Huntsville’s committees of council met for the first time this month under a new structure for the 2018-2022 term. Among them is the Operations and Protective Services Committee, which reviewed its mandate during its first meeting on January 29. Present were committee chair, Councillor Brian Thompson, councillors Nancy Alcock, Dan Armour, Jason FitzGerald and Tim Withey, and Director of Operations and Protective Services, Steve Hernen.
Thompson’s request for input from committee members on their mandate, which outlines priorities and provides direction for the coming term, sparked discussion about roads and sidewalks, two topics that councillors regularly hear about from their constituents.
Councillor Nancy Alcock took exception to the wording of one item in the mandate that called for the committee to “Pursue the elimination of District Road Department – downloading roads to the local level.” She was concerned that it was too definitive and limiting.
Thompson noted that at the District level, they’ve identified some roads that would be beneficial for them to download to the Town, although that’s still under discussion. And Councillor FitzGerald added that they should look for “efficiencies and do it more cost-effectively or increase the level of service.”
Councillors decided to update that item in the mandate to read, “Pursue downloading District roads to the local level as determined to be mutually viable.”
Also related to roads, Hernen provided an overview of the rationale for continuing annual increases to the capital budget for roads until the annual capital spending reaches $4,500,000 per year. In the previous term of council, that budget was increased each year to get to an approximately $3.5 million annual spend by the final year of the term.
“(The previous plan) didn’t include streetlights, it didn’t include your storm sewer, it didn’t include sidewalks,” said Hernen. “So when we look at the overall plan, we feel a $4.5 million a year capital spend on the road network would put us in a good position moving forward… Could we spend $60 million on roads? We certainly could but the (construction) season’s just not long enough and what’s sustainable for the taxpayer as well?”
But Councillor Withey questioned that number. “I guess I understand that you worked out this number, but the problem I have is what can we afford? Yeah, you might have a list saying we need $4.5 million a year, but you can’t raise taxes to get that money, we’re going to be taking from other departments with just as legitimate needs. There’s not a bottomless pit of taxpayer’s money out there… Maybe we have to look at more creative ways to get things done rather than just hitting a target that is a million dollars higher than the last term of council.”
Withey added that he’s heard from constituents that increasing costs are making Huntsville an unaffordable place to live. “We can have the nicest roads in the world but nobody moving here because they can’t afford it.”
Councillor Amour countered that four years ago, at the beginning of the previous term of council “one of the main concerns we heard from constituents was infrastructure. We have been trying to increase annually… I believe (the increase) will meet our needs in four years to maintain infrastructure and make the town welcoming to people instead of potholes.”
Sidewalks are also a topic councillors hear about frequently. Thompson said that Muskoka Road 3 North is “the only major artery out of town that doesn’t have a sidewalk… We have a public school up there, we have an incredibly increased population (with new subdivisions).”
Withey added that the lack of a sidewalk along Highway 60 between the Glenwood subdivision and Muskoka Road 3 is also a safety issue. “I drive that daily and there’s always people walking along Highway 60…I don’t know why there hasn’t been somebody killed there, especially this time of year.”
Town staff have been working on an overall inventory and assessment of sidewalks, said Hernen, to find areas where there are gaps in the sidewalk system and where existing sidewalks are deteriorating. “We’re finding all sorts of spots around town where we’ve got issues like that. So we’re sort of designing the ideal sidewalk system in the town. And then we’re overlaying what we have and that will identify where the missing links are. And then we’ll have to set priorities.”
The other items listed in the Operations and Protective Services Committee’s mandate for this term of council, as presented at the meeting, are noted below and will provide direction and a foundation for their work in the years to come.
Roads & Bridges
- Continue annual increases to capital budget until annual capital spending reaches $4,500,000 per year
- Pursue downloading District roads to the local level as determined to be mutually viable
- Complete Main Street streetscape
- Complete storm sewer inventory and replacement program
- Complete sidewalk inventory and assessment
- Improve pedestrian linkages throughout the Town
- Prepare a multi-year sidewalk capital plan
- Construct sidewalks up MR #3 past the hospital to Settler’s Ridge subdivision
- Develop a plan to address maintenance of all cemeteries including abandoned locations
- Extend town dock to the edge of River Mill Park
- Move the existing community garden to larger location
- Construct a splash pad in River Mill Park
- Complete improvements to Lions Lookout including accessibility improvements
- Finalize a plan for Pitman’s Bay
Fire / Emergency Services
- Seek opportunities for partnerships with neighbouring municipalities to improve service and efficiencies
- Implement the recently adopted transit plan to expand and improve service
You can see a list of Huntsville Town Council’s priorities for the 2018-2022 term here.
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