City council – Sept. 24

September 26, 2012 at 8:53 am (Entertainment, News, Politics) (, )

I’m a day late in recapping this week’s meeting … not going to lie, I kind of forgot I had this thing. There’s just too many other things going on lately, though sadly, none of them involve me keeping up my running schedule in any way.

So here’s what went down at Monday’s council gathering:

  • They were told the provincial government won’t allow a joint city-counties initiative to put up signs with their total population count. Council didn’t take it without a fight; they’re talking about erecting giant billboards along the highway anyway, just not on government property.
  • The 2013 budget process was officially kicked off. Council directed staff to start preparing their submissions, with increases of no more than 3%. With fewer dollars from the province and less revenue than expected, it’s going to be an extremely challenging year for the budget steering committee … which will now include all councillors. I can see the merit in having everyone involved in the discussions, but I’m also not excited about how much longer the process is going to take this year with double the number of opinions.
  • A travel information centre on Brookdale Avenue was shuttered earlier this year, so Cornwall is looking into buying the property. They haven’t been given a price on it yet but councillors were already throwing out ideas like making it a new tourism bureau or transit depot.
  • The Eastern Ontario Regional Network will have help from the city after all. Though council shot down a request for financial support last fall, a new report from their senior development officer convinced them to get on board.
  • Council also discussed the pros and cons of a dedicated staff person to help with event coordination. They asked staff to report on the feasibility and necessity of such a position, which would support all the volunteer organizations that put on activities throughout the year.

There’s been some cool developments in my other “beat”: arts and entertainment. At a culture summit on Saturday, a 13-member arts council was voted into existence. Though a formal mandate and strategy for the group is yet to be determined, it’s exciting to see progress being made on the arts front.

It has caused a year-old culture committee to take a closer look at its own purposes, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There is probably room for both, as long as they keep lines of communication open and don’t end up trying to accomplish the same goals.

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City council – Sept. 10

September 11, 2012 at 10:21 am (News) (, )

City hall is back to a fall schedule, which means council meets on the second and fourth Monday each month, and the planning advisory committee meets the week in between.

Last night councillors heard presentations on a local fundraiser and removing fluoride from municipal drinking water. They asked staff to investigate a petition to remove one of Dunkirk Street’s sidewalks, and opted to maintain the current tennis court rental fees despite requests from the public for a change.

One of the significant items was a proposal for a code of conduct. With one councillor absent, the debate ended in a tie vote, which defeated the motion. Some council members said the extra accountability was a good thing, while others said it would give the public the wrong idea.

Social and housing services manager Deborah Daigle had four reports on the agenda, which were all complex and sparked discussion. Here’s a quick summary:

  • The department will begin work on a 10-year strategic plan to identify gaps in service and plans to meet those needs, as mandated by the province.
  • They’re going to apply for some funding to purchase asset management software to better track all their units and necessary repairs.
  • The province has rolled several programs together under a new name: the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. Daigle said the amalgamation is a positive thing, but it came at the same time as cuts to a couple of the funding envelopes. Cornwall is expected to receive just 29% of previous grant totals next year.
  • There have also been cuts to discretionary benefits for social assistance recipients, for things like dental care. Again, the city will fall short of what it was able to provide in the past, to the tune of $2 million.

During my Twitter-based coverage of the meeting last night, I shared my 5,000th tweet. For those keeners out there, you can read the entire feed here.

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City council – Aug. 13

August 15, 2012 at 10:19 am (News, Politics) (, )

I take back every complaint I had about two hour council meetings.

Monday night was a marathon four hours – and that was on top of a two-hour closed meeting. Council went so long they were required to pass a special motion for discussion to continue past 11 p.m. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t meet for four or five weeks.

Here’s a quick recap of the major agenda items:

  • The city is looking at a $658,000 deficit by the end of the year, thanks to less than expected tipping fee revenue and investment interest. A couple of councillors were quite worried and pushed managers to nip and tuck to ensure a balanced bottom line by December. Others expressed confidence in staff to make up the difference, and noted the shortfall isn’t much compared to the total $155 million budget.
  • Rik Saaltink, GM of the Seaway International Bridge Corporation, laid out his case for keeping the toll booth in Cornwall once the new bridge is operational. Several councillors were pretty adamantly against the idea, though others apologized for putting Rik in the hotseat and said they understood his predicament. The company is mandated to be self-sustaining, and moving the toll to the U.S. side or removing it entirely doesn’t make fiscal sense.

