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PART 2: What is the biggest challenge facing council in its final year?

Mayor Steve Clarke and councillors weigh in on the challenges they face in the final year of their four-year term
council may 4
City council has been meeting virtually since the pandemic began in March of 2020. File Photo

Orillia's City Council, elected in November of 2018, is entering the final year of its four-year mandate. The next municipal election, slated for Oct. 24, 2022, is just one year away.

With that in mind, we canvassed Mayor Steve Clarke and all eight city councillors to answer six key questions heading into the home stretch of their tenure. Questions range from asking about their greatest accomplishments, their regrets, their legacy and if they plan to see re-election. They were given a limit of 150-words per response.

Their responses will be published, verbatim, over the next five days. Click here to read their answers to our first question.

What is the biggest challenge facing council in its final year?

Ralph Cipolla (Ward 2)

The biggest challenge is keeping the taxes down to an affordable rate and ensuring our roads are safe.

Rob Kloostra (Ward 2)

While still in pandemic mode, council is faced with balancing new items/projects that bring with them unprecedented levels of work for staff. We have senior positions that must be filled immediately to allow this work load to move forward. 

The increased cost of policing, waste pick-up contracts and county funded public health units will tax our current base. These expected increases will definitely affect every taxpayer in Orillia at budget time.

Mason Ainsworth (Ward 3)

The biggest challenge facing city council this coming year is the continued effects of the global pandemic and the long-term effects we have yet to see.

Jay Fallis (Ward 3)

Affordable housing is by far the biggest challenge and it’s been more prominent during the pandemic.

One constituent recently applied for a $1,600/month one-bedroom basement apartment. She was fortunate enough to get it. However, there were approximately 200 applicants who weren’t successful. The cost and competition are simply not fair for the average Orillia renter trying to get by. This needs to be addressed by all levels of government.

Our city contributes funds to the county and there are also some big affordable housing projects on the horizon including the county’s ODCVI site as well as the Post Office project by Raising the Roof. Additionally, I was very happy to see a motion recently before our Affordable Housing Committee that recommended a $20,000/year increase to the affordable housing reserve’s annual allotment. These are positive steps. However, we have not yet fully addressed this challenge. Moving forward, I consider this a top priority.

Pat Hehn (Ward 4)

This final year of council is going to be unlike any other, as hopefully we will be coming out of the pandemic. Our community, like so many others, is struggling economically. Because of this, there are so many increased community needs, addictions, social housing, homelessness, social services, increased costs for the health unit, not to mention putting money aside for a new hospital in the future. 

It is going to be extremely difficult to meet all the demands of our community and to try to keep our taxes as low as possible.

Tim Lauer (Ward 4)

There is no shortage of initiatives that need to be moved along in the final year of the term - waterfront, park improvements, major infrastructure, but I think the big challenge this year will be the Climate Action Plan and how aggressively council will address the issue. I find politicians at all levels love to start conversations but are often hesitant to take real action on the ground.

The Climate Action Plan needs to be more than a conversation. The plan will have far-reaching implications and will present an opportunity to change the way we do business in real terms. Municipalities can be and are often the leaders when confronted with heavyweight issues. There will be some very uncomfortable choices to make in the coming year if we are serious about doing our part.

David Campbell (Ward 1)

The biggest challenge we face, in this council’s final year, is to position the city both financially and strategically to enable the next council to see projects through and continue the progressive direction that this council has taken.

I really feel that this council has made some positive and, perhaps, bold decisions about the city’s future. We have tried to strike that balance between growing and becoming a more modern city while still maintaining that ‘small town’ charm that we all love about Orillia. It is also extremely important that we do this in an environmentally responsible way. Our Climate Change Action Plan will help inform us to ensure that happens

Ted Emond (Ward 1)

Post-COVID economic and social recovery.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke

Certainly, the pandemic will continue to present issues to our physical and mental health as well as to our economy. The ONLY way we ‘crawl out of this’ is for all of us (that can) to get fully vaccinated ASAP!

Two other challenges have surfaced as most prominent; They are housing and climate change. Housing was a significant issue before the pandemic and now has blown into a crisis here, throughout the county and beyond. What used to be primarily an affordable housing issue for our most vulnerable is now a crisis across the complete housing spectrum. This also highlights the importance of raising the average family income in our community.

Again, we see Climate Change surfacing again as major priority for many Canadians. We have a Climate Change Action Plan coming forward that will outline meaningful ways in which we can adapt to and mitigate the effects of Climate Change.

TOMORROW: Check back tomorrow for responses about an intriguing question about regrets and if, in hindsight, councillors may have approached a specific issue differently.