Highlands East residents who did an online survey and took part in focus groups towards the township’s corporate strategic plan got to see the fruits of their labour during a June 4 council meeting.

Capital Parks Consulting presented the municipalities’ plan – that also involved councillors, staff and other groups, at a special council meeting.

The “high level” deep dive found Highlands East has more seniors, and fewer young adults, than most Ontario municipalities. It further noted a large increase in the permanent population in 2021, likely due to seasonal residents becoming permanent ones during COVID. It was a similar story for other cottage country-type townships. And while it is not known what the statistics have been like since 2021, consultant Steve Lichty suggested it is a trend that is likely continuing.

Lichty said nearly 70 per cent of survey respondents rated the quality of life in HE as good, and more than 15 per cent as very good. A little over 10 per cent chose poor and a small percentage very poor.

Survey respondents asked, “considering all of the programs and services” provided, overall satisfaction with the township ranked over 50 per cent. But nearly 25 per cent answered dissatisfied.”

As far as strengths, the clear-cut winners were Highlands East’s natural setting and lakes and rivers.

“It speaks to the fact that you need to really protect your environment in order to protect the quality of life,” Lichty said.

The corporate strategic plan is in effect from 2024-2028.

Mayor Dave Burton, deputy mayor Cec Ryall and councillors Angela Lewis, Cam McKenzie and Ruth Strong said, “our new plan will be the blueprint guiding our actions, investments, and initiatives to fulfill the shared vision we have crafted together.”

CAO Brittany McCaw and staff added, “this plan represents our shared commitment to building a vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive municipality that meets the needs of current and future generations.”

McCaw said the key priorities are thriving community, service, operational excellence, and environmental stewardship.

Speaking to thriving community, Lichty used the example of prioritizing consultation, communication and commitment, noting many people have two residences; one in the GTA and one in Highlands East, as well as lack of internet when in the County. He said it required more traditional ways of communicating with those residents.

With service and operational excellence, Lichty said it was important to consolidate municipal services under one roof to provide a “one-stop-shopping” approach. Council has discussed a new township office but so far, the cost has stopped them from proceeding. Lichty also stressed the need to attract and keep staff, suggesting things such as alternate work weeks and remote work options.

As for environmental stewardship, strategic actions ranged from promoting erosion control to looking at alternative energy sources for municipal buildings.

He said with each council decision comes strategic questions to ensure action is aligned with the plan.

Lichty added the plan is a roadmap for politicians and senior staff to follow, “to guide decision-making while considering the annual budget and while determining work plan priorities.” He noted staff would regularly report back to council. He said the plan wasn’t the endpoint but a starting point.

“You put a lot of time and effort and thought into coming up with these strategic priorities, goals, and actions and if you focus on them, you’ll probably achieve them. If you get distracted by other things, you probably won’t.”

Ryall said he finds these types of reports, “paint a picture at about 5,000 feet in the air. And after that, you’ve gotta’ come down to where we need to start looking at to make things happen. This excited me and now I want to know what’s next steps?”