Approximately two years ago our newly elected council introduced their first budget. But when they introduced their second budget, it was immediately affected by things outside the municipal scope: a global pandemic, and the introduction of the province’s Official Plan (OP). By March 2020 COVID-19 hit. Simultaneously, the OP (for land use planning) included amendments that effectively deterred development and the expansion of housing. The OP restricted development on our municipality’s growth based on marginal population growth rate projections until 2036. The projections in this official plan would facilitate lower taxes where development of new housing was minimized.
People are coming
Madawaska Valley’s real-estate economy has grown exponentially and in between ‘lock-downs’ retail and essential services have been doing well. Though COVID-19 has placed a strain on our community, this municipality has become a ‘go to’ place because of, among other things, its pristine environment. This in turn has impacted our property values with increases. If our growth is stifled (by the OP), then we have to optimize the fact that people are coming here. It is important to recognize that the eventual increase in property tax does not originate from the municipality who has maintained moderate increases; it is because our property values are increasing. This economic reality is difficult for some and welcomed by others.
Provincial and municipal mandates — compared
The Ontario Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs states their mandate is, ‘to build safe and strong urban and rural communities with dynamic local economies, a high quality of life and affordable and suitable homes for everyone”
The Township of Madawaska Valley identifies its mission as mindful, prudent community driven policy to ensure a safe, clean, sustainable environment, a well maintained infrastructure system and community assets, a climate of acceptance, transparency and responsible growth. We pursue growth with consideration of short and long term implications so the integrity and character of our Township, its assets and natural amenities and people of all ages urban or rural are upheld. [Emphasis mine]
Over the next 12 months it is important for all of us to reflect on whether our council has facilitated:
- Community driven policy
- A safe, clean sustainable environment
- Maintenance of infrastructure/integrity of assets
- Climate of acceptance for all of its residents
- Transparency of government/governance
- The upholding of the integrity of our amenities and assets
- The upholding of individual people/people groups of all ages
The four strategic priorities of MV’s 2015 Strategic Plan “The Path Forward” were maintained in the March 2020 MV Corporate Priority – Recommendations Report:
- Open Communication and Governance
- Progressive and Growing Economy
- Healthy and Sustainable Community
- Efficient and Effective Township Services
Promised report card still awaited
An action item (E9) in the March 2020 MV Corporate Priority Recommendations specified an annual report card. This report card is to come from the Township itself. One year has passed since this recommendation and the third budget process is almost complete – without the promised report card.
What were we told the report card should cover? This is the promise in the Plan:
“E9: Inform residents, through an annual report card, on Township activities, e.g., how taxes are spent, new initiatives, successes and upcoming priorities.”
Examine Council’s evaluation and their promises, then hold them accountable
As residents we should all be mindful of how are tax dollars are being spent. People should look closely at three areas:
- Affordable housing (residents in past consultations placed a high value on this)
- Policies in place – are they following through on commitments?
- Get a close look at the internal review they committed to do. Then form your own opinion.
I encourage you first to reflect by:
- Reviewing the Township’s Civic Web files (agendas, minutes, bylaws) LINK: https://madawaskavalley.civicweb.net/Portal/
- Checking out the YouTube of Madawaska Valley Township Council meetings (recordings, live streams) LINK: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnCPy-1Aa3FJEekLAEgEwhQ/videos
- Visiting the Township website LINK: https://www.madawaskavalley.ca/
- Following local media such as The Madawaska Valley Current, Valley Gazette, MooseFM, the Eganville Leader, etc. in order to gather a broad perspective on government and governance in our community
- Closely reviewing the MV Township Report Card (promised in 2020) when released
As a former member of Council I advocated the long term benefits of development charges to bring financial resources to our Township. Additionally I saw value in the expansion of our water system for those who wanted to come on board if in close proximity to new development, so as to benefit municipal rate payers and redistribute the cost of the water system in the town of Barry’s Bay. With increased property taxes, the way our council moves forward is a critical factor in retaining affordable housing.
It is the electorate’s responsibility to hold the municipality accountable. You also need to be mindful of provincial context — as your market value goes up, affordable housing becomes more elusive.
I encourage you to speak out and share your observations about how your elected officials have progressed with the priority agendas of the electorate. Your observations can fill the void created by the missing report card.
Editor’s note:Taxpayers have so far paid about $12,000 for professional input into the updated Township strategic plan. On the Township website there is a two-page list of priorities and a seven-page report that provides a little more detail. Do you feel it is value for money? So far Council has not formally adopted the updated plan, nor released the promised report card. The Current invites you to comment about these issues, either by a letter to the editor (email to email@example.com) or in the Reply section below.
Note: The section entitled People are coming in this article was amended May 6 to substitute the word “values” for “taxes” so as to read “This in turn has impacted our property values with increases.”