1. Greenspace and the Parks
This past year, Council was presented with a motion to rezone the Maynard Park to residential zoning and to sell the lots for funds to increase facilities at Gemmill Park. There was storm of opposition from the residents. The matter was voted on four times by Council. My position each time was that green space was important for Almonte and that once sold, we would never get that green space back again. Since the ratepayers had told us that they wanted to keep the park, I voted in favour of keeping the park. When the vote was taken, there were four councillors, Paul Watters, Jane Torrance, Alex Gillis and myself who voted to keep the park. We were outvoted and the lots were rezoned. The matter has been appealed to the OMB and we are waiting for a decision. It is unlikely that council will be able to sell the lots before the election. Tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on legal fees fighting this OMB hearing. This is a waste of money. I am proposing that Mississippi Mills withdraws from the OMB hearing to allow the lots to go back to parkland.
If elected, I will continue to oppose any sale of the lots. Regardless of the OMB outcome, I will make a motion to rezone Maynard Park back to parkland which, if successful, will prevent the park from being sold for residential development.
2. The Trail through Almonte
When the CPR decided to stop the trains, it also decided to sell the train tracks to the Counties. As a result, Lanark County took ownership of the trail that runs through the whole county, including the track through Almonte. The County sent Mississippi Mills council its proposal which included allowing motorized vehicles on the trail. Shortly before our response was required, a motion was brought at Mississippi Mills Council to ban all motorized vehicles from the trail within the whole of Mississippi Mills. The concern was for the safety of residents who would want to use the trail as pedestrians, cyclists and cross country skiers. The Mayor and Jane Torrance went to County Council to voice these concerns and ask that in Almonte, motorized vehicles not be allowed. The County looked at all the factors, including that the project for the trail includes the County of Renfrew and Nipisssing District and voted to keep motorized vehicles on the whole stretch of trail in Lanark County. However, the County allowed Mississippi Mills six months to come up with an alternate route for motorized vehicles to go around the town of Almonte. That was the only concession the County would make. There was little else Mississippi Mills could do since the County owns the trail.
Proposals were put forward and seriously considered by Mississippi Mills Council. One proposal was that the trail should go up Queen Street past the liquor store and then up Martin Street past the high school. When reviewed with the OPP, this plan was discouraged due to the fact that this is the area of highest motor vehicle accidents in the town. I wanted the safest course for the residents of this town and voted to not change the route to Martin Street and Queen Street.
Other proposals were looked at including one that went through the Burnt Lands and over to Blakeney. This would have cost an enormous amount of money and would have required acquisition of lands, surveys and possible expropriations. It would have meant an increase in taxes for the whole municipality. Again, I did not see this as a practical solution. One other proposal was to re-route the trail onto County Road 29 up to Blakeney. Again the OPP did a report expressing safety concerns. In the end, there did not seem to be a safe alternative route for vehicle use of the trail.
The County has decided to operate the trail for two years and then to assess the situation. The County has said that it is going to release a set of trail use rules before the 15th of September. These rules will set speed limits, signage, types of vehicles allowed and general rules. In particular we have been advised that dirt bikes will not be allowed due to noise.
The width of the trail is twelve feet – wide enough for a train to move with space on both sides of it. How that twelve feet is used is going to be the subject Council can discuss with recommendations for the County to consider.
I have looked at what other communities have planned and propose that Council keep this as an ongoing issue until we find a compromise solution that works. This is an issue that has the potential to divide Mississippi Mills between those who agree with the trail allowing motorized vehicles and those who do not. We cannot let that happen. I want this to be a win-win situation by finding a compromise that both sides find acceptable.
Enforcement of the Rules: The Police Committee of Mississippi Mills has expressed our concern to the OPP for the need for proper policing of the trail. Once we know what the County rules are going to be, Mississippi Mills can decide if we need to enact further by-laws regarding the use of the trail. I encourage all residents to use the trail often and to report to the OPP at their non- emergency business number any time an infringement takes place. If the OPP gets enough calls, they will give more dedicated policing of the trail. I also encourage residents to email councillors and the County about any problems with the use of the trail so that we can respond.
3. Street congestion, infrastructure and the bike lanes
The bike lanes are an experiment that failed. Right now most parents of small children are requiring their children to bike on the sidewalks. I agree that this is the safest course. Older children and adults should be advised to use the back streets as a safe alternative to bike lanes. There is a proposal now for bike lanes to go along Sadler Drive from Ottawa Street past the Tim Horton’s. This is a bike lane that would go nowhere since Sadler Drive is a dead end street. When there is a safer alternative of biking up a back street that has greatly reduced traffic, it is hard to support bike lanes on busy streets that will be inherently dangerous.
Mississippi Mills Council needs to look at the streets in Mississippi Mills and improve various busy intersections to make the community safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. This will require some coordination with the County as some of our streets are county streets. We need to be vocal at the County level and bring the focus to what we need for our community at appropriate times.
We must continue to replace the bridges that are on the established, budgeted program and keep our infrastructure modern and working well. This will keep Mississippi Mills a great place to live and a great place to visit.
4. Municipal Taxes and Municipal Spending
While we would all like to promise that we can reduce municipal taxes, it is not likely going to happen if the Town is going to continue to have services that we are accustomed to having. We can expect taxes to go up with inflation. Nevertheless, Council needs to address areas of expenditure that are wasteful. Right now, spending money on legal fees at the OMB hearing to try to sell lots which were parkland is wasteful and unnecessary.
Even if the town is successful at the OMB, the money spent to be represented by a law firm at the OMB must come out of any funds earned by selling the lots. It is not the windfall that certain councillors anticipated when the idea of selling parkland was first proposed. Councillors need to be mindful of how expensive it can be if the Town is involved in a legal fight.
Having been a lawyer for 18 years and having made several appearances in front of the OMB, I am aware of the cost of this procedure.
5. Public Involvement in Municipal Decisions
Problems arose this past term due to the process of Municipal decision making. There was no adequate procedure for public input in the decision making process on major issues.
For important issues, there should be open committees made up of residents and councillors. There should be notices to the public of meetings so that matters can be discussed openly at the committee level with adequate pubic input before being discussed at a Council Meeting. In this way, residents could be heard and concerns could be addressed long before a vote at Council is being considered on any major issue.
Let’s keep Mississippi Mills a great place for all residents to live – rural and urban- and find ways of using our beautiful resources to the mutual benefit of all.