North Huron reviews final draft of strategic plan
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
At a special meeting on Friday, Oct. 20, North Huron Council received a presentation of an updated draft of the 2024-2027 strategic plan, which was presented by Rob Browning of Capstone Solutions, Inc.
The township has employed Capstone to aid in the development of its four-year strategic plan, which is intended to provide direction and assist with future decision-making from 2024 to 2027. The plan is an outline of North Huron’s vision, mission, values, principles, goals and actions for the near future.
Preceding his presentation was a summary of the budget and strategic planning survey results, which was brought before council by CAO Dwayne Evans and Director of Finance Chris Townes for information purposes. The survey was recently made available online, at libraries, and at public meetings and town halls, in an effort to ascertain what North Huron residents want to see prioritized so that the strategic plan could be adjusted to suit community needs, and to aid in the formation of the 2024 budget. The survey was a mix of multiple choice and written response questions. Forty-seven completed surveys were turned in.
The majority of participants cited property taxes as their main concern, followed by infrastructure and development. Just over 82 per cent of participants responded in the negative to the question of whether they felt they were getting good value for their tax dollars, meaning that only 17.8 per cent felt they were. Public comments collected from the survey indicated a desire for sidewalk repair, bike lanes and more child care. The least important areas of development cited were exploring public transit links to major hubs, adding electric vehicle charging stations and updating digital processes. The entire results of the survey are available on North Huron’s website.
Evans offered his interpretation of the meaning of the survey results and the public sentiments expressed at the recent town hall meeting in Belgrave. While the majority of those surveyed advocated against any additional money being spent on municipal projects, the top three services suggested for increased funding were public works, daycare, and bylaw enforcement. Evans stated that, “I’ve heard some comments that our bylaw services are built on a complaint system. We don’t proactively go out and patrol, but if we received a complaint, we research the complaint, and act on the complaint accordingly. Do we need to think about bylaw enforcement services in more of a proactive in terms of a bylaw enforcement walking the streets or going around the municipality enforcing property standards and enforcing parking?”
Councillor Mitch Wright suggested a hybrid approach to bylaw enforcement, commenting that, “for property standards, animal control, stuff like that, doing a complaint style response is fine… but if you get into things like parking bylaws, the person is gone by the time the complaint ever comes in.” Evans suggested a deeper conversation be had at a later date about potentially increasing the bylaw enforcement budget for 2024. Evans also pointed out that increasing fees and charges for services or decreasing service levels in pursuit of lower taxes would be desired by those surveyed. “If you think about the budget survey results, and then you think about the feedback you are getting on the strategic plan, there seems to be an alignment coming through. Daycare is coming through. Fees and charges are coming through. Waste reduction is coming through there. You’re starting to see an alignment.”
Wright questioned Evans’ interpretation of the language used in the survey, asking, ”What do you think they mean by waste reduction? That’s probably not physical waste, right? That’s probably wasted effort, wasted time?”
Evans countered that “if you want my thoughts on it, I think it has to do with our waste collection program. We don’t have composting… we get complaints from the public that our recycle bins are too small. You can go to much larger recycle bins, but there’s a cost associated with that. Perhaps if people had larger recycle bins, they would recycle more. I’m not saying that’s the case. I’m just throwing that out there in terms of waste reduction.” Deputy Reeve Kevin Falconer agreed that recycle bins could be larger.
That wasn’t the only debate conducted over the vagaries of language in the survey. Councillor Anita van Hittersum commented that the data indicating that citizens didn’t feel unsafe and did not want more money spent on policing was an indication of an underlying issue that she receives frequent complaints and comments about, saying, “What I hear, all the time, goes back to the very unfair difference between the policing costs… it’s the excessive amount that the people of East Wawanosh pay for policing.”
Evans went on to comment that the desire for less money to be spent on general governance was a sentiment directed specifically towards council, saying, “Too much governance. That can be in the context of political governance or administrative governance. We heard at the town hall public meeting that they’re saying it’s the size of our council. So what does governance mean in that context? Who knows?” Falconer pointed out that the public comments at the meeting were also directed towards staff, saying, “The response from the crowd was also on the amount of management it takes to run the municipality. I personally didn’t hear anybody complaining about how much they were going to save by changing the number of councillors there are, it was more on every manager had an assistant manager, and the assistant manager had two sub-managers… that was what I took out of it.”
Councillor Chris Palmer concurred, stating that, “That’s exactly how it came across. Maybe one person suggested cutting a couple of councillors, and it was suggested at the time that those savings would mean ‘zippo’ in terms of the overall budget.” Evans responded that the survey had not made clear which part of governance was being referred to.
Evans concluded his presentation by recommending that the public wants North Huron to continue supporting housing and daycare initiatives, investment in safety, and an evaluation of current spending in governance. Wright commented that staff had already begun taking the survey’s suggestion of increasing user fees without council’s recommendation, saying, “I’m wondering why staff is putting their energy into that when it wasn’t at the direction of council. And why specifically that thing?” Evans responded that it was a typical part of the staff’s annual review of fees that is done in preparation for budget season, but that all suggestions would be brought to council for their consideration, but that this year, “We need to do a deep dive into those fees and charges, so we as staff are going to do that and are in the process of doing that. We will be bringing that to you as council and you will have to decide the path we need to go or not.”
With the opinions of the public fresh in mind, council reviewed the strategic plan draft as presented by Browning and made changes that reflected the collected data. Council debated the weight of public input on various elements of the draft, and made the following revisions.
Van Hittersum put forth a motion to remove the exploration of public transportation opportunities from the plan, which was seconded by Councillor Lonnie Whitfield and then passed. She also put forth a motion to remove the part of the plan that would explore removing area rating for street lights, which was seconded by Palmer, but was defeated.