Opinion: Despite pain, council collaborated

By Mike Williscraft

You know the old Rovers song, Wasn’t That a Party?

An industrious type with some musical ability could do wonders with the materials provided by Monday night’s episode of Spouses of Grimsby Who Happen to be Elected Officials.

Wasn’t That a Meeting!

Six-plus hours of unbridled fun at Grimsby town hall if one includes the pre-public session in camera portion which started at 6:30 p.m.

I rolled out of there and home for dinner about 12:25 a.m. and got home just in time to see Coun. Dave Sharpe losing his mind during, ironically enough, an item dealing with decorum in the council chambers.

On to the budget festivities.

I will attempt to cover a great deal of ground in what is a horribly inadequate space for the content, but here goes.

Yes, there were heated discussions, aspersions were cast, tempers flared…and that was just the gallery.

Before I get into some detailed budget items, some things need to be made as clear as possible as it is preciously easy to fall into certain traps when talking about municipal budgets.

Going chronologically, this council is 100 per cent correct in handing off a significant portion of responsibility for dire needs having to be met in the 2020 budget to previous councils – and by previous I am talking four if not five, not just the previous term.

Past councils had a habit of ignoring infrastructure needs and long-term planning by simply not anteing up for a given need or dipping into reserves so as to not impact the tax levy.

As one small example, anyone recall a stretch back in summer 2018 when none of the phones worked at Town Hall. The archaic system simply broken down. The tech person who came in reported that the system should have been replaced about 10 years previous.

Infrastructure planning, some of the staff hires and other directional expenditures such as an economic development officer were items shuffled year after year after year. That is one of the reasons it was comical to hear some members of the past council critiquing the current crew.

For all their warts, I would take this bunch all day long and twice on Sunday. Yes, they are childish and say and do stupid things, but (I have to hope) the antagonizers will get beyond that and realize they serve the taxpayers, not their own narrow focus of need.

The piper got paid in the 2020 budget and while the impact may appear high, taxpayers are getting some very good things for their money.

The unfortunate thing is the process put in place to get to Monday night was horrid from a taxpayer viewpoint.

When it is explained at council that a draft of the budget was online and there was an online survey as the municipality’s due diligence on transparency of the process, it is a clear and unequivocal comdemnation of that method of dissemination of information when the community uniformly stands up and says, “we didn’t know anything about it.”

It would be interesting to know how many different residents took the time to reach out to their representative or the mayor. I stopped counting after 100 calls, emails and texts, but contact from 150 residents would be a ballpark.

I will say here, what I told them:

• The money for West Lincoln Memorial Hospital is rock solid and a very good method to generate those vital funds.

• The transit investment, also rock solid. The $250,000 to opt into a fixed cost solution is a dream compared to what the previous council would have bungled into a stratosphere of cost-overruns a la the biodigester. The decision the previous council made was to not make a decision on transit. This budget move is a winner cost-wise. Hopefully it proves to be a long-term solution.

• Communications was a pipe dream. It has always been handled by individual departments and give other costs that is good for the immediate future. Grimsby needs to ignore its “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality when it draws comparison to Lincoln. The online stuff is an example. Lincoln lives online these days creating very limited exposure for its initiatives, but they get to control it, so it serves a purpose. Clearly, as noted earlier, connecting with taxpayers online is not a accomplished.

• Legal, 100 per cent needed and full marks to council for making this previously masked expense fully transparent.

• The Main Street East study…council needs to lock that into a heritage study to avoid the Bentley/Berry protege Coun. Kevin Ritchie from reinstating a Secondary Plan. You really have to watch the video to comprehend how much effort has gone into scuttling the heritage aspect of that item.

Simply, Monday’s meeting should have happened Feb. 18. Real passion and actual cooperation – even though it was brought on by public pressure – was evident. I’ll take it!

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