Norfolk task force wants project short list

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A community task force has asked Norfolk County’s administrative staff to refine the list of capital projects it has been asked to prioritize.

At the second meeting of Norfolk’s Economic Recovery Task Force on Aug. 27, members agreed the list was too long and wide-ranging.

They asked senior staff to use their judgment to reduce the list to a maximum of 10 projects with more details about why these projects are important. The revised list will be presented at the task force’s next meeting on Oct. 1.

Whatever staff members come up with, task force member Doug Cadman, the president of Trackless Vehicles in Courtland, said it might be smart to include an energy-conservation component. In his experience, Cadman has found that government agencies are eager to support initiatives that reduce carbon emissions – a suspected driver of climate change.

“The government seems very receptive to any project that has something to do with energy conservation,” Cadman said. “If it has something to do with energy conservation, they are all over it.”

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The task force is comprised of leading business and cultural minds from the community. Chris Garwood, Norfolk’s economic development co-ordinator, said a key part of its role is to forge consensus in the community for projects that might attract major federal-provincial funding.

As Norfolk learned with the county’s recent funding bid for a $50-million recreational hub in Simcoe, consensus can be difficult to achieve in a large rural municipality defined by diverse communities with unique objectives and priorities. Because dissent is a drag on funding applications, Norfolk hopes to neutralize that with a general consensus beforehand that the municipality can refer to in counterpoint.

The process is also beneficial, says Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess, because it makes for more interesting funding applications.

Along the way, Burgess said, the county will collect personal stories and granular detail on how specific infrastructure work might improve the lives of people trying to move the economy forward despite pandemic constraints.

“It is a bit of beauty contest,” Burgess said. “We have to find a way to ensure our application is not run-of-the-mill.”

Whatever happens, says Michelle Kloepfer of Titan Trailers and Cranberry Creek Gardens in Lynedoch, it’s probably wise to steer clear of major street repairs in downtown Delhi. The detours recently came down on King Street after disrupting the core for the past two summers.

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The task force has set to work because the federal government has signalled there may be billions of dollars allocated to municipalities in an effort to boost the national economy following the COVID-19 shutdown.

Garwood admits the road ahead is precarious. The federal government may think better of the idea, he said, given the massive deficits it will incur for the foreseeable future.

Or the call could go out this fall for “shovel-ready projects.” When and if the opportunity presents itself, Garwood said Norfolk needs to be prepared with thorough, carefully considered ideas.

Mike Fredericks, CEO of Annex Business Media in Simcoe, was tapped to serve as task force chair. However – on the eve of the task force’s first meeting this summer – he begged off due to a personal matter.

Garwood said this week that Fredericks continues to monitor the situation and could join the task force at a later date. Garwood said the task force’s mandate could last as long as three years, adding there is lots of time for Fredericks to make a contribution.

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