Special Council Meeting Preview

By John Swartz

Orillia council meets Monday morning for what promises to be a day-long affair. there will be discussion about the strategic plan, the 10 year capital plan and and what the economic recovery task force has been doing. All have implications on the 2022 budget and for years beyond.

Creating a strategic plan was a major focus of this council’s term to set a course which would allow the municipality to grow in specific ways and plan to have finances able to be in line with growth.

Then the pandemic came along. This set back many projects council authorized and meant spending money on things no one imagined beforehand. Even so, the recreation centre opened, the Hydro One sale still happened and created a parking and boat launch plan related specifically to the pandemic happened.

The balance of the strategic plan report is updates from each department about what has been done, what is still being worked on and what is next based on councils objectives. We’ll cherry picked a few highlights here.

The most obvious change comes from restructuring the administration. As an example, the economic development office, culture management and tourism are all rolled into one department when they operated either separately or under different department groupings.

With this group the major achievement is the waterfront redevelopment project. The Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan is administered here and staff say grants have resulted in 60 jobs and 30 housing units created.

The development services part of the presentation looks more like a warning than a bragging list. Staff note the activity is unprecedented, the City needs to expand its boundaries, 2022 will be the five year statutory review of the Official Plan, and core assets (not itemized) need attention to keep service levels the same and accommodate growth. The idea the City needs to expand its borders to meet growth targets – particularly having business/employment land needs planning for infrastructure the department doesn’t have capacity in its workload and there are several major projects in the works – staff are stretched and there are retirements of several staff about to occur.

The environment department  is giving a heads up there is over $66 million of spending  over 10 years on water in and out, waste management and building maintenance council needs to prepare for.

The big picture sounds more like a reminder of what council has asked staff to work on in the face of what needs to be done in the near future. Housing is ongoing, but maybe becoming more important as is provision of mental health services – both of which endure budget pressure from the county and various agencies wanting a piece of the tax levy. Council has embarked on a climate change mitigation philosophy and staff have yet to provide any policy. The Downtown Tomorrow Plan is ten years old and may need updating, council has made decisions for creation of a Innovation and a Cyber Security hub – both in early stages of development. All that is happening and expanding City limits, affording the hospital’s plans have to be taken into consideration. Staff suggest examining “alternative delivery methods for non-core service,” which is another way of saying privatizing some things the City does, may help with workload and finances.

Economic Recovery Task Force

A lengthy report points out the committee’s mandate runs out when the City’s state of emergency ends. While the pandemic will end one day, the economic chaos will likely still have effect for some time afterward. To that point the committee’s report outlines some of the effect the pandemic has had on the local economy which may linger, that some programs created and implemented during the pandemic might be worth continuing, and they make some recommendations about long-term recovery.

The pandemic exposed all kinds of warts, flaws in systems, and chinks in armour only a sudden change in the way of life could have revealed. In some cases improvements were able to be made, in others changes in outook and execution have not appeared or are developing.

They point out many of the changes implemented happened because all other work was dropped – yet that work did not go away and still needs to be done.

Three programs most noticeable to the public, the patio program, another called Digital Main Street and curbside pickup are recommended to be continued beyond emergency status.

In the longer term, the committee says the money set aside in reserve, $1 million minus expenditures to date, be kept segregated for recovery purposes and the economic development office should be more active on several fronts. The latter may include creating a staff position to be responsible for recovery plans, and without specifically saying so, may mean additional staff are required for all this new work.

An interesting observation was made. Typically government moves excruciatingly slow on just about everything yet had to turn on a dime because of the pandemic. The committee thinks some effort should be made to retain, particularly in the economic development office, the developed culture and thinking which made quick responses to new conditions possible.

10 Year Plan, Next Year

A staff report showing where the money is coming from and how it will be spent in 2022 on capital projects is on the agenda. The most obvious way people can see capital spending is in construction activity.

West Street from James Street to the Bypass is scheduled to be rebuilt and widened next year ($2.9 million). By 2023 the idea you know you are near Couchiching Beach Park based on how much you are getting tossed around inside your car will be just a memory as Jarvis Street gets reconstructed ($6.9 million). Included in a $9.5 million budget is retooling and relocating of all infrastructure on the waterfront to underneath Centennial Drive – which means new roadway too.

Other big expenditure items include $1.2 million to expand the James Street facilities, $1 million for Brian Orser Arena renovations, $1.1 million to reconnect Andrew Street to Royce Avenue, $1.5 million for ball diamonds, $2.6 million for vehicle replacements, $3.1 million for a skate trail in Centennial Park, and $400,000 for remove Terry Fox Circle.

There are 82 other projects happening in 2022, the majority of which cost less than $100,000. Still, 25 projects have 6 figure budgets and the total amount of capital spending in 2022 will be $43.8 million.

Additionally charts are include for projects intended for the next 9 years, with highlights where funding has not been identified yet.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Elgin Street Reconstruction.


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