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County has 2020 vision for a strong year

Council members and staff listen to Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson give his New Year’s Levee address in the Macaulay Museum.

Story and photos by Olivia Timm
On the heels of a rewarding year with unexpected challenges, Mayor Steve Ferguson says the County “has emerged stronger, more focused and better prepared.”

Pipe Major Josh McFarlane leading Mayor Steve Ferguson and council to the levee address.

Ferguson welcomed community members to the Macaulay Museum for his New Year’s Levee, Sunday and in his address, said he was pleased with accomplishments and looks forward to 2020 with a cohesive, unified council.

“When we took office in December 2018, I stressed the importance of working together as a team for the betterment of all of Prince Edward County, not just our individual wards. That challenge has been met admirably, and I thank them for the cooperative spirit they demonstrated throughout 2019.”

While 2019 was a rewarding year in many ways, Ferguson said it was accompanied by unexpected challenges such as the high water levels and changes to key senior management positions.

Along with municipal leaders from Cornwall to Port Hope, Ferguson said he will continue to lobby the International Joint Commission and federal and provincial partners to achieve water reductions in Lake Ontario, in response to extreme flooding in 2017 and 2019, and expected for this year.

County CAO Marcia Wallace with Mayor Steve Ferguson

Ferguson introduced Marcia Wallace, who took over as the new Chief Administrative Officer in December, following the retirement of acting CAO Robert McAuley.

“Marcia leads a staff complement of 291 that is passionate about serving the residents, businesses, and visitors to Prince Edward County. Day in and day out, our staff carry out their duties and responsibilities with tremendous effort and dedication.”

Council and staff greet the public attending the levee

Moving into 2020, Ferguson wants to engage the community to “move forward together and understand the many different perspectives and challenges.”

He invites residents to join him at coming Town Hall meetings to be held in locations throughout the County, with members of council and staff.

“These will be casual, relaxed affairs but 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. I encourage you to get involved this year and plan to attend the meetings. Ask yourself: ‘How can I make this community a better place to live, work, and play to help Prince Edward County achieve its full potential.’”

“We are ready to face 2020 as a more stable, strategic organization to deliver the quality service that County residents and businesses require,” he said. “In the next couple of weeks, we will refresh our strategic priorities and chart the path for 2020 and beyond.”

Budget deliberations are scheduled for the last week of January.

“Drafting a multi-million-dollar budget is never an easy task. And I expect this year will be no different, especially given that municipalities across Ontario are being asked to do more with less in 2020 and beyond. We are looking to find savings within our own operations in order to limit the impact on all of us as taxpayers. Part of that process will involve reviews of our departments, our by-laws, our procedures and our policies, including those involving council.

He noted tourism remains the largest employer and fastest growing industry in the County with an estimated 750,000 visitors in 2019.

Ferguson said the County will continue to pursue additional revenue streams through the introduction of a Municipal Accommodation Tax this year, and through a gate levy at the provincial parks.

“Council is committed to being responsible stewards of County dollars. We are looking at what can be done in the short-term to respond to current challenges, but not losing sight of the longer term issues that will be important to the County’s future. Fostering a strong financial foundation and becoming more efficient and innovative will allow us to better deliver the services that matter to people and really focus on tackling the key priorities. ”

Building permits remained steady, representing up to $5 million in investment, as well as a variety of housing projects at various stages of development, amounting to about 2,350 units.

Another key priority for the new year is to tackle environmental and climate change issues through the reconstituted environmental advisory committee focusing its effort on community learning and awareness.

He also pleased with movement with the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation directors appointed in 2019. “These community-minded individuals have the skills, experience, connections, and lived experience required to make a real impact on this pressing issue,” he said.

The municipality has also approached the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board with a request to take over the former Queen Elizabeth School property in Picton.

“The opportunity to acquire such a large, strategic parcel of municipally serviced land in the heart of Picton does not come along very often. We want to ensure people have a place to live in Prince Edward County, throughout their lives.”

Long-term care is part of the housing priority for council. In June, the provincial government announced a commitment to adding 76 new long-term care beds at the H.J. McFarland Home, and to upgrade the existing 84 beds.

“Also, on the health care front, the provincial government’s budget made a specific commitment to working with Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital to move forward the redevelopment project. We owe our gratitude to Minister Todd Smith for continuing to champion this crucial initiative.”

The levee was attended by Smith, Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, and Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison, as well as Rick Phillips, Reeve of Tyendinaga Township and Hastings County Warden and Marg Isbester, Mayor of Greater Napanee and Warden for Lennox and Addington County.

Ferguson also acknowledged the many volunteers “who put so much time and effort into the agricultural, heritage, social service and cultural organizations that really are the lifeblood of our community.”

Ferguson noted the municipality has also been directly lobbying ministries at both the provincial and federal levels for infrastructure funding, including assistance to redevelop County Road 49 and improve other vital assets.

“I have taken every opportunity to advance the interests of Prince Edward County with upper levels of government and other agencies, and I will continue to do so in 2020 whether at conferences or individual meetings… Ultimately, I am convinced that our opportunities are far greater than our challenges.”

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