It is a privilege to be asked to write a monthly column for the Doppler. I must confess I had initial misgivings, as I’m not a writer, nor a storyteller, but I’ll give it my best shot.
Although I had a few months of practice as acting Mayor, I was officially sworn in on Dec. 17, 2019. That takes my first 100 days to March 26, 2020.
I would like to think that this first chapter in my life as Mayor has been unusual, primarily due to COVID-19. The pandemic has placed operations of the Town of Huntsville in an ‘anything but normal’ position.
In the beginning, however, my first two weeks were rather quiet. It was Christmas holidays, and town hall was closed. My first inkling was that this job wasn’t so tough and I was settling in nicely.
We were working through the town budget, capital and operating with some balanced guidelines in place. After a great deal of deliberation, we passed the 2020 budget in record time and well within the first 100 days.
In February, around day 50, Council replaced my position as Town Ward Councillor through an appointment process. It was an extraordinary moment in our Council’s term, as we appointed a new councillor from a field of 11 amazing applicants. All I could think was how lucky we were to have such a dedicated group of people ready and willing to step into this role.
We were also discussing and preparing for the potential of a spring flood. I think I can safely say we are past that possibility for 2020, however when the time is right we will get back to those discussions.
The biggest ongoing challenge, however, had begun prior to the end of 2019, as our long-term care home, Fairvern, dominated my days and conversations. Was the redevelopment of Fairvern in jeopardy due to the possibility of a new allotment of beds? Additional beds would be a godsend to our area. With the development of a 96-bed new Fairvern on the horizon, the possibility of increasing that build to 160 beds would be nothing short of a miracle.
However, at 160 beds, the project had become too big financially for the Fairvern Board and non-profit home. The request from the Fairvern Board to have the District takeover this project was soon to follow. We needed the District of Muskoka to build and operate the new Fairvern and this meant we needed the majority of District Councillors’ support. While this now seems like ages ago, at the time I recall spending sleepless nights worrying about how to get the support we needed for this project to proceed. This was my first real taste of working tirelessly with my District colleagues to get that support and, frankly, the political lobbying made me extremely anxious. Long story short, through the hard work and dedication of so many including the Fairvern Board, staff, families and friends of the residents, the District of Muskoka and especially the compassion and graciousness of all of District Council, my first taste of meaningful politics was good and incredibly heartening. District Council unanimously supported the District of Muskoka making the application for the new Fairvern beds.
At this point, I think I may have suggested that Fairvern would likely be my biggest challenge as a Mayor. Seems I may have been a little premature in my prediction.
On March 13, day 87 of my first 100, we were slammed with COVID-19.
I spent that Friday, March 13 in Council Chambers with staff trying to get my head around this pandemic and, most importantly, planning our strategy moving forward.
As a municipality we made hard decisions around programming and facility closures the day before March break; we were just days ahead of the provincial order to shut down all recreational facilities and libraries. A few days later we were operating only at Town Hall and that was shut down the following week. All decisions started happening at a rapid pace.
Now we are more than a month into COVID-19. I am pleased to report this crisis has brought out the very best in people. Huntsville has always been known as a caring, giving community and even through the anxiety of this virus, our community has stepped up and done the right things at the right time. I am so proud to be part of this town.
Residents and business in our town are struggling as they are throughout Canada. While the federal and provincial governments have programs in place to help, these programs change daily and I don’t think a day goes by without some involvement from our staff and council to find ways to assist where we can, to help our community survive this once-in-a-lifetime challenge.
The first step, and unlikely the last, was our decision to defer any late fees on taxes by extending the due date 60 days and at District the same extensions applied to water and sewer charges.
We are now working around the clock to figure out what our recovery plan looks like when we get there.
Will our town, and indeed, our country ever truly be the same again? I think we will have a new normal, I think we will learn from this, but rest assured we will recover and Huntsville will be as strong as ever.
I hope this 100-day summary has given you a glimpse into the Mayor’s chair, and I look forward to giving you an update in the next installment.
Stay strong, stay safe, be kind and as always, together we will get through this.
Also see Mayor Terziano’s most recent COVID-19 update, posted April 20, 2020, below:
Main image: Photo of Mayor Karin Terziano by Kelly Holinshead, The Shutterbug Gallery. Town Hall photo by Dawn Huddlestone, Huntsville Doppler.
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