To say the last three months have been very interesting would be an understatement. And now, here I am leading a new council and dealing with current and pressing island issues.
My first order of business, here, is to extend to all islanders my best wishes for the coming year.
I hope that the change so many of you voted for will start to become reality over the next three years and have positive value even for those who did not.
In reviewing the campaign planks of my council members and my own, and considering the state of our municipal finances, I have come to the realization that things will not occur as swiftly as we had hoped. There are some issues that stand out and must be dealt with as high priority.
Firstly, the present budget process magnifies a realistic picture of our island finances. Our tax base shows no degree of supportable growth over the past 10 years, yet our municipal expenses continue to rise and our wish list continues to grow. There are, basically, two ways to deal with our budget. One is to cut costs. There is a core services review presently underway and we hope to see that report in January. The second is to increase revenues and that will mean thinking beyond the usual method of increasing property taxes.
The next issue that requires council's attention is the further development and implementation of our strategic plan. That work needs to move forward but must be limited in scope and carefully phased based on the issues I've outlined above.
The strategic plan focuses on the revitalization of Snug Cove, as its main objective. But we need to understand that this is not a singular issue and that getting the job done requires a broader point of view. It necessitates increasing the capacity and improving the quality of our water, completing the work necessary to put our new sewage treatment plant into operation, improving ferry service and marshalling and planning for adequate parking and pedestrian safety. It requires the development, relocation and expansion of civic facilities such as the community centre, library, municipal hall, as well as support of affordable housing for our seniors and young families. The list goes on and brings me right back to our financial circumstances. Everything that we set out to do must keep our budget firmly in mind.
We will need to make a decision regarding the sale of surplus lands and explore options for partnered development. As we move forward with the plans for our community centre, we need to look beyond the financing for getting it built and explore all of the ways in which it might generate the revenue to support itself and, perhaps, add to our municipal coffers.
Business licences for out-of-town contractors and development cost charges are common in other communities. Instituting and implementing them here can help us to manage and maintain our infrastructure. These are just a few examples of the ways in which we need to be thinking to keep to a slow and steady forward march.
To assist council in our work we see the need to make better use of our on-island committees and knowledgeable citizens. Council will move forward on January 14, 2012 to implement a redefined system of committee assistance with new and updated terms of reference along with fixed timelines and goals.
We hope to establish three new advisory boards to assist with finance and municipal management, economic development strategy and infrastructure management and development.
We will be updating the terms of reference for existing committees including the Advisory Planning Commission, the Ferry Advisory Board, the Affordable and Senior Housing Working Group and the Environmental and Sustainable Action Commission.
It would be easy to tell you that we will start work on the wish list right now.
But, to do so without adequate financial planning would be a grave disservice to all islanders. I hope that by the end of January and certainly by the end of the first quarter of the year we will be able to point out progress on some of the issues identified herein.
We will welcome your thoughts and ideas and look forward to seeing you at our first town hall meeting on January 14.