I’ve spoken to quite a few residents in the hamlets of the municipality recently and they feel that Kemptville has become the ‘centre of the universe’ and all of the municipality’s resources get spent there and nothing is left for them. However, the more I listened, the more I learned that it isn’t about money. The issues actually seem to be a perceived lack of respect, lack of public input and lack of effective communication on the part of the municipality. Case in point: Burritts Rapids.
There was a public meeting on July 15 at the Burritts Rapids Community Hall regarding a proposal to change the name of River Road and part of County Road 23 to ‘County Road 23’ so
the non-local dispatchers for emergency services don’t get confused by possible duplicate addresses. The meeting started with the residents upset that the meeting was scheduled too early (6:00pm) to get home from work, eat and get to the meeting on time. There was also the typical frustration with a lack of notice of the meeting taking place. They also had the feeling that the change was happening and that the meeting was just a formality rather than an actual opportunity for them to have input. There was definitely a lot of frustration in the room, but as the meeting wore on, people started to understand they did have some input and eventually voted in favour of officially changing the name of the affected area to ‘Burritts Rapids Road’ instead of the current proposal. It was just a simple lack of communication or misunderstanding and then everything seemed to work out and most residents seemed satisfied. However, I spoke to a few members of the community outside the hall afterwards and got an earful. These long time residents said they felt more a part of Merrickville or the city of Ottawa than they did North Grenville because of many perceived slights to them over the years. This might also be partially due to the geographical fact that Burritts Rapids is split by the river with the north side being city of Ottawa jurisdiction and them being so close to Merrickville.
As I’ve mentioned before in a previous letter, posting notice about public meetings on the municipal website is highly ineffective. I think there should be a short press release from the municipality that gets sent to the two newspapers and the radio station giving specific details about the meeting and what it will mean to the residents of the affected area. As well, creating a community email list to let interested residents and businesses know about upcoming meetings on issues affecting their area. Signing up for an email list at the public meeting is too late. Allow people to sign up for a community email list through the website so they don’t have to constantly check the website not knowing what they’re looking for.
On another occasion, I was told by a member of the Burritts Rapids Community Association that the city of Ottawa makes an unsolicited donation to the association to help pay the costs of operating the community hall. The member told me that in 2013, the city of Ottawa donated $9054. North Grenville donated $1460. Considering the sizes of the budgets of each, the difference is not surprising, the city of Ottawa simply has a lot more money. However, the member said that the donation from the city of Ottawa is unsolicited, but the North Grenville donation must be applied for and multiple reminders delivered in person and electronically, every year. The member wanted to know why their own municipality couldn’t do the same as Ottawa by donating without solicitation? The member also told me that members of the current council have been invited to events in Burritts Rapids but sometimes did not even respond to invitations. The member said she understood that council can’t possibly make it to all of the events in the municipality, but said that they should show enough respect to respond and say ‘no thanks’.
My suggestion to fix the first issue would be that the municipality should at least enter into a four year agreement with the community association whereby they would waive the property tax on the community hall every year for four years starting with each new term of council. This way, if changes needed to be made to the agreement, a new one could be drafted with each new term of council. If the new council wanted to change the terms, then they could do that. I would also suggest that the community association be allowed to apply for other community grants like other organizations. I think this agreement should also be offered to the other community associations like Bishops Mills for example. Hopefully, Oxford Mills gets a chance to buy Maplewood Hall from the municipality soon and they could get in on that too.
Though more effective communication won’t resolve the past frustrations of the hamlets, it may help to resolve some of the future ones and help them feel like an important part of North Grenville, which they are. Again, I believe the municipality and new council needs to do a much better job at seeking input and communicating more effectively. Simply, I think we deserve better.