important investments in our municipality, but they have limited our financial flexibility and this requires us to look internally at our operations and review revenues and expenditures.   We need financial flexibility so that we can approach issues, challenges, and priorities from a position of strength.  We can’t reduce taxes, but we can keep future tax increases to a reasonable level if we create financial flexibility.  Divesting ourselves of the Wingham Trailer Park is one way to reduce operating expenses, raise revenue, and have a minimal impact on services provided for North Huron residents.  

10. Have members of council compared our Municipal Performance Measures Program report with the surrounding Municipalities so they can identify areas of waste and/or inefficiency in an objective manner?
     • I can’t say if Council has compared the Municipal Performance Measures  Program reports, but I use this data from other municipalities as a guideline keeping in mind the variance in the level of service delivery .  Also, the guidelines used in gathering this data varies greatly so although I find it useful, I realize that it is not an exact comparison and have to take that into consideration.   

11. What is the current status of the proposed purchase of the St. Paul's manse, and has council decided the future use of the property?
     • An Agreement of Purchase and Sale has been drafted.  A survey needs to be completed to  outline the boundaries/lot lines of the parcel of the land being severed.   Both parties are hoping to complete this transaction by the end of this year.   Next spring, the old manse will be demolished and the property will be cleaned up.  Council and staff are looking at the possibility of creating a parking lot.  This would provide much needed parking for downtown business owners and their employees, as well as customers.    Also, it will reduce the number cars parking on the side streets.    Other parking lots in downtown Wingham, both publicly and privately owned , are often full.  We need additional parking in our downtown core and many Wingham business people have asked for this and we want to find cost effective ways to keep the main street open for customers.

12. Over the last few years, what has our Economic Development Department done with its $122,000/year budget to entice Canadian Tire to our town?
     • Anyone working in economic development will tell you that the quickest way to kill a potential deal is to start talking about that businesses interest in your community.  Having a reputation as a community that is not respectful of a business’s plans to expand or re-locate can have horribly negative effect on the attractiveness of our community as a place to do business.  Interest in North Huron and the surrounding area as a place to do business has been especially active this past year.  Information has been shared with several businesses or site selectors doing research on our area – by building a strong and sustainable business environment, North Huron is positioning itself nicely for solid and progressive growth.

13. April this year, we asked what businesses this department with its $100,000+ budget had brought to town.  Considering the performance of this department, does council believe that the tax payers of North Huron are getting value for the $122,000 we are spending on this department?
     • There are many pillars to solid community development.  Along with recruitment, other strategies include strategic alliances and partnerships, entrepreneurship, workforce development, downtown revitalization and tourism development.  All of these and more are often implemented as part of an overall economic development strategy.   In 2011 North Huron has made some significant strides in creating a more attractive business environment for existing and future business expansions.  A revitalized main street in Wingham, a newly created Wingham Business Alliance,  the development of a Business Improvement Area in Blyth, the development of a Streetscape Master Plan for the Village of Blyth, a strong marketing partnership with the Blyth Festival, active participation in the Huron Tourism Association, collaboration with the Blyth Idea Group, participation in the Dig Our Downtown campaign,  and contribution to the development of a Walkability Plan for the Village of Blyth are just a few of the projects that the Community Development Department has been active in recent months.  Potential investors have taken notice and have responded positively to the amount of recent community development activity that has taken place in the area. 

14.  Will the new Code Of Conduct address the disrespectful tardiness of Council members (COW and Council meetings)?
     • Over the past 2 years, there have been almost 70 Council meetings, including Committee of the Whole meetings.   There has been one occasion, maybe two, when one Councillor was five minutes late for the start of a Council meeting.