Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who'll Run for Council? Part 1 - Making Your Mark in Council Chambers

On Tuesday September 24, townspeople in the Province's municipalities will vote for new municipal councils. Nomination Day is Tuesday, August 27.  In Clarenville there will be two votes; one for the position of Mayor and another for the 6 other councillors who will constitute our Town's government for the next 4 years.   If you are interested in running, Municipalities NL and The Department of Municipal Affairs have created a great resource called MAKING YOUR MARK - it has lots of useful information for would-be-councillors.

Here in Clarenville, I expect there will be a lot of interest from people considering running.  Here's my take on what I perceive to be the key issues a new council/mayor/councillor will face...  

Immediate Issues

Municipal Waste - Clarenville is one of the only communities in eastern NL to have twice a week, all you can throw away, garbage collection. We have no curbside recycling and no composting (These make up about 50% of garbage by weight).  With new provincial regulations, the local dump will close within the year and all garbage will be trucked to St. John's. The cost to ship it there will be borne by local taxpayers and that cost will largely depend on the weight of the garbage being shipped.  More weight equals more cost.   No plan has been formulated to reduce the amount of waste shipped nor has there been any plan put in place to run curbside recycling/composting.  There is a lot to be done quickly. See my Blog Post Here

Paying for Infrastructure - The building boom of the late 60's and 70's has meant that we have a lot of half-century old infrastructure that needs at best, upgrading or at worst, replacing.  This is expensive and although the Town only spends 20 cent dollars (80% funding by the province) the costs add up quickly as the list of demands grow.  Prioritizing and paying for these demands is and will continue to be a challenge.  

Mall Parking lot - the Old Mall area on Memorial Drive (Coop/SaveEasy/Shoppers) was built in the mid-60's. Back in the day, the Town built the parking lot, and later paved it, to help move the development ahead and grow the town.  Unfortunately the original agreement neglected to include a clause to facilitate the passing over of the lot to the mall owners in due time. Because of this, the responsibility of maintenance and liability has been borne by the Town ever since.  The Town wants out and with the lot requiring almost $1m worth of upgrades, this current deal is just too sweet for the mall owners to let the Town walk away from. (See My Blog Post Here)

Amendment-itus -  There is not a section of Clarenville that is not affected by developers who are busy planning or doing development.  We have a Municipal Plan that outlines the guidelines for development, but - and it's a big BUT - guidelines can be requested to be amended.  A year and a half into the current municipal plan the amendment requests are coming fast and furious.  Expect many more amendment requests.  (See My Blog Post Here

Looming Retirements - Looming Requirements

Town Staff - The average age of the compliment of Town's staff is getting up there and many are about to retire.  While this provides an opportunity for renewal, it also means that a lot of the collective knowledge about running the Town will soon be lost.  In the current economic environment, Recruitment and Selection of new & qualified staff will be a challenge. 

Town Entities - to make up for the lack of resources to hire management people, Clarenville is highly dependent on good volunteers to get things done.   Many of these volunteers are getting ready to retire.   Town owned entities that are so critical to the livability of this Town such as the Fire Department, White Hills Ski Resort and the Clarenville Area Recreation are largely managed and run by volunteer boards.  Finding and keeping volunteers will be critical to their success and the Town's success. 

In the Longer Term...

Municipal Planning - The current reality is that the Town has limited planning capacity. This means that in Clarenville planning is largely being done by developers (whose primary motive is profit driven).  Despite that fact that their development meet town imposed standards - they are very much in control of what, where and how things get developed.   Internally, the Town has very limited planning and vetting capacity and this has resulted in the lack of integration with the hodgepodge of independent developments.  With so many developments, the problems that come from untamed growth this have been magnified. (See my Blog Post Here)
  
Economic Development - We've had some valiant efforts and plans for economic development in this town however the gap between vision and action continues to be problematic.  A series of Economic Development officers have filled the role of ED Officer in the past few years and a solid vision and tangible developments towards that vision have not been documented and communicated as well as they could and should have been. (See my Blog Post Here)

Municipally Taxed - Regionally Responsible - Like any service town, Clarenville has the opportunity and challenge of being the regional service centre for this region.  Firefighting, Parks, Recreational facilities and Roads are all critically important to the region's collective health, however the costs of running and maintaining these is largely borne by the taxpayers of the Municipality of Clarenville.  Provincial grants have not grown as fast as the region and because of this, the Town is spending money on regional services at the expense of local taxpayers.      

Waste Water Treatment - New legislation at the federal level means that the days of dumping raw sewage into the ocean are coming to an end.  With a dispersed population and 8 sewer outfalls the cost of meeting the regulatory requirements for Clarenville will be HUGE.  As of yet, this eventuality has been ignored.  It's time to start planning, preparing and paying   (See http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/11/18/bigfix-sewage-municipalities.html )


My Experience
For anyone interested in local politics, serving on council is a great privilege and excellent experience.  Many viewpoints sharing the same goal around the council table in a public forum make for a better ideas a better town.  If you have the time and the patience, coupled with a thick skin - I'd recommend it.

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