2015 has been a great year of progress in our Township. With the input and direction of our staff we have implemented many significant policies, projects that will have a major impact on this region for years to come. I believe that we have taken great strides in making your municipal government more Open and Transparent than ever before. As we implement several more key technology and begin to one by one put in place the actions from our Strategic Plan it will be exciting times in the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands.
Here are some of the highlights of 2015:
1) Council returned to the Ontario Ombudsman as TLTI's closed meeting investigator at the beginning of our term.
2) With the input of the Director of Public Works, we implemented a policy that finally dealt with flooding on Township Roads and addressed the issues that were causing the flooding.
3) We have initiated many discussions concerning flooding on private lands as well as municipal drains and this winter the tender for the cleaning of a major Township drain has been put forth. We continue to have extensive discussions with landowners and other stakeholders to address flooding and land issues moving forward.
4) Our staff and council initiated the largest set of public consultations in our history for various key studies and plans that will guide the Township in its actions moving forward. This included a Parks Master Plan, Facilities Master Plan, Fire Master Plan and of course our Strategic Plan. The Parks, Facilities and Master Plan will be coming forward in 2016 for discussion and adoption of actions.
5) Our Strategic Planning initiative was the first time that the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands had consulted the entire community. The response was overwhelming and the participation exceeded all expectations. We now have one of the most comprehensive plans in the entire province and many initiatives are underway or already completed. The plan focuses on three key pillars, Environment, Community and Economic Development. There will be quarterly updates on the plan throughout our term and each year's key action items are defined and will be integrated into our budget and staff work plans.
6) We approved the park plans for Jerry Park in Lansdowne and continued the development plans for a new subdivision. The park plan was implemented and we now have a new state of the art Splash Pad in the village. Staff successfully applied for funding for accessible washrooms that will be implemented in the New Year. The RFP for the new subdivision will be put forward in the New Year as well.
7) We have dramatically improved accessibility to council decisions, meetings and information. We approved and implemented the videotaping of council meetings. The technology has allowed us to not only record the meetings but to now also provide a live stream of the proceedings. The final video is available the following day and is indexed by the agenda for that particular meeting. We also changed the definition of a meeting to include email. While this implementation had some hiccups, I still believe that making sure that electronic communication methods are important thing for municipal governments to be able to use. We will be transitioning those communications to an online forum that residents can view but will allow us to continue to work using the latest technology. I hope to lead the way in the province and we will continue to give you more open communications. Staff and council have put out more communications than ever before which include press releases and our Township Minute that is accessible to local media. I have personally taken the time to make sure I am accessible to media and share information that our residents need to know and spread positive information on radio, television and in social media.
Staff prepared our first comprehensive annual report that I was proud to present at the First Annual Mayor's Breakfast.
With all of those initiatives we can still improve our communications. A new website will be coming online in 2016 and will including a Ticketing System to track your questions and requests. In 2015 Staff implemented an upgraded iCompass system that improved access for meeting agendas and minutes and that will also be integrated into our new site. In addition we will be able to offer subscription based email notifications so residents can stay informed.
Staff and Council are committed to continuous improvement and sharing more information with our constituents.
8) Staff brought forward the rezoning of the lands north of the Casino. Council fully supported the rezoning to include more possible commercial uses. Late in the summer the final proponent was announced for the Casino which means that it will be staying in the Township. This now gives us marketable products to go forth and look for investment. The Economic Development Committee is now working on completing the Investment Readiness Plan and getting us ready to go to market. The big thing to understand is that Economic Development at a large scale doesn't happen overnight but we have put some major steps in place and now we need to work the plan with key action items that will hopefully land us significant development to support our Casino. I continue to believe that we have the market for an entertainment and trade show complex that can be supported by all of Leeds Grenville and our surrounding municipalities. In addition, late in the year we approved the re-designation of the lands surrounding our Land Fill sites to an ECO PARK designation which will allow for many opportunities in waste reduction and recycling industries in land that has limited other uses but could represent a whole new vertical for economic development in our Township.
9) With a comprehensive effort from councillors, staff and with co-operation with the Town of Gananoque we were able to address the Contractor's dock issue and provide an excellent solution for our Island Residents. We have reached out to all of our neighbours to foster new working relationships that didn't exist before.
10) Staff addressed many gaps in our policies and with the support of council introduced several of them in 2015. In addition they now have a comprehensive list of policies that need to be addressed and will be brought forward and put in place throughout this council's term.
11) Township staff brought forward a detailed plan to ensure that our water system in the Village of Lansdowne would be safe and sustainable moving forward. With Council input, the final decision means that we will have a water and wastewater capital plan that will have the least impact on residents while ensuring the system can be maintained and replaced over time. I am happy that we are being pro-active instead of re-active when it comes to replacing our capital assets. In the end it means that we will be spending less taxpayer money and will be in greater control of our financial destiny.
12) A private roads grant proposal was brought forward and accepted by council to provide funding for associations to improve private laneways.
13) With major input from our residents, staff and council, the Leeds and Grenville Official Plan was finally put forward to the province for final consideration.
14) We have continued to nurture and support our community groups through access to more consistent funding for regular operations and by ensuring they have greater input. This has included our Chambers of Commerce, Village Groups, Clubs and Associations. In addition our staff and council are working on Youth and Age Friendly projects to support youth and seniors. These initiatives are reflected in our Strategic Plan.
15) I have had the opportunity to represent the Township at several Municipal Conferences. There have been many issues that we have brought forward to various Ministries at these conferences including improving funding for Infrastructure as well as changing the rules for Joint and Severable Liability that affects our Township. We continue to work on various issues both through our Township as well as at the County level. We continue to face pressures when it comes to police costing and I am working closely with my other County Councillors to reduce these costs and the impact they have on our tax rates.
There are many more initiatives, policies and initiatives that I have not listed. I am committed to continue to move this Township forward and with my fellow councillors and our excellent staff to make this one of the most desired places to Live, Work and Play.
We are now about to finish our budget for 2016. It will be the first time that the budget will be completed before the end of the year. This will allow us to hit the ground running in 2016. The 2016 budget will include a 3 year capital plan that allows us to continue to be pro-active and save taxpayers money through long term planning.
Staff and Council should be very proud of what has been a year full of accomplishments. However, "Continuous Improvement" means that we learn from the things that worked and those things that did not and that we always strive to do better. I am committed to always looking at ways to improve and I believe that my fellow councillors and our staff believe this as well.
I look forward to bringing you highlights and successful action updates at our next Mayor's breakfast in 2016. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and safe Holiday Season!
Mayor: Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands