Money Season: Country Roads, Buildings and Budgets

Budget 2022

Budget season for next year is about to begin.  Our budget is a central document that determines what services the Township thinks are needed and who pays.  Municipalities are limited in both respects; property taxes are our main option to raise money and there are many mandated services we must provide. Nonetheless, there is significant ability to budget for what we think will make a better community.  

Budgets become better when politicians and staff hear from the residents on what the community’s priorities should be. Council is setting aside two times within the budget making process for formal community input.

There will be a pubic engagement survey on budget priorities in October with delegations to Council on November 16: the beginning of the budget preparation. Please use these opportunities to say what your 2022 budget priorities are.

The second input session will be in early January 2022 after a detailed full draft budget has been prepared. This is the hard work of budgets: where the “rubber hits the road”.  It will help to know what you think of the proposed spending and taxation for next year.  Many sets of eyes need to go over the details to give us the best possible outcome.  

Gravel Roads

Last year, Council agreed to make gravels roads part of the Township’s asset management plan: something that should have been done a long time ago.  Being part of the asset management system means that gravel roads, like all other roads and facilities, will have long-term financing for their maintenance and improvement.

Council has now taken the next step.  We agreed to use provincial modernization funding for a gravel-roads needs study. The goal is a better system to evaluate our gravel roads and a comprehensive current evaluation of all roads. The information obtained will help identify critical deficiencies, recommend improvements and establish a short- and long-term capital plan for improvements.

The proposed evaluation criteria included the tax base along the road. This criterion would have meant that roads with more valuable properties would receive a higher priority.  Council unanimously supported my motion to remove tax base as a criterion.  Council also voted to include, if it is possible to determine, the mix of seasonal and full-time residents, as one of the considerations.

If all goes well the gravel roads needs study should be done in the spring of 2022.

Unused COVID Assistance

In the 2021 budget Council allocated $250,000 to help community organizations, businesses and individuals who had been hurt by the pandemic.  On September 21 approximately $100,000 was unspent and returned to our reserves.

Two application periods resulted in 14 community groups receiving approximately $85,000 in grants. A further $57,500 was distrusted through Frontenac Business Services to support 31 small business and 98 jobs in the community.  And, $5,000 was used to buy equipment needed to expand the Meals on Wheels program to meet the needs of the increased number of seniors staying at home. 

Southern Frontenac Community Services (SFCS) Building Assistance

SFCS is a local agency providing a wide range of community health related services.  If you are not familiar with the programs, please visit their website. https://www.sfcsc.ca/. Their home base is on Stagecoach Road and it includes the Grace Center, a beautifully repurposed United Church.

SFCS has reached a crisis point. To provide an expanded number of services, they now operate out of three portables and are crowded in the more formal space. 

They need more space to move the food bank and key administrative services out of the portables.  The renovations will also provide confidential meeting space, accessible washrooms, improved efficiencies and expanded capacity in food handling and preparation for Meals on Wheels and a variety of other improvements to meet the needs of the 8,000, and growing number of seniors who live in our area.   

Southern Frontenac Community Services Building Support Request

The Township has been asked to provide $750,000, about half the cost of the addition.  Township staff are preparing a report for Council on the benefits and risk of investing in the building and to outline proposals on how we could do it.  This report will be coming to the Committee of the Whole on October 12.

Municipalities have a legal mandate and moral obligation to provide community support services: they make for stronger, healthier communities.  SFCS does much of this work for us.

One concern is that the province is currently reorganizing community support services.  If the Council makes a sizable donation to the building fund, which it should, it is important that the investment is used to provide local services under local control and that there is some mechanism to make this happen.

 

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Southern Frontenac Community Services Building Support Request

Attached is the request from Southern Frontenac Community Services to support their building expansion.  Consideration of the proposal will be coming to Council’s Committee of the Whole on October 12.

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A Plan is Better than No Plan?

August saw progress in two Township planning initiatives: the Recreational Master Plan and the new Official Plan. Both are at mid points in their development and now the heavy lifting, that is actual policy development, starts.

The Recreational Master Plan

The consultants hired to develop the Recreational Master Plan, a plan for the Township’s recreational facilities and activities, collected information from: an online survey of community members; a survey of business and community organizations; stakeholder interviews and focus groups; a random telephone survey of 300 residents; and a small number of individual submissions.

The information gathered was presented to the Recreation Committee in a Community Consultation Report.  As interesting as the report was, and it contained many, many ideas, there was no attempt to summarizes, collate and prioritize the results, so it is a long read. Nonetheless, this back ground information is important to validate the next step, summarizing the data and producing draft recommendations.

Recreation Background Documents

If you are interested in Township recreational programs and facilities, please look at this report for a wide range of community generated proposals for future development. If you have any initial comments, please pass them along.

One small point methodological stood out to me.  41% of the online survey were long-time residents of the Township compared with 51% in the random telephone poll.  The online survey also had significantly different numbers of people who had lived here 1-5 years (20% compared to 5% in the random poll).

Place of residence also varied significantly.  In the online poll many more were from Sydenham (36% vs 26% random) and Perth Road (9% vs 2% random) and Verona had a stronger representation in the random poling (19% compared to 10%).  I asked that the consultant to consider these variations when they make their recommendations.

The New Official Plan

The four virtual community consolations in August on the new Official Plan consisted of a short presentation followed by a series of questions that the participants could vote on. The session I attended had 29 participants with about 20 voting on each question. The questions are online for a few more weeks and you can vote your choices by going to:  https://engagefrontenac.ca/official-plan-review-south-frontenac-2040?tool=survey_tool#tool_tab.

The questions cover different aspects of housing, economic development, lake ecosystems and agriculture. One problem with surveys of this type is that they limit the nuance in many questions. For instance, the answer could be mostly ‘yes’ but there are situations where a ‘no’ would be more appropriate. If you have qualifications to any of your answers, please submit them in writing to: officialplan@southfrontenac.net.

One issue with the questions was a limiting bias in the housing development question. The question asking if the majority the majority of housing should be in hamlets suggests 60% as a possible figure.  In the back ground information to the questions it was reported that open house attendees before COVID supported 72% in hamlets and the rest in rural areas and on waterfront.

A different interpretation is that 72% supported most development in hamlets, say 90% while the other 28% supported more housing in rural areas or on waterfront.  There are two questions: do we support more housing in hamlets, I think the answer is yes. Then how much should go there? This question is not being asked.

Preserving waterfront and agricultural lands means most, close to all housing, needs to go into hamlets.  We have historically overbuilt on farm lands and along water ways to the detriment of both.  Concentrating growth in hamlets is also creates strong, vibrant hamlets, makes communities more livable for all ages, and reduces carbon emissions. I hope those working on the new Official Plan recognize the benefits of most new housing going into hamlets.

A Cat Trail Funding Plan

Cataraqui Conservation will be approaching municipalities along the Cataraqui Trail to develop a sustainable funding plan to keep the trail open and safe.  These discussions will take place over the next year. The Cat Trail is enjoyed by many South Frontenac residents and is a reason often sited for people moving here or visiting.

Recreation Background Documents

The Federal Election

This report is written in the midst of a federal election which will significantly impacts on South Frontenac.  Issues requiring strong federal leadership, like the climate crisis, the ongoing and future pandemics, and growing inequality are negatively affecting our community.  I encourage everyone to be involved, and critically look at the options presented. For example, stepping back from strong action on climate change will significantly and negatively alter our future and increase the costs and livability of the Township.

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Recreation Background Documents

These two reports contain important information on the future of recreation facilities in South Frontenac including the Cataraqui Trail. They are both background information for discussions that will take place over the next year.

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Things Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue

Fire Hall Energy Update

Council agreed to place a 10 KWH solar power plant on the roof of the new Battersea Road fire hall.  This will be the first renewable energy installation on South Frontenac Township property.   Council also agreed to install a heat pump as the primary source for heating and cooling the administrative offices which will result is a significant reduction fossil fuel use.

Gypsy Moth Update

There is cautious optimism this week with increasing reports of gypsy moths killed by the natural virus and fungus.  It is certainly happening in our area.

A helpful source of information on the infestation is an Ontario Woodlot Association webinar.  There were many valuable bits of information but three stood out:

  • When scrapping the egg masses off tress they have to be actively be killed, not simply knocked to the ground, which I had been doing. The eggs survive under snow, in fact may prefer it.  The eggs can be killed in variety of ways, popular ones are putting them in soapy water or into a fire.
  • The history of gypsy moths in North America in some ways follows that of ticks. They are moving north because winters are warmer, cold snaps below -20 degrees increase egg mortality, and cool damp springs benefit the natural gypsy moth caterpillar controls. Both conditions are less common in the changing climate.
  • A discussion by a group near Perth who had organized community spraying might be a useful to those interested in this option. The webinar leader showed pictures of sprayed areas, and under ideal conditions there is a beneficial effect, but it is not complete, and BTK kills are all species of moths and butterfly’s that are in the caterpillar stage when it is applied. There is also some evidence that spraying may prolong the infestation.

Community Grant Updates

Grants were given out this year in the traditional community grants program and in a one-time program to offset the damage done by COVID restrictions. The list of all grants in both streams can be found on Council’s June 1st meeting agenda, items 10 b) + c).

The 2021 community grants helped pay for trail improvements, floating wetlands to decrease blue green algae, assistive device storage and the Bellrock Hall 160th anniversary celebrations.

The CVOID grants were designed to target groups active in our community that had limited ability to access funds from other levels of government.  Groups that received COVID grants included Lions Clubs, Legions, the Bellrock Hall, Sydenham Canoe Club, Frontenac Society of Model Engineers, New Leaf Link and Wintergreen Studios.

Many community volunteers keep organizations vital to the fabric of our community going through this challenging time. Thanks to everyone.

Official Pan Update

Council approved an engagement strategy for the new official plan that will build on the open houses held just before COVID struck.  The consultations will take place from July to October and include focus groups, online surveys, virtual meetings and, with some luck and lots of vaccines, open public meetings.

The goal is to have a new official plan passed in the fall of 2022.

Now is the time to make your voice heard about what kind of community we want South Frontenac to be in 20 years.  The official plan will set the guidelines for that development.

Conservation Authority Threat

The provincial government is changing the laws and regulations governing Conservation Authorities.  These changes will limit the Authority’s ability to protect the environment and pose a threat to conservation lands.

These changes could affect the viability of the Gould Lake Conservation Area, the Cataraqui Trail and some boat launches in South Frontenac. Specifically, it could make it harder to keep them open with free public access.  All of these spaces are well used by local residents and strong shows of public support are needed to keep open.

The government is currently waiting for comments from the Environmental Impact Review Board before finalizing the changes.

South Frontenac Council supported a motion to obtain Conservation Authority comment if the province tries to use a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) in South Frontenac. MZOs are being used more frequently to override local planning processes and conservation regulations, and often to put development in environmentally sensitive areas. Council’s motion tries to bring back a local perceptive on any development the province wants to push through with an MZO.

Burning Bylaw Update

Council has approved a community consultation process on an open-air burning permit system.  The results of the consultation are to come back to Council before any changes to the current Open Air Burning bylaw are considered.

Canada Day

Council had cancelled Canada Day due to COVID restrictions. This pause may prove beneficial as we develop a new and deeper understanding of our Country. The residential school findings and the killing of a Muslim Canadian family highlight some of the changes needed to make our Country work for all its residents.

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Communal Problems: Moths, Climate and Drinking Water

Communal Services Proposal

Frontenac County consultants have made a proposal on how to increase collective, or communal, water and sewage services within the County.  It was item 5.a on the May 4 Township Council agenda. While no binding motions were taken Councilors did express general support for setting up a municipally owned corporation to run community water and sewage services in the County.

The current proposal focuses on communal services for new subdivisions with the systems run by a municipal corporation controlled by the Townships. Sydenham’s water system is currently the only community service in the County.  It is controlled by South Frontenac Council and operated by Utilities Kingston.

Communal systems could help alleviate water shortages, protect ground water, reduce risk of drinking water contamination and increase development density above one house per 2.5 acres.

The consultants identified as one of the possible benefits “the separation of politics from service provision”. There was a good discussion on Council about the importance of communities maintaining control over what kind of services go where and how they are structured and financed. While separating politics from the day-to-day operations is generally a good idea, a utilities corporation should not be a way to shield sometimes controversial community decisions from democratic control.

The consultants also noted that his model could allow for profit. It was not clear why they thought this might be beneficial.  Allowing the utilities corporation to make a profit would only increase the cost to users of the system and transfer money to some other purpose in the Township. One of the benefits of collective community systems should be to decrease cost and increase quality for the users which means it needs to be non-profit.  The consultants said that the profit status of the utility corporation would be a political decision made by the Townships.

The Fire Hall Climate Fight

The next step in South Frontenac’s program to replace our aging fire halls is a new 2.2-million-dollar station on Battersea Road.

The initial design was generally accepted by Council. The discussion focused on what was left out: any significant initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In our worsening climate crisis, every major infrastructure project should be built to reduce carbon emissions.

Two specific proposals were introduced. First, that an air source heat pump be the primary source of heating and cooling.  Council agreed to have staff report back by June 15 on the up-front capital costs, the long-term operating costs, and a heat pump’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuel alternatives.

The second proposal was for solar power to be placed on the site as part of Hydro One’s net metering program.  That program uses the solar produced onsite to offset the site’s hydro bills.  There is about a thirty-thousand-dollar upfront cost with an average pay back to cover those costs of 8 to 10 years. The unit should continue to produce income for 25 years.

Council supported a report back on the feasibility of installing a solar power plant with Councillor Roberts and Mayor Vandewal voting against.

Gypsy Moth Fight Back

There have been numerous inquiries about whether South Frontenac will be spraying the gypsy moth caterpillars.

There is no doubt the Gypsy moths are a problem.  Last year we couldn’t clean the caterpillar poop and leaf droppings off our deck fast enough to sit out for about three weeks.  After that the leaves did grow back. A few townships have decided to spray small areas of their townships, mostly when they have relatively large tracts of municipal forests, like over 100 acres.

South Frontenac Township owns no major forest tracks.  Frontenac Provincial Park, nonprofit conservation areas and private woodlots have large tracts of forest in the Township and I don’t believe any are spraying. The rest of the Township is privately owned and it is very hard to spray over private property without getting all land owners on board and there’s a significant disagreement on whether spraying is desired.

Property owners can use a number of techniques to catch and kill caterpillars, pheromone traps can be used to catch the moths and the egg masses are easy to identify and remove.  These actions make a difference until the infestation naturally dies down. One resident provided a link to the Hamilton website which provides pretty good information on the gypsy moth outbreak and what can be done about it.

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Building Pressures

Development Pressures

Even during a pandemic there is strong and increasing development pressures in South Frontenac.

In the first months of 2021 the construction value of building permits was $5.3 million, 86 permits, significantly higher than the previous high of $2.9 million, 57 permits, in 2018.

Planning department statistics, an indicator of future activity, show inquires up to 2,876 vs 1947 at the same time last year. Pre-consultation meetings increased from 48 to 104.

Coupled with the many anecdotal accounts of houses being sold over-asking price, and of younger working families unable to buy a home, the broader trends that those that are well off, are doing really well, while those in the middle and lower incomes are struggling, are present locally.  These trends are changing South Frontenac.  

Rising property values bring more money into the community: more taxes; more shopping at local businesses; and more work for contractors and building suppliers. At the same time, it changes the nature of our community from one that is more inclusive of working families and those less well-off to a reserve for people who are relatively wealthy.  It also puts increasing pressure on farm land and the environment.

In our changing and increasingly connected world South Frontenac is now close to Ottawa and Toronto as well as Kingston.  For decades the development around these cities has favoured large row house developments on farm land and expensive estate-homes.  Planning has been relatively unsuccessful at maintaining farm land and mixed income communities. 

Our Official Plan review could not come at a more important time.  Last month council confirmed a consulting firm to do the leg work on the review.  It is now up to us to make our concerns about inclusive communities, farm land and improving the natural environment heard. 

Climate Pressures

Invasive species, frost and heave road damage, flooding, blue-green algae, ticks, increased fires, and the federal budget are increasing pressure on South Frontenac to do something about climate change.

The 2021 Township budget includes one hundred thousand dollars to support a local climate action plan. Here are some ideas to start the discussion on what we can do locally.  

We do not need any studies or consultants. There are effective, generally accepted and easy to implement solutions on how to reduce green-house gases that can be done now. It is time to just “get at’er”.

The Township could:

  • Over the next ten years electrify the pick-ups and the SUVs in the Township fleet. The first step would be installing charging stations in our work yards.  
  • Install air-source heat pumps for heating and cooling of all new builds and, where possible, in renovations. 
  • Install solar panels on Township buildings and properties.  Currently there is no solar power production on any Township property. Hydro’s power buy-back program for solar power, could work at many locations and the up-front costs will be offset by the long-range income.
  • Bring forward plans to increase backyard composting and work with regional municipalities on industrial compost solutions. As well as reducing methane production a successful program would extend the life of our landfills.
  • Monitor and report yearly on the Township’s fossil fuel use: vehicle fuel purchases by gasoline and diesel, and heating fuels by fuel oil, propane and natural gas; and require contractors to submit their fuel consumption on Township projects. Include fuel efficiency as part of all tenders.
  • Report on the likely impact on green-house gas emissions of motions coming to Council as we now report on expected costs.

As well as improving the environment, these initiatives will save the Township money. Any extra short-term costs could be covered from reserves and with payments back into reserves from savings or extra earned income.   Also, it is likely that over the next few years there will be significant federal, and possibly provincial, money dedicated to these kinds of initiatives, though this is not necessary to proceed.

These are many other ways the Township can reduce carbon emissions, but these are accepted changes that need to made and can be done now.  Other opportunities can be addressed as they present themselves.

If you have other ideas on how to reduce greenhouse gases send them along and let’s start the community discussion.  Staff is preparing a report to Council on what actions they recommend and your ideas should be part of this discussion.

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High Speed Internet: Boom and Bust

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), the organization charged with improving high-speed internet in our area, announced a significant expansion to high- speed cell coverage. Like most initiatives, it has good and bad elements.

The ‘boom’ part is that more people will have more reliable higher speed cell service which for most will bring improved internet access.  This is what I use:  it is the only option at our place.  And we can stream and zoom easily.

The EORN contract is with Rogers. The promise is 99% high-speed cellular coverage along all major roads and in hamlets; 95% video streaming; and 85% high-definition streaming by 2025.  It is not clear what a major road is, or how close to the road you would need to be to get coverage, so it will definitely not cover everyone.

It will also significantly improve emergency services communication in the region.

The ‘bust’ in the announcement Is that it will needlessly continue some significant disadvantages for rural areas.  There is no mention in the announcement of fiber, which is more likely to offer unlimited data options.

There is also no mention of allowing other providers access to Rogers towers.  One of the problems with only having one provider is they can dictate pricing.  There is no “that is an outrageous price, I am going to take my business elsewhere.” 

The expansion will also provide 5G service, which will be faster but could we get more 4G for the same price?  

The lack of control on the price is more galling because half the cost of the upgrades is paid by tax dollars ($71 million from the federal government, $71 million from the provincial government and $10 million for local municipalities). A condition of the public subsidy could be that the network is open to all providers or that there is some sort of public dividend that could be used to control the price of service.  The private investors will get a dividend.

Essential networks like hydro and telephone were initially built by public corporations which provided good reliable service, at reasonable cost, and extended that same service to most rural areas.  Ontario Hydro was built as a public utility be conservative governments. This is the most cost-effective way to provide an essential service: one that is needed for the inclusive involvement of members of society, including rural and less well-off residents.

Shoreline Protection Bylaw

A Staff looked at municipal legislation and tree cutting bylaws from three townships, Haliburton County; and, Muskoka Lakes and Georgian Bay Townships, (the links take you to those three bylaws) to analyze ways to protect trees along shorelines (item 7.c on the March 9 agenda).

Some of the considerations are:

How much of the shoreline should be protected?

Should a permit be required for all shoreline tree cutting?

Or, should certain activities be allowed as-of-right, like creating a path to the water or cutting trees to protect a legal development, with permits only required for other cutting?

What should these “as-of-right” activities be?

Council discussed the issue and directed staff to create a draft shoreline protection bylaw and a process for broader community consultation.

ATVs through Verona.

Frontenac County is considering allowing ATVs to travel through Verona on the K+P Trail. For staff’s comments on the proposal go to item 9.b on the March 16 Council agenda.

The Township has recently acquired 20+ acres of land along the K+P Trail to lead a redevelopment of Verona, including housing for seniors.  The trail also runs along the back of the public school, making the Trail an essential part of any efforts to have children walk and bike to school.

At a recent meeting of the Friends of the Cataraqui Trail many residents commented on the disruption that ATVs cause, especially in the summer when people are outdoors, enjoying the quiet of their yard, or in the house with their windows open.  ATVs are a regular interruption.

ATVs are an important part of rural life but they are also incompatible with areas of population concentration. The Township and County need to work on the many ways ATVs and vibrant hamlets can both exist in a community.  One of them is not to have ATVs running through the middle of the largest population center in South Frontenac.

A motion passed at South Frontenac Council to support a temporary extension of ATV use in Verona until further information is available on the housing and other development plans for Verona.  A more important project would-be to find a parking place just north of Verona where ATVs can access the trail: that is a long-term sustainable solution.

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Hazardous Speeding, Community Relief and Water Systems

Speeding

The OPP presented to the Public Works Committee on road safety, with a focus on speeding. Their emphasis, which were supported by the committee and will be the basis of a report to Council, was increased education.

Education has a role in any community behavior change; particularly important when the information is lacking.  For instance, the OPP’s presentation on stunt driving.

A stunt driving conviction has very serious consequences and, as well as the common understanding of street racing and speeding 50K over the limit, includes tire squealing and burnouts, driving with someone in your trunk, and intentionally cutting someone off.   Education on the broader actions that are part of stunt driving makes sense because many people do not know. 

Education as the focus of a campaign on everyday speeding makes less sense. Most of us know we should not speed. Yet many speed “a little”, just enough to get there a bit faster but not get caught (this does not always work). If this is the speeding we want to stop we need to consider more “hard-copy” solutions. 

For a while we had speed bumps on Wheatly Street, and that helped.

Building roads to the desired speed limit, a principle in safe road engineering, could be Township policy.  That would mean not straightening a road so it can easily be easily driven at 80 or 90K, when the speed limit is 60.

Leaving parking of both sides of a street, photo radar, flexible in-road bollards, street medians and extra police presence all work, cost money and impact drivers.  If we are serious about reducing speeding these are the options we need to look at.  Some education is good, but it is not going solve the problem.

The OPP is going bring in a “guess the speed” program. Members of the public will be invited by an OPP officer with a speed gun to guess the speed of a passing car. Besides being fun, this will give us a better idea of what speeding looks like and how prevalent it is.

Hazardous Waste Collection

In the debate on whether to renew the Keely Road hazardous waste depot contract questions were raised on how much the depot is used and whether it is worth money.  The contract is to continue the same level of service, four hours twice a month in the winter and 4 hours weekly in the summer at the current rate plus 2%, about $87,000 for 2021.

It became clear in the discussion that the Township does not have good data on who is using the depot.  What percent of the population uses the depot? Is it often slow? Are many not properly disposing of their hazardous waste and do we need to increase our diversion rate?   

Council approved the contract for two years and asked the staff to collect more data.

