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Gilliland focuses on environment, budget in fall Council sitting

From promoting stronger measures to protect Aurora's urban forests to bringing forward the re-establishment of the Town's Environmental Advisory Committee, green initiatives have been a passion for Councillor Rachel Gilliland in her first two years on Council. As Council settles into the fall, they will continue to be a focus.

It has been an eventful year for Council as they grappled with the stark realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in that time Councillor Gilliland has continued her push for a more environmentally friendly community, all the while helping the local cultural sector try and find their feet amid equally stark uncertainty.

“I think it is no secret I am really protective of the environment and brought forward [a motion to declare a] Climate Emergency, which was really good to identify within Aurora and initiatives across the country,” says Councillor Gilliland. “In February, I was really concerned about the tree canopy and as a result of that discussion around the table came the motion around the Urban Forest Study. I was really happy to see staff had gone back and reviewed that – then COVID happened and a lot of things stalled.”

They weren't stalled for long, however. As the community settled in to a “new normal” so too did local lawmakers. A number of task forces were established to address the COVID-related needs of various sectors, including the arts and culture realm.

Councillor Gilliland serves on the Arts & Culture Roundtable, which brought together a diverse cross-section of cultural stakeholders to not only identify needs but solutions as well. Among their initiatives was a professionally-produced music video to highlight the community's cultural partners and organizations to remind everyone they're still here and ready to thrive once again.

“[With] the support and collaboration we're able to achieve between all different cultural partners and the cultural sectors, whether they are for profit or not, having that information and support out there was key because there was so much uncertainty out there,” says Councillor Gilliland. “Knowing you had a pool of people who were all going through similar things, we were able to identify the kinds of supports we all needed for one another and could share.

“Our video was very uplifting for the community. We saw people start off feeling nervous with high anxiety come out of this with some sort of plan and optimism and you're seeing people start to recover. I think that is really the greatest achievement.”

Back at the Council table, there is no shortage of achievements to collectively look back on.

In addition to the environmental measures, Councillor Gilliland says she looks back with pride on several other key issues, including the decision to install a four-way stop on John West Way at Town Hall and Amberhill Way, as well as her stance on economic recovery following the pandemic.

Councillor Gilliland, along with Councillors Wendy Gaertner and John Gallo, were the three dissenting voices against moving forward with the construction of Library Square when the matter came before Council for a final vote at the end of August.

From her perspective, it wasn't a matter of nixing the plan completely rather than delaying a decision until this month when Town Treasurer Rachel Wainwright-Van Kessel is due to present local lawmakers a new economic forecast incorporating the realities that come from fighting a pandemic, including potential loss of revenue.

“I am going to respect the decision of Council moving forward,” she says. “I do think Library Square is a great project. It is a fabulous facility for the community. Obviously one of the big reasons for my vote of ‘not right now' is because I wanted to have that budget and financial update and use those 120 days [to get that information before the tender bid expired]. I will be watching the budget, if there are changes that need to be made, and how that is going to impact the overall budget.

“I don't want to see this project balloon to an astronomical level we couldn't predict, so if we do find some changes that need to be made, we make smart decisions to scale back financially where it is needed in order to stay within the budget.

“It is the fall budget report for the operating of the Town, our shortfalls, how our tax levy is going to be impacted, if at all. I also wanted a report back from staff about the shortfalls of operations for Library Square. We never did see that report that reflected that shortfall. The only operating budget we were presented was something that reflected a normal way of operating in 2019. I would liked to have seen that, but it doesn't mean I can't ask for that.”

Another Council decision she says she respects is moving Aurora from its current at-large system of government in favour of the implementation of wards by the 2022 Municipal Election.

“I think there are great positives to it, but at the same time, you want to feel when you do finalize these decisions you have done it in a way where it feels the residents were engaged and included in the decision-making on such a really big change in the community,” she says, reiterating her concerns that the survey circulated to residents did not poll voters on whether or not they wanted wards in the first place, just ward configurations. “I am going to respect the decision of Council and move forward with what we decided.”

Future decisions of Council, she says, need to be viewed through a budgetary lens and this is something she is going to focus on in the months ahead.

“I am focused on keeping an eye on the budget for everything,” says Councillor Gilliland. “That is where my uncertainty is. We have other projects potentially on the go and obviously I am going to be concerned on how we can afford to do those. For example, the Aquatics Feasibility Study has come back to us…. And will explain some options, needs and whatnot, but it is really exploring where we're going to find that money to do that.

“I think for the next six months, as things happen and the uncertainty with COVID and that impact, it is really going to be about trying to identify our priorities and where we're going to spend our money.”

By Brock Weir
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter



Post date: 2020-10-01 23:24:43
Post date GMT: 2020-10-02 03:24:43
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