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Council eyes 2020 priorities with public and political engagement

Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson introduces the municipality’s new CAO Marcia Wallace to former mayor Leo Finnegan and fellow Rotarians Elizabeth Crombie and Barb Proctor.

Just two weeks into the new year, Mayor Steve Ferguson is pleased with the flurry of activity under way for council and municipal staff, and with plans for public and political engagement.

Ferguson was invited to update Picton Rotary Club members on the state of the County as he hadn’t been a guest there since election campaigning in 2018.

He noted the first two weeks of 2020 have included council and other meetings and month end will be the kick-off of budget deliberations.

“We have also participated in Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus and Mayors Caucus meetings, met with several ministers of the provincial government and next week, we will meet more ministers at the ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipal Association) meeting in Toronto.

Mayor Steve Ferguson

“We are certainly not easing into the new year,” said Ferguson. “After getting our feet under us as a new council in 2019, and dealing with staff and organizational changes in administration, we have a strong sense of where we want to go in 2020.”

Council and municipal staff are greeting 2020 optimistically, he said, with a plan “to act expeditiously, yet prudently over the next 12 months, to move the municipality forward.”

Challenges confronting the community remain at the forefront of priorities adopted by council last week, he said, – including financial sustainability, infrastructure, the economy, housing and adapting to climate change.

As part of the process of developing initiatives and actions for each, Ferguson said County residents and businesses will be encouraged to become part of the discussions.

‘What does success look like to you in each of these priority areas?’ is the question staff and council members will pose to the public over the next few months at a series of Town Hall meetings throughout the County.

“These will be relaxed affairs where you will have an opportunity to ask questions and chat casually with me, councillors and senior staff,” said Ferguson. “We want to hear directly from you about your concerns and your ideas to make positive changes that will support County residents, businesses and visitors.”

The County’s priorities will drive decisions for spending its finite resources, said Ferguson, noting that like other municipalities the County faces fiscal constraints.

“We receive insufficient funds from the provincial and federal governments to maintain core infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and water and wastewater treatment facilities. Furthermore, the provincial government has signaled to municipalities that it expects us to ‘manage more, with less.'”

The municipality has begun to pursue additional revenue streams, such as adding a municipal accommodation tax, and a gate levy at the provincial parks, recently discussed with MPPs Todd Smith and Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Ferguson said talks with upper levels of government will continue through individual meetings and conferences.

At next week’s ROMA conference in Toronto, Ferguson will lead a delegation to meet with provincial members of education, transportation, health and long-term care, natural resources and forestry and municipal affairs and housing.

“Financial constraints, affordable housing and the environment are just a few of the complex issues we will face in 2020,” said Ferguson.

With the delegation will be the County’s new CAO Marcia Wallace, who began living and working in the County in December. Ferguson introduced her to Rotarians and noted she brings expertise on both sides of the issues, having most recently served as the former Assistant Deputy Minister with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Wallace, he said, has already proved to be “an outstanding addition to the County. She has already improved inter-departmental communication, is proving to be responsive to council requests and transparent in leading the implementation of council decisions.”

Council and staff, he noted, are also “preparing for the worst while hoping for the best” as high water levels are becoming the new normal on the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario.

With no simple solution to flooding along the County’s hundreds of kilometres of shoreline, Ferguson said staff are now working on feasibility of building up roads most at risk of flooding and evaluating distribution of sandbags and debris bins.

“Water levels receded through the fall but remain 18 inches above average for this time of year,” he noted. “I, along with fellow mayors from Cornwall to Port Hope, continue to lobby the International Joint Commission and our federal and provincial partners to achieve water reductions.”

As threats to the natural environment are top of mind for the community, Ferguson is pleased the reconstituted environmental advisory committee will be up and running within the month.

Ferguson thanked Rotarians, and the County’s many other community organizations for helping the County’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Council and staff can’t do this alone. You are helping to build stronger, more resilient communities by putting service above self. I commend you for the ongoing leadership you demonstrate, year-in, and year-out.”

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