Major upgrades to the Muskoka Wharf, the replacement of a bridge and breathing life into the former site of the Muskoka Regional Centre are the top priorities for Gravenhurst in 2017.
That’s according to Mayor Paisley Donaldson who spoke last week about what the municipality has on its plate for the upcoming year and what they accomplished in 2016.
In December, the town passed their 2017 capital budget of $5.4 million, which will trigger roughly a three per cent increase on the tax levy. That equates to an increase of $45 on the average home assessed at $220,000.
Out of the $5.4 million, $2,260,500 has been earmarked for roads and sewers, while an additional $841,000 has been included for the Sniders Bay Bridge replacement.
“The work being performed really isn’t anything glamorous, however…maintaining our assets and infrastructure is important,” says Donaldson, who has been the mayor of Gravenhurst since 2010. “We run a fiscally prudent and responsible corporation. All communities are struggling with infrastructure deficit, Gravenhurst is no different.”
In 2017, the Town will embark on a major rejuvenation project for the Muskoka Wharf. This year there will be $400,000 set aside in the budget for the first phase of the three phase project, which includes the replacement of the boardwalk.
In total, the town was able to complete 39 capital projects last year, while another eight were pushed back into 2017. Delayed projects include enhanced beautification efforts within the downtown core and the wharf, upgrades at the senior centre, facility upgrades and beach safety improvements.
Thirty-four new drainage culverts were installed in 2016, as were 800 new LED lights, although there are still 20 old light fixtures at the train station slated for conversion to LED in the spring of 2017.
An asset management plan is also in the works and is expected to be presented to council in the first quarter of 2017.
Perhaps the biggest news coming out of Gravenhurst in 2016 was the announcement of a potential developer for the former Muskoka Regional Centre, an extremely valuable piece of waterfront Lake Muskoka property which has sat vacant since 1993. In October it was revealed that a Chinese/ Canadian School – Maple Leaf Educational Systems – was in line to develop the property, potentially opening a boarding school on the site with as many as 1,500 students living in dormitories, by as early as 2018.
Donaldson says of all the possible suitors for the property, it was decided that Maple Leaf had the most to offer the people of Gravenhurst.
“Maple Leaf School brought the highest level of economic benefits and employment to the area,” says Donaldson. “This year we’re working towards a more detailed plan to be developed, which is part of the negotiations with Maple Leaf School and (current property owner) Infrastructure Ontario.”
Aside from making forward progress on the former Muskoka Centre Property, Donaldson says there were a number of positive moves on the municipal front last year.
“I feel like a lot of great things happened in 2016,” says the Mayor. “We’ve developed an excellent team of directors and staff lead by CAO, Glen Davies, who has now been with the town for a year. Glen’s an excellent addition to the team, and his leadership has brought stability to the organization.”
Donaldson singled out Community Improvement Plan Funding, which is now in its fifth year of accepting applications, as a success. Last year the program had 18 applicants, and 12 businesses were awarded funding.
In 2016, a total of nine different groups were able to tap into the $12,000 awarded annually through the Terence Haight Community Grant.
Donaldson says 2016 was also a big year for the Gravenhurst Fire Department. A pair of new off-road bush fire-fighting vehicles were purchased and seven new recruits were welcomed into the fold, but the biggest news came when the father and son duo of Bill and Ryan Brazeau were awarded the Ontario Medal for Firefighters Bravery during a ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto.The two were recognized for trying to save another man when a fire erupted in a mobile home on Hwy 11 in December of 2014.