Public sets the agenda at “town hall” meeting in Flesherton

A crowd of about 30 or more people gathered in the Kinplex on Tuesday, Feb. 20 to ask questions of council and share their ideas.

As has been usual at the town hall forums, it was also a chance for complaints to be aired, and opinions shared.

“We’re here to listen,” Paul McQueen, mayor of Grey Highlands said at the outset.

FLESHERTON FLING

Right off the top, Carol Wood, an organizer of the Flesherton Fling, reminded council that the group needs an answer on requested funding which pays for a large tent.

Requests from community groups were left to the budget process this year, rather than being decided at a regular council meeting after a committee review.

The budget hasn’t been passed, but to book the tent the organizers need a commitment. The cost was $1,400 last year – “I can’t find that easily around town,” Ms Wood said.

Already, the community volunteers, and the local businesses and the Chamber support the event. “We need the municipality to be there for us.”

Deputy Mayor Dane Nielsen said that council has decided to review how the Community Grant program works. For 2024, the draft budget has cut the amount to $50,000 from $75,000, he said.

Replied Ms Wood, “Hopefully, it will turn from a question mark to an exclamation mark.”

ARENAS

Reid Dennison of Flesherton said that the master recreation plan showed Grey Highlands was “heavily over-extended” with its ice surfaces.

The Deputy Mayor replied by saying that no decisions have been made. Council is still waiting on some 30 reports it asked staff to bring back in relation to the master rec plan.

“The goal is to have a conversation as a council and as a community.”

At that point, some Markdale arena supporters mentioned that in addition to the recent emails council received, a popular petition is circulating, with some 1,700 names.

Coun. Tom Allwood said that Council’s request to staff was to find a further two percent budget cut. Closing down the Markdale ice surface at the end of this season was part of staff’s response.

“Council gave no direction to staff to move that issue forward,” he said.

The Mayor observed that the suggestion “has hit a nerve”.

Elaine Smyth questioned the idea of closing the ice surface. “Have we really exhausted all options?” she asked.

Observing that community halls and areas “belong to all of us”, she suggested a think tank group to explore ideas like corporate sponsorship.

Councillors Nadia Dubyk and Joel Loughead agreed that there may be other avenues for revenue, such as a social enterprise that donates its profits back.

One of the younger people in attendance, said, “Grey Highlands is a special place.” He said that a big part of the community is its arenas, and questioned the value of the recreation plan.

KING EDWARD PARK

Cynthia Smith spoke about fundraising being done for a splashpad – “somewhere in Markdale but hopefully in King Edward Park because it has been a community hub.”

Coun. Tom Allwood is a council liaison to the committee, and raised the point that “there are a lot of competing interests for King Edward Park.”

He said it’s a great opportunity for the community, but a “piecemeal approach” might create problems.

To the suggestion that a local group look after the process, Coun. Dan Wickens said he would welcome a group that would take the lead. Coun. Paul Allen agreed.

APPRAISALS

Resident Richard Frisby said most people in the room have tightened their belt due to the tighter economy, and asked council to do the same.

He asked that the proposed 8.85 percent increase to local taxation be brought more in keeping with inflation, and took aim at what he called “too many staff.” He also observed that the public is obviously upset about Talisman.

Former deputy mayor Aakash Desai, who now works for Southgate in asset management, had a different view.

“I don’t think you lack fiscal sense,” he said, “I think you’ve been dealt a tough hand.”

Mr. Desai said council budgets are influenced not by the consumer price index, but the non-residential building construction price index, which is close to 10 percent.

Dave Meslin thanked council for doing a tough job. He said that he would like to see more signage for turtle crossings in place before the spring.

John Butler of Portlaw said he wanted to point out two things the municipality was doing right: first that it was active on issues related to climate changes, and second, that it was willing to build bridges with community by events like the town hall.

“One of the great things about Grey Highlands is that people don’t agree with each other – it’s not a flaw, it’s an asset,” he said.

OTHER ISSUES

Stephen Griggs pointed the bridge study in last week’s council agenda and challenged them to “think more broadly and more creatively.” That might mean load restrictions or other measures.

Karen Alton brought forward the needs of pickleball players for a space to play. “It is on our radar,” Mayor McQueen answered. The Pickleball Club of Grey Highlands has delegated to council.

One woman said, “I love my garbage and recycling bins – I’d also like a green bin.” The Mayor said the municipality is working on that possibility.

Barry Croft said that the elimination of street parking in the Amik subdivision was good, if overdue. “You’re starting to help your operators.”

The mayor also reminded those attending of upcoming events, including the Rodeo and the South Grey Chamber Home & Garden Show.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Flesherton Advance