Paul Haliburton – August 9th 2016

Presentation to the Mayor, Councilors and Staff

Mississippi Mills Council Chamber

August 9, 2016

Good evening Mayor, Councilors and Staff.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the residents of Mississippi Mills.

My name is Paul Haliburton and I reside at 66 Harold Street, Almonte.  Forty four years ago, I married an Almonte girl.   During our married life we have lived in Almonte a total of 25 years.

I would like to focus my comments on the Consultant’s Master Plan which was issued in October 2013.  It is my sincerest hope that you will find my comments constructive.  I plan to be succinct as I recognize that there are others who also wish to express their views.

In February 2013 the Consultant issued a 27 question written survey to all residents, the intent being to seek input on a variety of issues related to the Parks and Recreation Program in Mississippi Mills.  This was followed by an interactive workshop wherein residents were asked to provide further input including a host of “nice to haves”.

Unfortunately the response rate for both exercises was extremely low.  Only 220 residents responded to the written survey and only 11 residents attended the interactive workshop.  Their participation represented less than 2% of residents for the written survey and less than 1% for the workshop.  Despite this lack of participation, the Consultant calculated that the results were statistically accurate within 6.5%, 19 times in 20; a result that is being disputed by many residents.

Given the low response rates it would seem that a better method of soliciting resident input could have been implemented.

When one reviews the results of both exercises it would appear that the questions relating to costs and user fees of new or renovated recreation programs and facilities did not focus on the true costs of acquiring such.  Nowhere does the survey or the workshop facilitator ask participants what they would be willing to pay or trade-off for the “nice to haves”.  Instead, there are vague references to charging development fees, user pay fees, no tax increases and somehow lottery donations got into the picture.  Nowhere does the Consultant ask participants if they would be willing to sell parkland to offset the cost of new programs and or facilities. In this respect the survey questions and the subsequent interactive workshop could be considered to be somewhat misleading.

It is my contention that the results of both the written survey and the interactive workshop would have been dramatically different if the Consultant had asked questions that could be considered more relevant.

Given the poor turnout for both the written survey and interactive workshop, I urge Council to re-issue the survey to all residents in Mississippi Mills via a direct mail-out.  This would ensure greater participation and could be accomplished quickly.  The results could then be tabulated using in-house staff working under the direction of neutral overseers.

Following this we could then have an intelligent conversation on how to proceed.

I would also recommend that new questions respecting cost options be included in the revised survey. Examples of such new questions and there may be others, could include:

  1. Should Town Council adopt a more aggressive approach to the sale of commercial lots in the Business Park in order to finance future park improvements. Yes or no.
  2. Should Town Council adopt a more affordable phased-in approach to park improvements that will not require the disposition of existing parkland assets. Yes or no.
  3. Should Town Council implement new rec. programs and construct new facilities on a pay-as-you-go-basis. Yes or no, or
  4. Should Town Council use a portion of the municipality’s Reserve Fund to finance new recreation infrastructure. Yes or no.

The Reserve Fund is comprised of taxpayer money and taxpayers should have a say in how portions of it are used.

I suspect that a good portion of the Reserve Fund currently resides in low-risk-low-interest bearing investment certificates.  These certificates are being used by large financial institutions who leverage the funds in order to generate larger profits for themselves and their clients at higher interest rates.  Some of these funds are then re-invested and earn even healthier dividends at preferred tax rates.

Perhaps the residents of Mississippi Mills should be permitted to use these funds for ourselves and put some of the Reserve Fund to better use.

Let’s invest some of the Reserve Fund in new infrastructure and recreation programs and make the money work for us rather than the financial institutions.  The resulting pleasure that the new facilities will bring will represent “interest earned” and the “dividends paid” to ourselves will be tax free.

In summary, I believe that by asking the residents of Mississippi Mills the proper questions we will all benefit with a better result.  After all, what could be sweeter than a win/win situation.

Respectfully submitted,

Paul Haliburton