Progress has been made by council in several areas, despite concerns of public

Ian Anderson

KAGAWONG – While a long list of action items is being looked at within the Billings Township strategic plan, members of the public who attended a special meeting raised a few concerns, one relating to the change in structure of the township’s committees and what these citizens feel have not been given enough priority. However, as was stressed by the mayor and council, these issues are being addressed and are moving forward.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into this strategic plan (2018-2021) update that (Billings economic development officer) Todd (Gordon) has presented, over the last few days. I don’t think anyone in this room does not see the value of a strategic plan,” said Billings Mayor Ian Anderson. I looked at the 20 action items and whether in this term of council or a previous council, progress has been made in a number of areas. But as is the case with any plan like this, there may be things we need to massage or change as we go along.”

“Billings Township has fallen behind in many areas over the years, and many challenging decisions are going to be required in the future,” said Mayor Anderson. He noted the 20 action items were not prioritized. He said, “when I approached people during the last (election) campaign I asked people what they felt the township was doing right and wrong. The number one concern was good roads. This was the primary focus of a lot of people. We know there has been a lot of effort on behalf of staff to keep roads up. There is a 10-year plan in place and there are also some more improvements in winter road maintenance we are contemplating.”

“The asset management plan needs to be developed and will help guide the municipality in terms of our property and buildings,” said Mayor Anderson. “We are not as far along on this as we would like to be, but we are far more prepared than six months ago to have a good plan put in place.”

“Thanks for the opportunity to hear and discuss the strategic plan,” said Billings resident Barb Erskine. “This is one of the first opportunities for dialogue between the public and council and I hope there is more to come. It’s listening to local people that should be enhanced.” She noted, for instance, in looking at the waterfront development plan, “I would like to see more information provided and consultation sessions, as there had been at the start of the process.”

“In terms of asset management, I notice sometimes it seems priorities and building needs change, for instance with the fire hall and the Old Mill. I’m wondering if a plan is going to be developed of the big picture for all our buildings? I know at the end of the last term of the former council, Tulloch Engineering had offered to do a tabletop exercise and recommended a new multi-purpose building. But I haven’t seen any movement on this.”

“This is all valid,” said Mayor Anderson. “We will be reviewing all our assets and buildings. Hopefully this will be taking place sooner than later. But as everyone knows, lately we have been dealing with a lot of different issues, some we weren’t anticipating.” 

“The asset management committee is pretty important. But the committee has only had three meetings in the past year, none this year, while all other committees meet monthly,” said resident Mike Coomes.

Mayor Anderson told the meeting that township CAO/clerk Kathy McDonald took training on asset management planning. “We felt that we needed more information on this type of planning, and Kathy has taken this training and has a better understanding of this and will be able to better guide council on this toward a plan being carried out.”

Mr. Coomes said there needs to be changes made in the committee structure.

“We are reviewing the committees to see what is working and what is not,” said Mayor Anderson. 

Ruth Farquhar said in talking to municipal lawyer Fred Dean, committees require council members but they don’t need to be the chair.  

“What is the issue of having a councillor on a committee as the chair?” asked Councillor Bryan Barker. 

“It isn’t fair, and it was found on one committee at least that this didn’t work,” said Mr. Coomes. 

Councillor Barker said councillors are on the committees to make sure they are meeting legislative requirements and policies, and that the conduct and order of committees is being followed. However, “once the meeting starts, everyone on the committee has equal opportunity to contribute. I don’t see a problem with councillors chairing the committee meetings. That is why we’re there.” 

Ms. Farquhar said, “you received three letters on what happened at the recreation committee, and at the Go Green committee; you still didn’t know why everyone had resigned (from the recreation committee),” said Ms. Farquhar. 

“The issue is not the chair, it’s bringing the information from the committee to council to consider,” said Sandy Cook. 

Ms. Farquhar said committee leadership is one of the main reasons volunteers resigned from the recreation committee and annual events such as Winterfest are not being held. “I’m not sure there had to be a change in the committees, that created a mess.”

Mayor Anderson said, “our idea was to standardize all committees. There were no hidden agendas. We recognize with changes we were asking that things didn’t stay status quo. Some committees have continued on, and some haven’t. But as I have said before I would like to see a total review of the committees.”

“The bottom line is the issue of trust,” stated Ms. Erskine. “That council members understand what the committee is saying and bringing this information to council. If you don’t speak to it at a council meeting, people back off.”

“Part of a council’s job is to represent citizens’ thoughts and ideas,” said Ms. Cook.

“Council’s job is to represent the majority of people, and in the best interest of the township,” said Mayor Anderson.  

“And that’s what you do, as council, to ensure smaller groups don’t monopolize a particular function of the municipality,” stated Paul Darlaston. 

“You should speak to the fact that Billings is not solely the village of Kagawong,” said Mr. Darlaston.

Mayor Anderson said, “without question, the higher proportion of taxpayers live outside the hamlet, much more.” In terms of new housing starts, most of them are outside the village of Kagawong. As Barb (Erskine) said in the previous term of council, Billings is the fastest growing municipality on the Island and people want to come here.”

Mr. Gordon outlined and provided an update on the strategic plan, what has been done and still needs to be done regarding the 20 action items contained within the plan. Council were pleased with the overview of the plan and what needs to still be carried out.