HUNTSVILLE – A tumultuous year in Huntsville’s town hall is over.
Mayor Claude Doughty said municipal department restructuring was one of the most significant initiatives in 2012. The restructuring resulted in major overhauls that not only meant the reconfiguration of municipal departments, but also the elimination of several positions – and the termination of several long-term employees – this past year.
And while the restructuring process is over and no new changes are expected in the near future, Doughty said he expects the restructuring to have a lasting impact on the municipality.
“The most time-consuming and important issue dealing with the municipality over the longer term will be staff reorganization,” he said.
According to Doughty senior staff brought the restructuring initiative to council as a recommendation for greater organizational efficiency and cost-savings for taxpayers.
“Efficiency isn’t a word often used synonymously with government operations, but it was an initiative that senior staff proposed could be done. In the long-term, it would be cost-effective and at the same time improve our efficiency significantly,” said Doughty. “It would better align our skill sets and operations with the modern technologies that are out there, which would save us money.”
He said it made sense to find efficiencies if the town is investing in information technology, which it has been for years.
And the restructuring was key to improving customer service, he noted.
“We will continue to see better customer service as we go forward,” he said. “It will be a continuation of the initiative that was started last year.”
He said, based on public feedback, the focus on improved customer services seems to be working.
But that is not all that happened in the past 12 months.
Doughty said the creation of the veterans’ commemorative area in Memorial Park, behind the Canada Summit Centre, was another important project.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who served this country,” he commented.
He said that, while the town has been focusing on improvement to the town’s recreation centre and advances at the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment for the future, it is equally important to remember and honour the past.
The commemorative area, which is part of the master plan for the 80-acre park, was in the works for about three years. It involved consultants, town staff, councillors, Huntsville legion members and the community.
When completed, the commemorative area’s four stone pillars will display the names of area residents who have served in the armed forces.
Doughty said progress was also made at the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment.
The University of Waterloo, which provides courses in the building, appointed Dr. Colin Yates as principal research and education lead for the facility last year. Yates will be responsible for developing new programming for research as well as education at the site, according to the university.
Yates has already developed a water quality and soils lab, and added courses such as electrofishing.
“We’re giving him our staff support to really ramp that stuff up,” said Doughty.
The town is hammering out a lease with Muskoka Animation Studio Huntsville for space at the Waterloo building as well. The lease is expected to be finalized in January or February. The addition of the company to the community could mean more than 50 new jobs.
“I’m excited about that, too,” said Doughty.
And while the town pursues education and job growth in the new year, it will also undertake an extensive review of its public works operations, said Doughty.
“That will be a fair amount of work going forward, I expect,” he said. “The review will be in-depth, and needs to be. It’s been a long time since that was done.”
The review will include an examination of the town’s road maintenance standards, public works operations, building maintenance and other aspects.
Doughty said he expects the review to be completed in mid-March.
But he said the biggest challenge in the new year will be the budget, as always.
“We’re continuing to pay the debt off at over $1 million a year, which is aggressive. We’re on track with that,” said Doughty. “And given that we’re paying that debt off so quickly, I’m not fussed to see the reserves go up at the expense of the levy.”
Last year, councillors asked staff to present options to get the budget to a zero per cent tax increase for 2013. Doughty said he is curious to see what that will look like.
“Over the last three or four years, we’ve been finding a lot of efficiencies and saving a lot of money. There is certainly no low-hanging fruit left. There might be a couple of things up near the top of the tree, but not many,” said Doughty. “We’re getting leaner and more efficient.”
Council will continue hammering out its 2013 budget over the next few months.
Doughty added that he does not expect the municipality to spearhead any significant capital projects in the near future.