by Chris Pickup

Municipalities are mandated by the province to hold public meetings for constituents’ input into county projects, but unfortunately they cannot be mandated to take the input into account. In other words, they comply with the letter of the law but completely miss the spirit.

The reality is, there is a disconnect with constituents. Councillors and staff watch your mouth moving but refuse to hear what you’re saying. To paraphrase the Three Wise Monkeys… See no input, Hear no input, Speak no input. Therefore they make stupid decisions that anger the community, and also cost us a lot of money.

Councillor Fred Morison was harassed by constituents in November 2016 into holding two meetings on the subject of the Haldimand County Museum, where he and staff watched some 150-200 people tell him to keep the museum and log cabin intact on the Court House grounds.

What did he, staff and council do? Nothing. Just accepted the input “as information” and filed it neatly away never to be revisited. The museum is still slated to go along with the library onto the old Cayuga Hotel site.

And now we find a reported huge increase in construction costs has taken a 900 sq.ft. chunk out of the approved 7,400 sq.ft. and the cost overrun was still $1.26 million. As in at least two previous projects, Council approved the increase without asking the taxpayers what they thought.

The County acted as though it had been unaware until the last minute that construction costs had risen, but how could that be when they had already run into the same problem with the Dunnville Farmers’ Market. And with the new administration building where costs kept going up and up. Make a mistake once and you’re careless. Make a mistake three times in succession and you’re … (well, I’ll leave you to provide your own word). CAO Don Boyle admitted council had “done things on the fly” in the Farmer’s Market situation.

The county should have researched current and likely future construction costs and amended the library budget accordingly before going to the architect, then everyone, including residents, would have known the real costs beforehand, instead of after all the work was done.

Part of the problem seems to be that right at the beginning of this term of council, councillors agreed with Fred Morison that council needed to spend all of the Vibrancy Fund money in this term. (Why? To feed their egos?) Accordingly they have adopted an overly-ambitious schedule of projects to be spread out over the next few years, much of the funding coming from the vibrancy fund via debentures.

Now we are going into another round of meetings, these on the subject of parks and recreation.

According to a county notice, over the next decade Haldimand County is projected to face population growth, increasing diversity and an aging population. As part of its efforts to anticipate and respond to these changes, work has begun to update the County’s Parks and Recreation Service Plan which is used to guide all decision-making related to parks, recreation/culture services, facilities and amenities.

One of its stated goals is to set priorities, identify time frames for delivery and develop estimates for capital and operating costs related to the Plan’s implementation from 2018-2025.

Meetings are set for

Monday, January 29 – 7 p.m.
Hagersville Arena – Almas Room (36 Sherring St. N)

Wednesday, January 31 – 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Cayuga Arena – McSorley Hall (55 Thorburn St. S)

Monday, February 5 – 7 p.m.
Jarvis Community Hall (18 James St.)

Wednesday, February 7 – 7 p.m.
Caledonia Library (100 Haddington St.)

Wednesday, February 28 – 7 p.m.
Dunnville Community Lifespan Centre (275 Ramsey Dr.)

The notice adds that during 2018, it is anticipated that the Service Plan recommendations will be submitted to, reviewed and vetted by Council. Note: there is nothing to indicate any further input from the public.  Once approved, ‘recommendations will be included as part of the rigorous capital and operating budget process – considering sustainability and replacement costs’.

We encourage residents to attend the meetings and tell them what you think, but don’t necessarily expect them to hear. And make a demand that the county comes back to the stakeholders for their further input on the plan before council approves it.

Because you can’t trust them not to pin their ears shut.