NORTHEAST TOWN – Northeast Town councillors have their thinking caps on as they begin budget deliberations for the next year and work on updating the municipality’s strategic plan. From the practical to ‘pie in the sky,’ the councillors shared their thoughts on what should be deemed a priority for the coming years during a strategic planning session held last week.
“This is one of the most important discussions as you will be thinking five, 10 years down the road and how council can move in that direction over this term,” CAO Dave Williamson began. “We’re asking you to take the long view.”
During the September 3 meeting of council, council was given a handout that encouraged them to list their top five priorities for their term of council. At the September 5 council meeting, the councillors took turns sharing their ideas.
Councillor Dawn Orr began by saying her No. 1 priority was attracting new business to the municipality. “Not just Little Current, but in Sheguiandah too,” the Ward 4 councillor added.
Fellow Ward 4 councillor Jim Ferguson shared his top priority as “keeping water rates at a reasonable level.”
Councillor Michael Erskine named his primary concern as roads and increasing the number of hard-topped surfaces. This in turn means less money spent on maintenance, he added.
Councillor Al Boyd said that following numerous discussions with his constituents, he would like to see a revamp of the Low Island pavilion and washroom facilities, especially considering the new Low Island Park splash pad and the increase in use the pavilion is seeing.
Councillor Bruce Wood agreed with Councillor Erskine saying he would also like to see an increase in roads maintenance in both rural and urban areas of the municipality. Councillor Wood noted the steady stream of traffic, including trucks with heavy loads, that flows by his Green Bush farm and the implication this traffic is having on the infrastructure.
Councillor Laurie Cook said that coming from a Ward 1 perspective, she would like to see the protection of the natural environment and updated mapping made a priority.
Councillor Erskine added that he would like to see an increase to the number of Little Current sidewalks, as well as the upkeep of existing sidewalks, especially during the winter months. Councillor Barb Baker said she had read studies about the benefits of heated sidewalks in reducing slips and falls and suggested that if the downtown’s sidewalk is in need of replacement that the municipality consider the possibility of making it heated.
Councillor Orr said a need for more things for tourists to do in the municipality, especially during the evenings, should also be a must.
Councillor Wood suggested the Northeast Town keep seeking energy efficiency funds for retrofitting its buildings. On the environmental side, Councillor Boyd added that having an electric vehicle charging station in Little Current would also be of benefit to the town and for tourism.
Councillor Cook said she believed the municipality should have a designated off-leash dog park and listed it as a priority.
Mayor Al MacNevin weighed in and said special attention should be given to high water levels. Should these levels continue to occur it could mean some serious work will be needed to the downtown docks and places such as the Low Island swimming docks, which are currently underwater.
Councillor Baker said she would like to see Turner Park turned into a meditation park complete with a meditative labyrinth and places for people to practice yoga.
Councillor Cook suggested the municipality employ summer students as walking information people to be stationed downtown and share historical and tourist information, such as those visitor helpers found in Ottawa.
Councillor Bill Koehler said he would like to see the Northeast Town lobby the province for a full-service Service Ontario office such as the one found in Espanola.
Councillor Erskine gave the suggestion of more activities at Low Island such as a track that would entice Island track and field events.
Councillor Baker asked Mr. Williamson if there were any municipal structures that council should have listed as a priority. Mr. Williamson responded that the sand/salt shed in Sheguiandah needs repair, the rec centre could use an extension on the Highway 6 side (which would include new change rooms and showers) and the buildings at Spider Bay. Mr. Williamson said the marina building, which includes washrooms and showers, as well as the newer shower house, need a “refresh.”
“The rec centre is for year-round residents and that’s important,” Mr. Williamson said, reminding council that Spider Bay Marina should also be considered as it is crucial to the tax base and that as operators of a business, it’s important to keep those paying customers coming back year after year.
These three items were then added to the growing list.
Councillor Erskine suggested the municipality consider a compost program for the landfill.
Councillor Wood asked that the Little Current water treatment plant be added to the list of suggestions for thought. “Maybe we should be looking at a whole new system,” he added, noting a water tower. Mr. Williamson said a water tower has been talked of in the past but that it came with a hefty price tag. This was also added to the list.
Councillor Cook asked that library funding be added, too, as an important community hub for the community’s aging residents.
Councillor Koehler said he would like to see the rec centre parking lot hard-topped, as well as the road into Spider Bay Marina.
And then, the moment everyone was waiting for, Councillor Ferguson brought up the age-old question of a swimming pool. The mayor tittered nervously. A swimming pool was added to the list.
Councillor Boyd gave the suggestion of developing the McLean’s Mountain and Strawberry Channel lookouts.
Councillor Ferguson asked that seasonal dockage at the Sheguiandah government dock make the list as this had been done in the past.
Councillor Baker added the Sheguiandah archaeological site as well as marketing for it to the strategic plan long-list.
Sticking with Sheguiandah, Councillor Orr suggested a nice park be created at the government dock.
Councillor Boyd said he was aware that Little Current had limited fibreoptics and shared that he thought the municipality should seek out better broadband for its residents.
Lastly, Councillor Orr said council should be looking at making this an accessible municipality.
A special meeting will be held at 5 pm prior to the September 17 regular meeting where council will then narrow down the list to five top priorities.