Eganville -- Heading into 2021, North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose is looking forward to a greater emphasis on economic development and growth, but also cautioned the years of tax cuts may be at an end.
“There is only so much we can cut in terms of taxes before it has a direct impact on the services we deliver,” he said. “We need more sources of revenue to go along with finding efficiencies and that means a greater emphasis on economic development and diversifying our local economy.”
The mayor is hopeful council recognizes the importance of a greater emphasis on assisting in economic growth, thereby relying less on cutting taxes to manage the day-to-day operations of the township.
“If you look at three our neighbours (Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, Admaston/Bromley and Whitewater Region, their building permits and revenue is up considerably and some are over $5 million and we are around $3 million,” he pointed out. “It would be nice if we could get our numbers up and that will take some of the pressure on council being forced to cut back on services.”
While some municipalities saw major builds taking place, in NAW it was mostly renovations for 2020. He knows neighbouring Bonnechere Valley also experienced growth and he is hopeful joint efforts with BV will encourage more development in the immediate area.
“We have an agreement with BV to look at shared services with water and sewer,” he said. “We would spur development just outside Eganville.”
Being able to further develop in the bordering areas of Eganville makes sense and would benefit both municipalities, he feels.
He said the reality of COVID-19 has seen a migration of people leaving the crowded cities and opting for a rural lifestyle. This is something NAW can capitalize on, he added.
“This is an opportunity to expand our growth and that is just one way we as a council can look at this one example as a means to help our township prosper,” he said. “We have no idea what is in store for us in 2021, but I do know that our current council is committed to continue looking forward to make NAW a desirable place to live and do business.”
This year township residents will continue to see the evolution of the township’s asset management plan as it becomes digitized. Up until two years ago, it was primarily a hard copy with a list of roads and structures.
“Our goal is to be ready for the July deadline imposed by the provincial government for an updated plan that includes the lifecycle accounting that identifies your plan to replace your buildings or equipment over their lifetime and that is something council and staff have made a priority,” he said.
While other municipalities, as well as the county, have engaged firms to prepare efficiency studies and service delivery reviews, NAW is waiting to see the results of the county implementation first, he said.
“The county is looking at expanding services, like economic development,” he said. “Rather than competing, we should be working together.” The idea of shared services with BV and Pikwakanagan is important for NAW, he said. Since Pikwakangan is bringing in water and sewer, there could be the possibility of this expanding to Golden Lake, he said.
One issue council will continue to work on is the traffic problem on the Lake Dore Road/County Road 30 which has seen a tremendous increase in traffic following the opening of cannabis shops at Pikakwanagan. Mayor Brose said he was especially pleased to see the OPP doing a ride check on the road during the holiday season.
The municipality is also budgeting for a second electronic speed sign which would be used on the Lake Dore Road.
“We believe it has helped a lot on Lett’s Cemetery Road,” he added.
In the hamlet of Golden Lake, NAW council is continuing to push for a traffic light because of the sharp increase in traffic. Although they have not heard back from the province yet, the mayor said he will keep pressuring and expects this to be on the agenda when the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) comes to Renfrew County Council in the next months.
“There has to be some follow up,” he said.
At some point the fire department will be hosting an open house in Golden Lake so the public can see the renovations to the fire hall there. Mayor Brose said this would be done either in person or virtually depending on what would be passible with COVID-19 regulations.
As well, the fire department is continuing to work on training members for heavy extrication and this will be especially important for anyone traveling in the municipality. At a cost of around $50,000 this was a major expenditure for the small department.
“We have the equipment now and we want to have our volunteers trained,” he said.
Mayor Brose said 2020 may be remembered as the year of COVID-19 and all the negative effects it had on all aspects of society, but he will also remember it as the year all members of NAW council understood the true meaning of council solidarity. He admitted there were times an outsider might have thought the debates would lead to division of council that plagued previous NAW councils, but those fissures never took place.
“Council understands the importance of recognizing once a decision has been made by council, then all of council accepts it and moves forward on to the next issue,” he said. “To me, that speaks to the maturity of council and that has been a huge improvement and that is something that as head of council I am proud of, and each council member is to be complimented for that.”
He also commended staff for their dedication and commitment to the delivery of services, both in terms of efficiency, and respect for the residents.
“There have been many positive changes with our staffing because for a long time it seemed like all we were doing was putting out fires and that kept us away from the business of running the township,” he said. “Now we are able to do all the progressive things instead of our time being diverted somewhere else dealing with different crises.”
Mayor Brose credits the leadership of current CAO Andrew Sprunt as one reason why he decided to run for office after four tumultuous years as a councilor in the previous council.
“We had a very experienced and well-rounded CAO in place who had worked in different municipalities in different parts of the country and he came with a wealth of experience and knowledge,” Mayor Brose pointed out. “That experience not only helped with staff, but it also helped with council by providing better direction and support.”
His biggest disappointment in 2020 was the inability to host large recreational events due to COVID-19.
“Our whole Canada Day was virtual, we couldn’t do the sugar bush set up within our municipality this year, there was no Santa Claus parade or Halloween bike ride and for our recreation committee, it was disheartening because they really enjoyed getting involved, especially with the incredibly successful Easter Egg Hunt at Shaw Woods,” he said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader