Further civic engagement, lobbying upper levels of government on a host of issues and viewing unique challenges as opportunities for growth, development and a ramp to prosperity were the themes of Mayor Steve Ferguson’s remarks at the annual County of Prince Edward’s New Year’s Levee on Sunday.
Attendance at Sunday’s meet and greet was somewhat muted at around 100 souls which likely owes to the facts of a) the shindig being a mid-term levee as well as b) a hockey game of some sort of substance being played opposite the New Year’s tradition hosted mid-afternoon at Macaulay Heritage Museum
Nevertheless, a good cross section of local constituents and visiting dignitaries turned up to meet Ferguson, council as well as a number of County of Prince Edward senior staffers including new Chief Administrative Officer Marcia Wallace.
Ferguson recalled the accomplishments and challenges met by the municipality in 2019 and outlined what was in store for Prince Edward County ratepayers in 2020 and beyond.
With Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison, Mayor of the Town of Greater Napanee and Warden for Lennox and Paddington County Marg Isbester, Hastings County and Reeve of the Township of Tyendinaga Rick Philips, Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis and Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith listening on, the Mayor spoke of collaboration between all partners in the Quinte area -particularly in the case of the rising waters of Lake Ontario that have the potential to devastate local economies and cause the ruination of thousands of kilometres of shoreline property.
“2019 was a rewarding year in many ways, but it was accompanied by unexpected challenges such as the high water levels we faced as well as some changes to key senior management positions,” Ferguson said. “But we have emerged stronger, more focused and better prepared to address not only the challenges of 2020 but also those of the decade ahead.”
Ferguson, along with fellow municipal leaders from Cornwall to Port Hope, continue to lobby the International Joint Commission and federal and provincial partners to achieve water reductions in Lake Ontario in response to the extreme flooding experienced in 2017 and 2019 and Ferguson acknowledges Mayor Harrison’s key role in this undertaking.
Housing remains an issue in Prince Edward County but the Mayor was pleased with an uptick in construction activity in 2019 which saw an increase of building permit applications over 2018.
“This represents up to $5 million in investment in our municipality. In addition, a variety of housing projects are at various stages of development amounting to about 2,350 units,” he said.
Tourism remains the largest employer and fastest growing industry in Prince Edward County and will remain a critical part of the local economy as an estimated 750,000 visitors came to Prince Edward County in 2019.
A number of new businesses and innovative attractions sprang up in 2019 and the Mayor noted the new escape room next door at Macaulay House that proved popular with visitors, generating $11,000 in profit for the County Museums and giving the public a new way to experience County history.
The renovated Armoury in Picton also welcomed its new tenants this year, many of them new businesses.
“And the Royal Hotel will open its doors to the public -‘soonish’,” Ferguson quipped.
“Both of these projects utilized the talents of local businesses and tradespeople and will continue to do so in the future. We are grateful to the owners of these heritage landmarks for their considerable investments in their preservation,” the Mayor said.
One very large group the mayor acknowledged on Sunday were the volunteers of Prince Edward County who put so much time and effort into the agricultural, heritage, social service, and cultural organizations that are the lifeblood of the community.
“An example are the dozens of people who applied for positions on our advisory committees, many of whom now play an active role on assisting council to make informed decisions,” Ferguson said.
To illustrate the importance of Advisory Committees, the Mayor singled out the members of the Agricultural Advisory Committee who organized a tour of several County farming operations for members of council this past August.
“This increased our understanding and awareness of the needs and challenges faced by this dominant sector of our economy,” the mayor said. “Many of you here today volunteer in some way or other, including Sandy Latchford and the Friends of the Museums groups providing today’s refreshments. Thank you all so very much.”
Looking ahead, the Mayor said municipal government is ready to face 2020 as a more stable, strategic organization to deliver “the quality service that County residents and businesses require” and that council will refresh strategic priorities and chart the path for the coming year and beyond.
With those conversations fresh in the minds of councillors, the members of the horseshoe will move into budget deliberations during the final week of January.
The Mayor said drafting a multi-million-dollar budget is never an easy task and expects the forthcoming budget planning exercise will be no different in the context 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,” Ferguson said. “Part of that process will involve reviews of our departments, our by-laws, our procedures and our policies, including those involving council. We are also going to look for ways to be more effective and efficient with the resources we do spend.”
While one funding stream might dwindle, the municipality is hopeful for other streams to flow. The County of Prince Edward will continue to pursue additional revenue streams through the introduction of a Municipal Accommodation Tax this year and through a gate levy at Sandbanks and North Beach Provincial Parks recently discussed with MPP Smith and Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek.
Ferguson said council is committed to being responsible stewards of County dollars and are looking at both short term issues and long term challenges and developing appropriate strategies for both.
“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. We need to keep working and building on our recent successes,” said Ferguson.
A reconstituted Environmental Advisory Committee will be formed and meeting by the end of the month and will focus its effort on providing opportunities for community learning and awareness on issues such as climate change, pesticides, and water and energy conservation measures.
The Mayor said he was honoured to be invited by Lt. Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell to attend a meeting in December with her and mayors from throughout Ontario to discuss environmental and climate change issues and the Mayor spoke of how the EAC will inform council on environmental measures of the day.
In relation to the attainable and affordable housing issue facing Prince Edward County and its residents, the newly formed Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation focuses on increasing the supply of affordable rental housing in our community through a broad range of activities. The first directors were appointed in 2019 and the Mayor said these community-minded individuals have the skills, experience, connections, and lived experience required to make a real impact on this pressing issue.
“And we are not dissuaded by a challenge; in fact, we love challenges. The municipality has approached Hastings Prince Edward District School Board and asked it to consider our request to take over the former Queen Elizabeth School property in Picton,” said the Mayor. “I believe this property should be used to address critical needs of the community such as affordable housing. The opportunity to acquire such a large, strategic parcel of municipally serviced land in the heart of Picton does not come along very often.”
Council wants to ensure people have a place to live in Prince Edward County throughout their lives and long-term care is part of that housing continuum.
In June, the Ministry of Long-Term Care announced its commitment to add 76 new long-term care beds at H.J. McFarland Memorial Home and upgrade the 84 existing beds. With this support, the municipality will “redevelop the facility to serve more people and enhance the care offered in a warm, welcoming, and modern environment.”
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 Smith for continuing to champion this crucial initiative. An announcement concerning moving to Stage 3 of the redevelopment process is overdue but expected at any time- Like right now, if Todd is so inclined,” The Mayor said with a smile in MPP Smith’s direction.
While local health infrastructure is being enhanced and redeveloped, the state of physical infrastructure is not lost on council.
Being a strong advocate for our municipality is one of the commitments Ferguson has made to the community and Mayor’s office has 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 such as the one I had on Friday with MP Ellis about Lake Ontario water levels and our need for financial support through the federal government.”
Finally, the Mayor said 2020 will provide more opportunity for concerned constuients to bring their issues to municipal government in a relaxed and casual setting.
“We want to continue working together with you. As we move forward together as a County, it is also important that we understand the different perspectives and challenges faced in different parts of the community. To that end, we will be implementing scheduled Town Hall meetings, to be held in locations rotating around the County where I will be joined by Members of Council and members of the Leadership team,” the Mayor said. “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.”
“Ultimately, I am convinced that our opportunities are far greater than our challenges,” the Mayor added, stating all of council are united by the desire to do more and get more done in the duration of the term.
“In closing, and one year into the job, I would like to say what an honour and privilege it is to be the Mayor of Prince Edward County,” he said. “Much has already been done but there is a great deal more to do. But I believe the future of our County is extraordinarily bright.”