Councillors listen to Saaltink’s presentation on Monday.

  • Chief building official Chris Rogers provided an update on the property standards department and the pressures from low staffing levels and high complaint volumes. He plans to ask for two positions to become full time next year during budget debate, and already council seems fully behind the idea.
  • Coun. Maurice Dupelle successfully argued for a bylaw amendment that prohibits pigeon keeping in the city’s urban areas completely. Apparently both he and Coun. Gerald Samson have been hearing plenty of complaints about the birds, mainly around the health risks they pose.
  • Council agreed to make the redevelopment of the Bob Turner their first priority when applying for a new federal grant. They’ll also put in a request for help to build soccer fields at the Benson Centre. The local curling club plans to submit an application as well, as they  want to expand their lounge.
  • The search for a new chief administrative officer has begun. Council approved a hiring committee made up of four members and the HR manager. The group will review the job description, analyze applications, and bring the top few candidates before the full council for interviews.
  • It looks the secondary wastewater treatment project will hit its budget after all. The original bid was below the $55 million plan, but staff came back to council this week to ask for some additional work to be done. The extras will bring the total right up to the cap, but $2 million of that remains dedicated as contingency in case any unexpected issues arise.

And that’s just the big items. Council also agreed to buy new radio equipment for the fire department, shot down a request from the Terry Fox run to use the bandshell free of charge, approved some job positions and passed over a dozen bylaws.

Council meets next on September 10.

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Festivals of SD&G

July 25, 2012 at 11:15 am (Random) (, )

Excuse me while I brag on my hometown for a minute.

When I lived in Ottawa, it seemed like there was a festival every weekend throughout the entire summer. There was always something to visit, experience, watch and do. JazzFest, Chamberfest, Bluesfest, Westfest, the list goes on. I think I made it out to almost all of them at least once during my several years there. It was pretty awesome.

But I’ve realized that Cornwall and the counties are not so far off. Admittedly, the calibre of performers and range of options will never quite measure up to what the capital can present. But this region holds its own pretty well. My only real complaint is that I never have time to attend everything I’d like to.

Lift-Off

There’s the city’s signature event: Lift-Off. Three days of music, two nights of fireworks, and hot air balloons drifting over them all. It’s the only festival of its kind in Ontario, and it rocks. Then this weekend, a brand new event is being launched – Ribfest! Not going to lie, I’m pretty pumped about it. This one also includes a full line-up of (free!) entertainment along with the food vendors. Mmmm, ribs.

Next weekend is the rather spectacular Glengarry Highland Games. I covered it last year, and was thoroughly impressed. The tattoo is incredible, the competitions entertaining and the crowds hailing from far and wide. Again, a rather unique event for our area. Oh, and Waterfest is also next weekend, celebrating our jewel of a river with dragonboat races, and art and music exhibits.

Then on Aug. 10 to 12, the 200th edition of the Williamstown Fair. As the oldest annual fair in the entire country, this is another hugely important event for our region.

If those weren’t enough, there’s the tubie festival and Antiquefest – both in Morrisburg – and smaller community fairs in Chesterville, Avonmore, Newington, South Mountain, Winchester and Maxville. For those who just want to enjoy music, there’s Festival Alexandria and the Tapestry concert series. There’s the city’s free Arts in the Park events – which include music, theatre and film – all summer long. There’s also bluegrass and country music concerts from one end of our region to the other.

Don’t ever tell me there’s nothing to do around here.

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From city hall – July 18

July 18, 2012 at 11:30 am (News, Politics) (, )

Cornwall finally has a new human resources manager. It’s been seven months since their last one was dismissed from city hall, and in the meantime both the chief administrative officer and the clerk have announced their pending retirements. So, more changes are to come.

But Councillor Andre Rivette seems to think some things haven’t changed at all. He heard the topic of an interview come up in a closed council meeting last week and walked out, assuming it would be a repeat of a discussion that dissolved into a personal attack against him. He had that meeting investigated, but is now claiming the mayor and colleagues haven’t followed the resulting recommendations.

There was another in-camera meeting on Monday, prior to a 20-minute council gathering that launched the first phase of the redevelopment of the Bob Turner and construction of soccer fields at the Benson Centre. There was a planning advisory committee meeting after that, covering a new Centretown study, brownfield applications, and ways to deal with vacant gas stations.

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City council – July 9

July 10, 2012 at 9:17 am (News, Politics) (, )

Council’s regular meeting had an interesting start last night. First of all, Cogeco was not filming live from inside city hall, so the in-camera portion went longer than usual. We didn’t get rolling on the public agenda until around 7:15 p.m. One of the first items was, as always, adoption of previous minutes. Coun. Andre Rivette didn’t agree with the report from the last closed-door gathering, but said it didn’t accurately reflect what happened. That’s the first I’ve seen someone vote against that type of motion.

Representatives from the Eastern Ontario Regional Network were back in front of council, making another plea for a financial contribution to the internet project. Staff will consider all of the new material and bring a recommendation back, probably at the next meeting. The pressure to participate has been kicked up a notch, as coordinators are now planning to expand the network into business parks – but they’ll give priority to cities that support them.

In the nearly two-hour meeting, council also:

  • approved changes to their procedural bylaw that would allow delegations/presentations to happen first. Councillors nearly always vote to bump them ahead on the agenda anyway, so it makes sense to have that happen automatically.
  • agreed to send a surplus zamboni to a small community in Nunavut.
  • changed the terms of the Glen Stor Dun Lodge management committee. The chair will now serve for two years, rather than one, to give him/her more time to understand operations and build relationships.
  • approved a noise bylaw exemption for Aecon, the company building the new low-level bridge. They were asking for permission to pour concrete at night later this month, since it’s too hot during the day.
  • planned to create a War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration committee, to better promote Cornwall’s role in the conflict. Members of the community will be asked to join and partner with some agencies that already have ideas for the anniversary.

I have a few other notes from recent goings-on at city hall that I’ll post later.

As for council, they’re down to one meeting per month for the summer. I’m already bracing myself for the August meeting – it looks like it’ll be a very full agenda.

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City council – June 25

June 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm (News, Politics) (, )

It was a shorter meeting this week, and I’m not complaining.

One of the items on the agenda was an update on possibly providing South Glengarry lands with Cornwall’s water and sewer services. The township’s council was there, along with several staff members. But city councillors had no discussion on the report, approving it with no questions asked.

They also approved PAC’s recommendations for zoning changes to expand the business park and allow new development on the Si Miller lands. They shot down a request from a national broomball tournament for subsidized ice time, called for the Seaway International Bridge Corporation’s general manager to attend a future meeting and explain his position on the toll booth relocation, and agreed to a contract to put up new netting at Reg Campbell Park.

There were several presentations that kicked off the meeting, including one that honoured three city employees for saving a man’s life. Council also heard from the Youth Advisory Committee on their recent initiatives, and awarded scholarships to a couple of local students.

Terry Landon brought an update on the economic development strategic plan advisory committee (that’s a mouthful), noting they hope to launch a survey this year to determine true unemployment numbers across the city, and possibly the counties as well. It’s a smart move as they work to attract even more new businesses – they need to know if the labour force is here to fill the job opportunities.

The next meeting is in July, when council goes down to one meeting per month for the summer.

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Standoffs and budget votes

June 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm (News, Politics) (, , , , , , )

  • It was a long night for Cornwall police yesterday. They spent ten hours outside a house on Bedford Street, negotiating with a man who had barricaded himself inside. It wasn’t until shortly after noon that they finally broke down the door and took the 43-year-old into custody. Thankfully it all happened peacefully and without injury. The man was charged this morning with several breaches of probation, as well as domestic assault and mischief.
  • Speaking of long nights, our 308 Members of Parliament are on hour twelve of a voting marathon on the government’s omnibus budget bill. Opposition parties have introduced hundreds of amendments to the dozens of pieces of legislature, and dealing with all of them is expected to take the rest of the day. MPs are reading, taking naps, working on their laptops and drinking coffee to kill time and stay awake in between their names being called. It seems like a ridiculous exercise since the Conservatives majority can vote down each and every suggested change, and yet also one of the only measures that makes sense to challenge the government’s control of power and information.
  • In other Parliament Hill news, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae announced yesterday that he officially doesn’t want the job of permanent Liberal leader. The race to head the third party is wide open, with a vote scheduled for next year.
  • Back to Cornwall. The city’s waterfront development committee held a couple of public consultations on Tuesday, asking for input on possible building near the civic complex. The majority were steadfastly against the idea, though many supported development further east past the ball fields. It’s a seriously controversial topic, with nearly everyone feeling a personal connection to and investment in the St. Lawrence River. Many grew up along the shoreline, and don’t wait to see an inch of access removed. Fair enough.
    The committee heard the message loud and clear; I don’t expect them to push the proposal any further – unless overwhelming results from a survey on the issue suggest otherwise. Either way, the meetings were an interesting and helpful exercise … though I think most people could have done without the accusations of committee conspiracy.

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City council – June 11

June 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm (News, Politics) (, )

It was another long one at city hall last night, as councillors met for nearly three hours … and that was after a closed-door discussion.

There were several delegations to kick things off: the Boys and Girls Club thanked council for their investment and provided an update on their success so far; organizers of the International Plowing Match, which will be hosted by the counties in 2015, made a request for city support; broomball officials asked for a break on facility rentals when a national tournament comes to town next spring. Decisions on the last two will come later, after staff collect some more information and provide recommendations.

Council was given a refresher on the committee structure, after some confusion on what constitutes a “standing committee” and what was an ad-hoc or special group. Turns out there’s 15 or 16 standing committees – permanent groups that remain when councils come and go – including PAC, the budget committee, waterfront, Heritage Cornwall, YAC and others. They might need some whittling down; one councillor pointed out that a recent municipal affairs consultant suggested five or six standing committees should be enough.

Three councillors put forward notices of motion, raising issues they want to see reported and discussed. Coun. Maurice Dupelle is looking for details on the property standards bylaw and its enforcement; Coun. Bernadette Clement wants debate on the Ontario travel centre property; and Coun. Syd Gardiner is hoping for support to create a “greater Cornwall area” designation.

Council also heard a year-in-review report on the Benson Centre, deferred a report on hiring policies until they have more information, approved some tenders and bylaws, and heard details on a funding program for social housing.

They’ll meet next on June 25. In the meantime, there’s a waterfront consultation meeting today at the civic complex, and a planning advisory committee gathering next Monday in council chambers.

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City council – May 28

May 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm (News, Politics) (, )

It was another long one last night as council gathered without its leader. Bob Kilger is currently on vacation, so Glen Grant was filling in as acting mayor for the meeting.

There was some heated discussion around the possibility of a casino here – not a new topic but it arose again after Cornwall was left out of provincial gaming zones. In fact, the city was left off a map of eastern Ontario altogether. Councillors Denis Carr  and David Murphy were livid over the omission, and convinced their colleagues to send a “strongly-worded” letter to the province in protest. Council also opted to participate in a “request for information” process with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which would essentially be an application for inclusion in future gaming zones. That has to happen, along with the lifting of a moratorium on new casinos and a few other things, before the city has any avenue at all to pursue potentially setting up a gaming centre here.

Council also …

  • approved changes to the outside agencies grant application policy. Now groups will have to provide financial statements, a long-term forecast, a mid-year report, and proof of their efforts to find funding elsewhere.
  • heard a presentation from Rebecca Sorrell, head of the Save the Beavers group. Council won’t take any immediate action on the issue; they are waiting for a full report from staff, who are in turn waiting to meet with a B.C.-based organization who has offered free alternatives to the trapping that has been going on in Guindon Park for the last 25 years.
  • are asking administration to look at the feasibility of a pedestrian crossing of some kind across Sydney Street between the Cornwall Square and Horovitz Park.
  • stamped their approval on a contract with the owner of a Quebec hockey team to use the civic complex arena, with no discussion whatsoever. I’m sure prior debate was held behind closed doors. So that’s that. Officials will be in town on Thursday to unveil the team’s colours and name.

The next meeting is on June 11.

In non-council news, StatsCan released some more data today, showing that the region’s senior population continues to grow, while the number of children and teens is still decreasing. A positive note though – the demographic of 20 to 30-year-olds was actually up compared to 2006.

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