Council receives update on progress of Strategic Plan Priorities

(Gazette file photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

At the first Regular Meeting of 2022, Council received a report and presentation from Aidan Grove-White, Director of StrategyCorp, as part of the municipality’s Corporate Strategic Plan Check-In.

For context, in January 2020 council approved a set of corporate strategic priorities intended to build upon the Corporate Strategic Plan of 2016.

“The strategic plan focuses on matters that relate to things under your control,” said Grove-White. “Some councils like to think of it as a job review, but I prefer to think of it more as a roadmap.”

These priorities include: financial sustainability, corporate culture, infrastructure renewal, maintenance of rural and historic character, a stable and diversified economy, a livable community, and adapting to climate change.

As per Grove-White’s presentation, the check-in was devised to help council assess what priorities have been adequately addressed and which require further public consultation.

With the vast number of changes having taken place here recently, from the pandemic to the changing cultural landscape, Grove-White stressed the need for council to fine-tune some of their priorities

“The overarching goals of the Corporate Strategic Plan are valid, however lack specific outcomes,” said Grove-White, citing feedback from several councillors and members of staff.

“The main operational issues we’re hearing relate to prioritization, resourcing, and timing,” stated Grove-White. “The plan is not adequately defined and linked to operating plans and budgets.”

In his presentation, Grove-White dove into feedback from council and staff regarding the priorities with tips to make these priorities more actionable. He noted the next phase for this particular project is public engagement, which will build on the check-in.

According to Grove-White, implementing a 10 year community plan will include engaging with the public, staff and council with implementation of the plan beginning during the next council’s term. A report on those findings will be available in February 2022.

Delving into the first Strategic Plan item, Financial Sustainability, Grove-White noted almost everybody considered the term “sustainability” to be too broad. He also noted there was a split view that the County is too fiscally conservative, and that debt should be used more to allow more spending.

Aidan Grove-White offered a report on Council’s Corporate Strategic Plan Tuesday. (StrategyCorp photo)

“There were concerns that multi-year budgeting and an asset management plan will contribute to ward vs. Countywide tension,” he added.

While public engagement is required, it is particularly important when considering infrastructure funding needs

The second Strategic Priority involves Corporate Culture. Grove-White indicated the feedback was mostly positive, in that many councillors and staff felt the corporate culture had improved with staff and leadership changes.

While staff retention and succession concerns still need to be addressed, he emphasized there is no additional public engagement recommended for this Strategic Priority.

In discussing Infrastructure Renewal, the third Strategic Priority, Grove-White noted that many discussed the need for this term to encompass not only roads, building repair etc., but also affordable housing.

“In general, there is a need for a more transparent process for infrastructure funding. That’s not to say that infrastructure is being improperly funded, but a way of communicating to the public and stakeholders about why certain infrastructure decisions are being made is important,” noted Grove-White.

He also noted there is a need to find a way to recuperate tourism related infrastructure costs.

Public engagement is required with regards to this priority, particularly, stressed Grove-White when speaking about financial sustainability.

The fourth Strategic Plan Priority discussed involved maintaining the historic and rural charm of the county. In his presentation, Grove-White emphasized that while this is seen as an important priority, it is too broad a definition to be actionable. Furthermore, there is a divergence of thought between those who believe maintaining the physical attributes of the county are paramount to maintaining its charm and those who believe the less tangible assets (tightknit community, volunteerism) are of more importance.

In speaking of making the county a community with a stable and diversified economy, Grove-White stated most see tourism as being the largest sector in the area.

Ameliasburgh Councillor Janice Maynard. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“Generally, most view tourism as dominating the County economy, and see this sector growing due to macro-level forces beyond local control,” he said.

The consultant also noted the farming industry is seen as an important part of the county and some believe more work should be done to encourage other types of industry to move to the area.

In speaking about the sixth Strategic Plan Priority-Livable Community-Grove-White noted that based on feedback, there is believed to be no progress made toward achieving this goal.

“Affordability” and “liveability” need to be viewed separately. While the municipality needs to decide who their target audience is with regards to making this area more liveable.

“Housing affordability is seen as a major barrier to progress on this item, and generally the situation was perceived to be worsening,” he stated.

Finally, the seventh Strategic Priority is Adapting to Climate Change. Again, the presenter noted an absence of defined goals.

“There were generally two categories we heard about how to address the issue of climate change. Those are: emissions reductions and protecting infrastructure,” he explained.

Despite there being a perceived lack of progress with this priority, Grove-White stated, that is perhaps unfairly due to the absence of defined goals. When we spoke to staff, materials were shared with us showing us what staff have been working on.

“Many viewed the climate emergency declaration as being symbolic, even if it was important, it didn’t actually advance progress on this as a municipal government,” he emphasized.

Public engagement will be required to assess priorities (i.e. adaptation vs. mitigation).

Councillor Janice Maynard asked for clarification regarding the benefit of the overarching goals inherent to the strategic plan.

“You mentioned that the strategic plan should be in council’s control and used as a road map. I think most of us realize where we are in this term of council and we had anticipated we’d get to the goal setting earlier,” said Maynard. “But, when you say there was strong support for the overarching goals of the strategic plan, is that to say the overarching goals are good? It’s just the fleshing out, which clearly we will not have any time to do in any depth during the remainder of this council?”

Grove-White offered that while the goals clearly speak to those on council, he believes there is some overlap.

“The goals of the plan spoke to you…Imagine if we were working together on this and moving into a goal setting phase, I think you’d see some priorities merge a bit. For example, it is very difficult to have financial sustainability from infrastructure renewal,” he said.

In order to achieve the 10 year community plan, Grove-White suggested conversations need to be had with the community to better help residents understand the choices being made by council.

“Tough decisions are even harder when the public you’re serving doesn’t understand them or hasn’t had a chance to have the pros and cons put before them,” said Grove-White. “With the conversations we’re proposing, we’re trying to bring forward those tensions to help people see where there are opportunities for things to be greater than the sum of their parts.”