Council needs a simple 2018-22 road map
Here are my thoughts on four stops that should be on that tour
We’ve done our duty and a new mayor and council are ready to take office in a few more weeks.
The majority of those who did vote clearly voted for change and some refreshing change is what we now have in the offing.
All of the candidates have their own ideas on what they want to achieve over the next four years. It will be the mayor’s task to try to build a consensus among the group on ways to achieve some or all of them, something I know she is eager to work on.
What they should not do, though, is become overwhelmed with an unmanageable list of priorities, because history shows that doesn’t bring success. Instead, they should focus on a handful of things to achieve by the end of term – a simple list that voters can use as a report card on their efforts come the next election.
Here are four things that I would put on that list. First: the waterfront. It is our most prized possession after all, even though most of it isn’t Cornwall’s, yet. The timeline for transferring the land is in the federal government’s hands, so beyond our control. Ideally, it’s within the next four years. Consultants are already busy gathering inputs for a report on what use can be made of the land.
Council itself should really focus its efforts elsewhere to begin with. It is unlikely the land will come to the city without some strings attached and those strings will most likely involve Akwesasne. Akwesasne will have little interest in throwing a wrench into the city ’s plans or in acquiring the land for itself, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have an interest in the process.
So, there needs to be some early political understanding with Akwesasne on what sort of use would be acceptable to and benefit both communities. That may not be an easy process, but it is a critical first step regardless. Some of it may be underway, but it needs to be brought out into the open.
Second: the infrastructure deficit.
As we learned over the past year, there is a backlog of road, street and sidewalk repairs in the order of $40 million. Having some level of backlog is a useful part of work programming, but the size in this case is not healthy.
It suggests we will face a significant number of bumpy, broken roads forever, with an ensuing impact on car and tire maintenance and, possibly, a contributing factor in road collisions. It also leaves a bad impression on people or businesses showing an interest in our city.
Even though some work has been done this year, more roads, etc. are being added to the list so the backlog remains about the same. Reducing it to a more manageable size should be a long-term goal.
A good short-term goal would be to reduce the backlog by 10 per cent over the course of the next four years. That is not unmanageable – it means finding an extra $1 million per year to add to the infrastructure budget or 1.6 per cent of the overall budget.
Third: police and fire service wages.
Even though Coun. Mark MacDonald will no longer be around to harp on salary issues related to these two services, the fact remains salaries are and will continue to be an issue. The city can wait for the province to fix the real cause, the arbitration system, but that could be a long wait and may not deliver intended results.
MacDonald aimed to punish the fire and police chiefs by forcing them to shrink their organizations to mitigate the wage increases, over which they had no control. That didn’t sit well with MacDonald’s colleagues – although managers around the world are having to deal with similar realities daily. The issue is whether the focus should be that narrow or whether city administration as a whole should make those adjustments – there will always be some room for some change in a large organization – or whether the increases are the price of doing business and should be passed on to the taxpayer.
Council should address this issue early on because it will continue to arise in every budget cycle. The staff members need some clear guidance on where the new council stands on the matter so they can do some proper planning. Fourth: an arts centre. Simply said, it’s time we had one. The city is looking for shared funding from other levels of government to make it happen, so the timeline cannot easily be controlled. In the meantime, council needs to sort out how much debt it is prepared to take on given that we are still paying for the Benson Centre – the place that many were told wasn’t going to cost us a dime. It should also let the arts community know just how much fundraising would be sufficient to let the project proceed.
And that’s the way I see it.
Bernadette Clement watches the results of the 2018 Cornwall election on television, expectantly, on Oct. 22. She will lead the 2018-22 council as mayor.