by Anne Finlay-Stewart

Another long day for Council and City staff. From 1 to 4 they were meeting with the consultant to discuss the most recent draft of the city's Strategic Plan. After the mission and vision statements, the longest conversation was about the Financial Sustainability piece, including "diversifying revenue sources" and "reducing the city's footprint" which, according to former City Manager Ruth Coursey means decision making about the number and level of city-provided services. The other three "pillars" of the plan are Economic Prosperity, Environmental Integrity and Society and Culture.
Verbs got a lot of attention, mostly around how they might be interpreted by the public, and how success will be measured. Does "support" imply financial assistance? How will we measure progress in "encouraging ethnic/cultural groups"?


  • At 5:30 Council met in-camera to discuss six matters, including litigation, land disposition and personnel matters. In less than six months in office, this Council has surpassed the 45 matters discussed in-camera (behind closed doors) over the last ten months of the previous Council's last term. Yet another in-camera meeting will be held May 13.

Just for comparison, Meaford Council went in-camera only six times in 2014.


  • The regular meeting began, as advertised, without any prayer or silent reflection. A public meeting on this subject was the first order of business, and only one citizen spoke. A pastor and member of the area's Evangelical Ministerial Association, Harry Zantingh, told Council that he was disappointed by the decision to amend the procedural by-law, but that it would in no way interfere with the private and communal prayers offered regularly for the city's decision-makers.


  • We have heard the Tom Thomson Art Gallery's (TTAG) case for incorporation and expansion several times now, and there were no new surprises. Essentially it comes down to money, space, art and management. Access to funding streams and important art works that would not be available to the gallery as a department of the municipality is essential to the Tom's expansion plans. For insurance purposes, the stored collection must come out of the basement, and more square footage would allow for the programming that would result in a "half to full day destination experience" that would bring more visitors and in turn, more money. The gallery is proposing a formal trust agreement including assurances that neither the collection nor the gallery would leave the city, between the municipality and a "hybrid board" of nine: one city representative, two member- electees, the chair of the Tom Thomson Art Foundation, one artist and four board appointees.

The real surprise was the lengthy questioning and discussion by councillors. Councillor Richard Thomas made it clear that he could not support the plan in its entirety, and wanted the issue of incorporation and expansion dealt with as separate matters by the Council. In the wake of the in-camera meeting about the disposition of the old Courthouse following Southbridge Health's expression of interest in the property for long-term care facilities, no mention was made of the Gallery's re-location to that site as described at the recent public meeting. Council ultimately passed a motion to request a staff report on the TTAG's submission, including the status of the Rice House to the north of the existing gallery and any municipal tax implications of incorporation of the gallery.


  • Maryann Thomas brought greetings from the Grey Bruce Pride Committee and invitations to the Council for the 10th annual Pride celebrationsJune 13 and 14. She also requested that Council revisit the city's flag policy and make the secondary flag bracket affixed to city hall available to "any community group that honours and respects the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms". A motion was made to ask for a staff report on the idea was defeated, supported only by Councillors Thomas, Koepke and Lemon.


  • Mayor Ian Boddy recognized some of the heroes of the "2015 Winter Water Crisis" with certificates from the city – Gayle Graham and Dave Johnson on behalf of the Y, for providing potable water and showers, Dave Bosko of the Water Store and Bill Henry of the Water Depot for providing drinking water – all for the benefit of their neighbours whose water services were frozen.


  • For 2015, the City of Owen Sound must raise $26,428,867 from its taxpayers to meet its budget. Another $7,693,717 is our share of the Grey County budget, and each taxpayer contributes a share of one school board or another's expenses in their single blended tax bill. This year's tax policy will allow for some decreases in industrial taxes as the city continues to address an old imbalance that saw businesses provide a higher than appropriate portion of the city revenue. This year, after the city, county and education taxes are blended, residential taxes will rise of 2.59% - about $70 for the average single-family homeowner.


  • Sydenham Heights is a section of the city that was annexed in the 1980s – essentially bounded by 16th St. East south to 6th St. And 16th Ave. East to 28th. It contains commercial development including Heritage Grove, Home Depot and Walmart. Ultimately it is planned to be home to 1350 housing units as well, and a developer is now prepared to proceed south of 8th Street, if trunk services (water and sewers) are made available. Council approved moving forward on this "essential piece for Owen Sound", committing to a project that will cost an estimated $1.5 million for sanitary sewers and $400,000 for water lines from the 8th Street reservoir for Phase 1. By early 2018, the area may well be ready for the developer to begin building houses.


  • The issue of enforcing property standards at the former BCK property was a hot one in both traditional and social media throughout the 2014 municipal election run-up. One Council meeting ran over into the next day because a ten-minute deputation on the subject devolved into a discussion of well over an hour and involved the police chief in his responsibility for the By-Law Enforcement staff. Evidently the drama is not over, as the Council was approving the minutes of an in-camera By-Law Committee meeting, held "to consider one matter relating to advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege respecting Property Standards Enforcement at the BCK Site".


  • The Finance Committee reported that the city has more than $33 million in 84 separate reserve funds, held for the replacement and refurbishment of assets like rolling stock (vehicles), parking lots, cemeteries, pipes and buildings. All the capital from the sale of Georgian Bay Energy has been retained.


  • The bandwidth necessary for the explosion in smart phone use over the past seven years is huge, and Owen Sound will be a distinct beneficiary as a hub in the planned fibre-optic network in South Western Ontario (SWIFT). That's as soon as we have the provincial and federal governments to commit to the $254 million in funding. Stand by for an election year announcement from our MP on this one.


  • Transit workers in Owen Sound are employees of our contractor, First Transit, and members of the Unifor union who are in the process of negotiating a new contract.


  • The celebrations never stop here in Owen Sound – last weekend was the 75th anniversary party for CFOS Radio, and the 90th for the Kiwanis Club that has brought us everything from the Santa Claus Parade, to the Grey County Music Festival to soccer fields and housing.

And the federal government just gave us money for some great family entertainment at the Bayshore June 11 and 12 to celebrate the Pan Am Games.



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