Steve Grose says he worked hard, during the campaign leading up to the 2010 municipal election, on convincing residents of St. Marys that he would look after the town’s financial well-being. And, nearing three years into the term he won as mayor, he told an audience of almost 100 at the second annual St. Marys Mayor’s Breakfast that he and fellow councillors have remained true to that pledge.
The Mayor’s Breakfast, organized by the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce, was hosted once again by the Stone Willow Inn on James Street East. This year, with registered attendance increased from 2012’s guest list of 60, the decision was made to move the event into the hotel/restaurant’s outdoor reception tent.
“We’re on target,” Grose said to conclude his remarks, referring to a directive given by Council to Town staff to come back with a zero per cent budgetary increase for Town expenses in 2014. “We will definitely meet it. And I’m quite sure we’re going to beat it by a little bit.”
Grose also boasted of a $580,000 surplus on the 2012 fiscal year — something he referred to as an unprecedented result, and due, he says, to staff’s ability to find cost efficiencies in the delivery of services as much as possible.
He added that “we didn’t spend (the 2012 surplus). We put it back into reserves so it will be available in the future, when we need it.” Grose said the town’s reserve balance, as a result, rose from just over $2 million at the beginning of 2013 to approximately $4.1 million today.
The Mayor conceded, however, that build-up of reserves and the prospect of a zero per cent budget increase didn’t come without pain.
“There are some bumps in the road when you need to get things under control. There are some hurt feelings.”
He outlined the cost-cutting measures taken since his inaugural Mayor’s Breakfast speech — a “state of the Town” style address — in September, 2012. Those included continuing towards a 10 per cent reduction in the full-time-equivalent employment with the municipality, changes in the collection of yard waste, contracting out the operation of the town’s water supply, and acting onsome of the recommendations — particularly regarding the Pyramid Centre kitchen (elimination of catering services) and ball and soccer fields (altered fee schedules and a maintenance agreement with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame) — contained in the report from the Mayor’s Task Force on Recreation.
He noted there have been a number of complaints about the yard waste, and that the situation will be monitored. As for the Mayor’s Task Force, he said a well-utilized public consultation process meant people were prepared for the Recreation-related changes.
He also touched on public reaction to a more recent decision taken by Council: The closure of the Water Street Bridge in response to safety concerns in an engineering consultant’s report. On that matter, Grose said, “we haven’t had too many negative reactions, and that’s because we’ve been talking about this since I got elected; we’ve been saying, ‘we’ve got a bridge problem’.”
That being said, Grose said he’s fully aware of the implications of the bridge’s closure, having sat through three red lights on Church Street on the day of the recent Downtown St. Marys Car Show. On that day, the Wellington Street Bridge was also closed, leaving Church Street as the town’s only north/south access.
“It was the only time I felt like I was in Toronto,” he said of the Saturday afternoon traffic snarls.
Grose told the Stone Willow audience, however, that he was “happy it was that way” because it solidified in his mind that the situation can’t stay the way it is. Unfortunately, he added, “we’re not allowed to do much until we’ve gone through the EA (Environmental Assessment) process.”
Responding to a question following his address, the mayor added that he’s committed to seeing the Water Street Bridge brought back into use for vehicular traffic.
He also offered a level of assurance that decreases in expenses can not go on forever.
“We’ve cut and we’ve cut. Now we’re at the point where we have to maintain,” he said. “I personally think we’ve cut our services to the point that we can’t really cut any more.”