On our mild and misty Christmas day, I took my mother’s dog, Bella, for a walk. I just wanted to clear my head and think about the events over this past year. The streets were quiet, with just a couple of cars passing from time to time.
What a year we have been through in 2021! Being in year two of the pandemic, we have learned a little about what works and what doesn’t. We have made some adjustments to make living and working in the town a little easier, understanding how frustrating this pandemic has been.
But through it all, with perseverance, faith and determination from all of us in our town, we achieved quite a few milestones.
We thought it would be a very quiet Christmas, but again, people thoughtfully celebrated while we continued to protect each other. Wearing masks, the NOTL Chamber of Commerce hosted a candlelight stroll, Chautauqua still had their carolling in the park while ensuring proper physical distancing, the farming community held a fabulous tractor parade, people installed extraordinary holiday lighting on their homes, residents illuminated The Village more spectacular than ever before, we had a visit by 250 masked Santas, and shops went above and beyond to express the Christmas spirit.
This year, council’s planning continued, adding to the new proposed official plan, strategic plan, wellness recommendations and economic development recommendations. The town completed our new irrigation master plan and enhanced the asset management plan. In 2022, we will complete the transportation master plan, zoning bylaw and heritage and character studies, do a large part of the tourism plan and start the recreation master plan. Once these plans are complete, our staff will have the guidance they need to go forward over the next 10 to 20 years.
In 2021, I was pleased to have council cut the ribbon on the new modern Niagara Nursery School space at the community centre, be part of the sod-turning for the new doctors’ offices in The Village, and assist in the construction of some rental housing units in the town. In 2022, I am optimistic that the Community Church/Community Centre in Glendale will open, and Pleasant Manor can finally have a sod-turning for the Pleasant Manor expansion. I know council supports these projects wholeheartedly and is ready to assist where necessary.
In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, council built budget improvements into parks in all areas of town, Glendale playground and basketball, Queenston Common, St. Davids – Cannery Park, Virgil Skateboard Park and Old Town tennis courts. This past year, being a maintenance year, we relied more on fundraising efforts and volunteers to assist with many initiatives, such as installing the backboard at the tennis courts in St. Davids, completing phase one of the Heritage Trail, and building the outdoor skating rink at the Virgil Sports Park (if it gets cold enough).
Thank you to all the donors and volunteers who helped. I also want to give a special congratulations to Crossroads Public School on an amazing inclusive playground.
Niagara has approved a 2.87 per cent budget increase for the 2022 year, and I believe the town will achieve approximately the same level. I continue to promote a sustainable town budget. Let me explain what I mean by ‘sustainable.’ Currently, we only have three sources of revenue: upper government grants and transfers, user fees and service charges, and property taxes. While we have to watch our expenses, those three revenue sources pay for our core service and operations.
Sustainability is not about increasing taxes by an overwhelming amount every year. It is not relying on the province to decide how much money you will receive.
The province allowed us only one other tool, and we must use it. A municipal accommodation tax (MAT) is another way to raise revenues. So, if we want more flowers, public washrooms, events and festivals or capital for tourism enhancements, this is the only alternative source currently from where the money can come. The town’s operational budget will be completed and approved in the first quarter of the new year. There will need to be some tough decisions.
You have often heard me talk of finishing unfinished business. Well, we won’t complete it all, but we should acknowledge some of the items that we have achieved and others that are well on their way. The cannabis zoning bylaw is complete. The short-term rental bylaw will be completed, and enforcement has been significantly improved. We will complete the discussion on the grinder pumps by the spring. This year we also received a report that our beach water meets standards.
Let me give you an advanced warning now: there will be construction on Niagara Stone Road between Four Mile Creek and Penner Road. The region will be restructuring Niagara Stone Road. NOTL Hydro and the town have contributed money to place the hydro lines underground, add decorative lighting and place-making benches, widen sidewalks, plant trees and place parkettes along the road. Virgil will look fantastic once it is done, but there will be construction!
The gateway in Glendale will also have construction. The town also added funds to this initiative for decorative lighting to enhance the roundabout.
I have enjoyed my time with the region, and I am proud the region approved a regional transit system, as did town council. I want to thank our CAO for the work she did keeping the payment level for NOTL at the same amount, so we will not see a big bump in 2023. The approved financial model is quite different from our payment for the Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS). I have been looking at other regions to see what system they are using; even when the OPP is used in some local municipalities, payment for policing is still pooled and paid region-wide.
Apart from some of the issues I have mentioned, I would also like to see these two other items discussed. These items have not yet come before council:
1. Provide more sidewalk space on Queen Street so we can keep the patios beyond COVID. I hear people like them; I do.
2. Enlarge the pay-parking area while giving enhanced free parking to local residents. This will help ensure shopping locally in all parts of NOTL, particularly in the off-season. Too many NOTL residents leave Town to eat and shop. It actually may have something to do with pay parking. Let’s make it easier for residents, not more difficult to park.
Well, your prediction is as good as mine on what 2022 will bring. I hope and pray that the pandemic will soon be behind us and town hall will open up.
It is an election year, both provincially and municipally. More and more people will be jockeying for positions, rumours will be flowing, political aspirants will be taking new stands on old items and expounding the importance of change.
As your Lord Mayor, I will remain laser-focused on continuing to move forward on three essential items I have always believed in: planning for our future, sustainable budgeting and finishing unfinished business.
Together, we have accomplished much over the past 12 months. I am proud of the work we have collectively achieved and how we have supported one another through the challenges of the pandemic.
s 2021 concludes and 2022 begins, I want to thank our community for its ongoing diligence in keeping our community healthy and safe. Your efforts and sacrifice have helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 and saved lives. As we look to the year ahead, I see many opportunities to continue the significant initiatives we have begun.
I look forward to the exciting things the New Year will bring. Happy New Year, everyone.