Armour Mayor Rod Ward has laid out his vision for the future of the municipality and wants his new council to call him out if the vision goes off track.
“I need to be told we can't do this or this isn't right,” Ward said after the new council was sworn in on Tuesday and conducted its first meeting.
Ward's vision focuses on what the next 25 years will look like and how can Armour and the Almaguin region be ready.
Ward says statistics show Ontario's population is expected to jump nearly 38 per cent over the next quarter century going from 14.8 million people to 20.4 million.
Ward says migration from other parts of Canada and the world will account for most of the growth and the majority of newcomers will settle in the GTA and larger centres.
However figures also show the Muskoka and Parry Sound Districts could see their population grow 25 to 40 per cent over the same period with people moving north.
“The push (north) could end at Huntsville but that seems unlikely,” Ward said.
Ward says the more likely scenario is the Almaguin region will see some of that growth and that's both a benefit and a challenge.
The benefit is communities like Armour are seeing very little organic growth and if it wasn't for new people moving to the area, the area's population would drop.
Ward says it means Armour and the surrounding communities need to be ready to build additional housing.
He also says as families move to Almaguin, “we need to have (similar) services they are used to down south.
“This is not easy to do but it's a long-term goal,” Ward said.
Ward says the other challenge is not everyone heading north will be looking for work.
Rather they will be the next group of workers ready to retire.
Ward says as many as 30 per cent that make up this group will be 65 years old and over.
“So these will be people with healthcare needs,” Ward said in addition to needing housing of some kind.
To help prepare for the future growth Ward has created six areas the municipality needs to focus on in the years ahead.
Housing and Growth is one of those areas and Ward says it's one of the trickiest measures to pull off because although the Ontario government wants more houses built, including affordable homes, Ward says Armour faces limitations.
He says the provincial government will have to help Armour pull this off in addition to the township forging partnerships with various groups.
Health and Wellness is another focus area with Ward saying this is critical because it's a major factor people consider when thinking about where to live.
With this in mind, Ward prepared the new council and Armour residents to soon expect an announcement that the local share to build a new hospital in Huntsville will be at least 10 per cent spread among the Almaguin and likely the Muskoka communities.
But Ward expects the local share to easily surpass 10 percent and with recent media reports indicating a new hospital will easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the local share will be considerable.
“We don't know the exact number, but it's going to hit us soon,” Ward said.
“And we'll have to agree to the local share by the end of 2023 or the (new) hospital stops.”
Ward says in the health department the municipality also needs to keep pursuing better health care support technology “because it's an area we're behind in.”
The new mayor also said the region has to keep working to attract new healthcare professionals and consideration should be given to coordinating healthcare services for all of Almaguin.
Protecting natural assets is another keystone for Ward and that includes keeping the area's lakes safe.
“If we lose that, we'd lose one of the things that draw people to our area,” he said.
Ward said another pillar is to look for ways to further share services with surrounding neighbours without having to amalgamate and to continue to support economic development initiatives.
In the area of economic development Ward said there may be opportunities for the area to become leaders in green and clean types of industries and it may be worthwhile exploring this area.
Ward's last area of focus is to keep providing value for residents with the money the municipality spends and invests.
He said Burk's Falls, Ryerson and Armour will soon need a new fire hall.
The EMS is also looking to build a new facility and Ward asked if it is possible to combine both projects which means forming a partnership with the land ambulance people.
Another area that provides value to the people is the library and how to go about expanding it. This is a subject all three municipalities have discussed.
Ward said he would also like to see the Katrine Community Centre Committee expand its mandate to include more recreational services like parks and trails.
Ward says the vision needs to be flexible enough so that if something unexpected happens, like how COVID ground many things to a stop, the plan isn't thrown off its tracks.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget