City strategic plan gets pushback from council
The draft Kawartha Lakes strategic plan for 2023-2027, presented by CAO Ron Taylor and Manager of Strategy and Innovation Brenda Stonehouse, was shared with council asking for additional feedback before the document is to be voted on at the next meeting on Jan. 30.
The strategic plan, called by Councillor Ron Ashmore “the constitution of Kawartha Lakes for the next four years,” received an unexpectedly rough ride from many on council. Four councillors questioned sections of the plan, asking for changes and inclusions to be made to the draft, and three of those went further requesting that more public consultation be heard before the final copy comes back to council for approval.
“This draft plan spells out council’s strategic priorities,” Taylor said. “We want to refresh and update the previous strategic plan, including next steps. This document is extremely important. We want to build from the past and build on those successes.”
Taylor said the draft strategic plan is a “small but mighty” document that clearly explains where the community wants to go and how council can assist in moving those priorities forward.
He said the content in the document was gathered through meetings with staff, council and the public using the Jump In platform where 476 citizens shared insights on the direction the city should be taking and how goals should be achieved between now and 2027.
Stonehouse told council that six key themes were heard time and again via the Jump In platform and believes these concerns were well reflected in the draft plan. They include the need for more affordable housing, the need for sustainable and environmentally conscious development, improved health care, education and services as the city grows, amenities such as outdoor spaces, community events and recreation facilities expanding to meet the needs of a growing population, better roads, more active transport, transit and connections to GO Transit needed to support growth and business, and that the preservation of small town culture and heritage be a priority as the municipality moves forward with growth levels never seen in this part of Ontario.
Ashmore offered his critique of the document saying that many rural communities feel “like they have been left out regarding rural transit” and that there needs to be much more emphasis in the strategic plan on connections with GO Transit which currently does not serve Kawartha Lakes.
“I believe we have included that in the plan,” Stonehouse responded. “It is certainly a part of the Transportation Masterplan which is guided by the municipal strategic plan.”
Ashmore also worried that with less than two weeks left before a scheduled vote at council, additional public meetings on the plan would be difficult to make happen. The councillor favoured putting off the vote on the draft plan until all of council’s concerns are addressed.
Councillor Pat Warren wanted to know what kind of measurement tools staff would be using to determine the plans success or failure and was told by Stonehouse that the city would have those metrics in place by later in 2024.
Warren asked directly if environmental responsibility could be made a guiding principle in the strategic plan through which all city decisions will be considered.
Taylor responded that, “a healthy environment is front and centre in the document. I believe it is already a universal lens we use. The public feedback we received showed that the environment and affordable housing were top of mind for many in the community.”
Councillor Mike Perry was concerned that the only public consultation for the plan had been done via the Jump In platform.
“We, as a council, have said that (public consultation via) Jump In is not enough,” said Perry. The councillor added that council itself felt like a bit of “an echo chamber.”
Stonehouse told Perry that at this time there was no further plan for more public consultation “unless council wished.”
Perry was also concerned that the draft strategic plan looked too much like a business-as-usual plan and lacks the urgency regarding the growth going on in Kawartha Lakes.
Stonehouse thought otherwise, telling Perry, “The sense of urgency is present (in the document). This (plan) gives us the framework to move forward.”
Perry added that changes can still be made to the draft document before the next council meeting and that he wanted to see inclusion added as a core value for the municipality so that everyone understands what the city takes seriously.
“The language in the document needs to be amended,” Perry said.
Councillor Tracy Richardson asked Perry what kind of broad input he was looking for.
“I would like to see broad public meetings,” Perry responded. “Jump In is a good tool but it is not enough for the approval of a strategic plan.”
Councillor Eric Smeaton was pleased that all city committees and task forces were asked for input, but agreed with Perry that Jump In alone is insufficient to gather public input.
“I think we have a good document,” Smeaton said, “but we will need to have a conversation over the next couple of weeks.”
Ashmore spoke again suggesting that the plan “is 95 per cent there but we need to get it right. There needs to be more public input. Two weeks is a tight timeline for additions at the last minute. Can we have a little longer?”
Much more debate is expected at council next week when the draft plan, with potentially many additions and alterations, is re-presented to council for a final vote.