First term on Council is an important and essential learning process. To become an effective Councillor it’s important to learn more about Paris and the County, about the needs and wants of the community and local businesses, about the Municipal Act and other key provincial legislation, about the procedural practices of conducting and participating in Council and Standing Committee meetings. I liken it to serving an apprenticeship! I now feel much more qualified and can be much more effective in a second term.
2 issues have been the source of most community input and concern – the extent and pace of residential development in Paris, and traffic volume and safety.
Together with the other Paris Councillors I have been a strong advocate of moderation of the pace of development and we introduced measures to both effect the pace of development and to ensure our infrastructure is keeping pace. I probably have the strongest voting record of all Councillors in pushing to limit or moderate pace of development. In many cases, our efforts are met with developers stepping over Council and appealing to the Ontario Land Tribunal. I have been vocal in supporting a strong , definitive new Official Plan that meets targets set by the Province for population and employment but does not go beyond. This has brought the Council into conflict with developers that desire to build in Paris to levels which exceed provincial targets. Again our stance in our new Official Plan has been appealed. Our new Official Plan also sensibly directs new industrial and commercial developments to the 403 corridor. And at the time of writing this blog the Provincial Government has been sitting on our final draft for 9 months! A lesson in politics for us all.
On traffic volume and safety much has been done but more needs to be done. The improvements to Rest Acres Road and King Edward Street are essentially complete and provide sufficient capacity and control to support the developments in the south west of Paris. Work has commenced in Falkland to prepare for a future Bishopsgate Road junction at the 403. We have introduced Brant Safe Streets Strategy – around the County you will see speed digital monitors to alert drivers to their speed, we have reduced speed limits in critical areas (e.g. around schools) and added many other traffic control measures including speed humps. We have added 2 dedicated OPP traffic officers and we, together with OPP, have directed them to priority areas as identified by the Community.
Other important infrastructure projects supported by Paris Councillors include the urbanization of Cedar Street, the upgrading of Laurel Street and a 3rd water tower to strengthen water supplies and pressure in SW Paris. We also lent support to the Paris Downtown Master Plan (to be implemented in 2023 onwards) and the replacement of the Paris Lawn Bowling Clubhouse which will provide a new home for the Paris Seniors Club.
I have been personally involved in the development of the Cowan Community Health Hub in Paris. I was a part of a team with BME, County staff, healthcare providers and contractors that brought a vision of a one stop shop, integrated, state of the art healthcare facility for our County to realization. And it was done without any impact to property tax rates and in timely manner given the covid pandemic impact on the construction business.
The impact of the Covid pandemic played a huge role in how Council operated in this term – no former County of Brant Council has had to improvise and respond as this Council has. I believe the County has managed well through the pandemic. In my role as Chair of the Board of Health I had an inside view of the medical challenges and can only offer my gratitude to the staff of the Health Unit for their efforts to vaccinate our community and to try to maintain as much of their normal program of healthcare to our community as resources permitted.
Together with other Council colleagues I have pushed for more affordable housing – the new 49 unit Trillium Way addition is a great first step. The challenge of providing more affordable housing falls to the municipal and not for profit sectors – our role in County Council is vital. Much more to do!
I pushed for a shift in the balance of fixed and variable charges in our water bills. I had some success which will benefit lower volume users. And at the same time I supported the expansion of the the water treatment plant in Paris to provide sufficient capacity for current and future developments.
In this term Council has managed budgets well and within the rates of inflation in Ontario. This is, in part, achievable because of the growth in our County and associated tax revenues. Again, playing a role in managing the County budgeting process has been a big part of the learning journey.