Mayor Looks Ahead to 2019

Our political reporter, Kirk Winter, conducted an in-depth interview with City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham, looking at a number of issues headed to Council in 2019.

Letham Meets with Ford

On December 10, 2018, Mayor Andy Letham of the City of Kawartha Lakes had a 45-minute meeting with Premier Doug Ford, where areas of shared interest were discussed.

Letham described the meeting as cordial and informative.

Letham said that the Premier was very interested in new leaner CKL council, and was very impressed at the lengths the City had gone to to identify key services and where money should be spent in the future.

Mayor Letham pressed the Premier on a number of key local issues which the province would be instrumental in seeing through to completion. Some of these issues included  the four-lane expansion of Highway 35 south of Highway 7, funding for the Small Business Centre in the CKL, assistance in expanding broadband and cell phone services to all locations within the City, expansion of natural gas availability to Bobcaygeon, and the addition of more long-term care beds, likely at Victoria Manor.

Letham believes groundwork has been laid for future cooperation between the City and the Province, and believes there will be more meetings with Ford in the future.

 Looking Forward To Working with Elmslie

The Mayor shared his insights about the kind of personal and working relationship he hopes to have with his new Deputy Mayor, Doug Elmslie.

Letham said he was pleased to see Elmslie, the Ward Three Councillor from Fenelon Falls, elected to the one- year renewable term as Deputy Mayor. 

The Mayor shared that he has a good working relationship with the four-term Councillor, and has a lot of respect for Elmslie’s work on Council.

Letham is impressed by Elmslie’s work ethic, and his attention to detail. Many have noted that Councillor Elmslie doesn’t just “speak for the sake of hearing his own voice,” rather he contributes meaningfully when he has something valuable to say.

Mayor Letham also appreciates how competitive Elmslie is, and that this trait generally leads to a pursuit of excellence. The Mayor concluded by complimenting the Councillor on how well he carries himself in public, and his excellent people skills.

Letham says that he and Elmslie will be splitting a myriad of public duties this summer, whenever a representative of the City has been requested. Mayor Letham say that particularly during the summer months there is not enough of him to go around given all the public events at which his presence is required. Letham is confident that Deputy Mayor Elmslie will represent the City with class and decorum.

City Hall watchers predict that another duty Elmslie will take on is bridging the political divide that exists on Council between the fiscal conservatives made up of Pat Dunn, Ron Ashmore and Emmett Yeo, and the progressive wing of Council made up of Pat O’Reilly, Andrew Veale, Kathleen Seymour-Fagan and Tracy Richardson. While Elmslie firmly identifies with the progressive wing on Council, he is a deal broker and consensus politician who looks for decisions that bring Council together rather than divide it.

Elmslie, known for his behind the scenes work before most Council meetings even start, will likely excel in the position of Deputy Mayor, and chief deal maker, assisting Mayor Letham and the City in moving forward in a united and positive manner.

 Letham Talks Debt

Critics of recent municipal governments in the CKL often hyper focus on the debt the City is currently carrying, suggesting that it is proof of fiscal mismanagement at the highest levels.

In my end of the year interview with Mayor Letham, we talked debt, and I can honestly say I came away better educated on the subject.

The current City debt is approximately $115 million, broken down into a number of sub-categories:

·      $46 million has been incurred by sewer and water system upgrades, and that debt is not tax-supported debt. The water and sewer debt is directly supported by user fees paid by thousands of ratepayers in the CKL who are tied into one of the 21 municipal water and sewer systems across CKL.

·      Another $25 million of City debt is directly supported through taxation spread evenly across the City.

·      $14 million is still owed on the Northwest Trunk line expansion, but as the Mayor said, almost $11 million of that debt will be paid in development fees once the houses are built in the massive sub-division planned at Colborne Street and Highway 35.

·      There is also a considerable City-backed debt owed by the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation. Letham describes that debt as more of a mortgage, which will be paid back by the sale of older Corporation housing stock, and by the rents paid by tenants as new families move into one of the new projects the Housing Corporation has almost completed. 

With an operating budget forecasted in 2019 to be over $270 million, the city debt works out to be 43 percent of the projected budget, and Letham says the debt has not increased since 2014.

The Mayor shared an interesting anecdote regarding the debt, suggesting that if the City was a person making $50,000 a year and only carrying a $20,000 to $25,000 mortgage, most would look at that situation and be very pleased.

Letham also shared that under provincial legislation, the City can carry as much as $300 million in debt, and they are miles away from needing to carry that kind of financial burden.

The total net worth of the CKL government assets are $3.2 billion, and Letham suggests with the financial plans put in place by the Council in 2017, the City will become more sustainable with each passing year.

Road Improvements are a Priority

If Mayor Letham and Premier Ford get their way, there could be big changes coming for Highway 35 south of Highway 7, all the way to where it joins with Highway 115.

In a meeting with the Premier on December 11, Mayor Letham made the point of reminding the Premier that work on Highway 35 has been long overdue. Often promised by the Liberals, construction has yet to be approved.

Letham said that Ford and his people were well-versed on the issue for a couple of reasons.  Ford’s Executive Assistant is from Peterborough and knows the Highway 35 file well, and local MPP Laurie Scott has been laying the groundwork with the Transportation Ministry since the Conservatives took power in June.

When first proposed, the highway expansion was a serious bone of contention for many people who lived along the roadway. Many properties were purchased by the Province in the past decade, and the original owners have been allowed to live in the homes, rent-free, in anticipation of the project commencing. Letham expects there will still be some opposition to the project, and Ward 8 Councillor Tracy Richardson has already started to receive phone calls about the possibility of the project actually starting.

Letham and Richardson both believe that the strategic addition of passing lanes in certain areas may rectify traffic flow issues on the highway, particularly on Friday and Sunday evenings, limiting the construction impact to citizens south of Lindsay.

Letham said that regardless of potential opposition, he hopes the project will be approved.

The City is growing, and with the 407 expansion coming soon, the infrastructure improvements are needed, and necessary, for future economic growth in the CKL.

City HallDeb Crossen