COVID Relief Funding: A Proposal

A staff report is coming to Council on Tuesday, March 2 on how to allocate the $250,000 council approved for local COVID relief. With the end of the pandemic is sight, we hope, the proposals are geared to help businesses, families and community groups recover and go forward stronger, as much as just survive.

Support will be provided to three groups:

  1. Small business support – PPE reimbursement, extending an existing small business e-commerce and social media training targeted to local businesses, and capital funding to help businesses pivot and modernize.  While the sums are not large, they could provide thousands to a small business to help them recover from the pandemic.
  2. Non-profit community group support – funding for new events or to cover added costs for existing activities and help cover operating/fundraising losses. 
  3. Money to provide PPE to families with increased need for the supplies.

The full proposal is on the March 2 Council agenda.  It has not been passed and if you have comments that could help improve the program pass them along before Tuesday.

Sydenham Water System Updates

The annual report on the Sydenham water system is being presented to Council on Tuesday, March 2. It is item 5.a) on the agenda and contains information on the quality and amount or water used.

Last year’s planned community consultation on the future of the water system which was delayed due to COVID.  It has been rescheduled to take place in the middle of this year.

Finally, work has started on a bulk water filling station attached to the water system.

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Budget 2021: the Good, the Gravel and the Fiber

The 2021 Budget

At the start of the 2021 budget process Council agreed that a reasonable tax increase would be 2% and all the discussions and recommendations respected that goal.   

Some new initiatives, like a climate change fund, a lakes study program, a night shift for winter patrol and the Township taking over road-side mowing were agreed to.  Numerous items, like the under-serviced gravel roads and high-speed internet were acknowledged and steps put in place to bring back a program for improvement.

The approach of regular smaller tax increases has worked well in the past six years.  It has provided stability and predictability for residents, avoided big tax increases when large expenses are needed and helped stabilize the township’s finances and improve services.  

Two weeks ago, in the dying minutes of a four-hour budget debate, some Councilors thought that we should reduce the tax increase to 1.5% to show residents that Council cared about the hardship caused by COVID.

What we know about the hardship caused by COVID is that it is unequal. The more well-off have, by in large, survived fairly well. Those who are hurting most are those with service sector jobs, lower pay, essential work where they have a higher risk of COVD exposure, and, a variety of small businesses and community organizations that have been either completely or partially shut down.  

Council recognized the significant harms that many have suffered and put a quarter of a million dollars into the budget to target those people, business and organizations.

The surprise tax reduction of .5% would preferentially benefit those with more expensive properties: a million-dollar homeowner would get a 30 dollars tax decrease while someone who lives in a $200,000 house will only receive six dollars.

And what is the source of the money to fund the tax reduction? It comes from reserves, which is money set aside to provide needed services to the community.

It is money that could be spent on:

good reliable high-speed internet;

controlling speeding;

keeping dams from falling down and historic buildings from disintegrating; or

improving our recreational facilities.

There is an urgently needed 8–10-million-dollar upgrade on HWY 38 and Sunbury Road we will soon need an up-grade: both of which are seriously underfunded.

And, we have 300 kilometers of gravel roads that need improvement.

In a small way this last-minute change shifted resources to those that need it least and away from improving services. Neither of which will create a better Township.  

I made a motion, seconded by Councilor Ruttan, that we return the tax increase to 2% and allocate that ninety-one thousand dollars to an enhanced gravel road drainage program.

The motion was defeated 7-2 with myself and Councilor Ruttan voting in favour.

While ninety-one thousand is not enough to fix the gravel problems it would have been a concrete indication that the Township is going to do something.  Similarly, the .5% tax decrease will not significantly to our reserves, nor be particularly helpful to residents, but it indicated that long-term stable service provision may not be the first priority.  

Download the 2021 Township budget:

21-budget-final-jan-26-2021-2

Gravel Roads

At the last Public Services Committee meeting a list of the Township’s 140 gravel roads, about 300 kilometers in length, was presented prioritized by traffic count. The traffic counts are very uneven, both in which roads are done and how up-to-date they are. The lack of student placements due to COVID is part of the reason none were done last year.

Traffic counts should not be the only criteria prioritizing gravel roads.  The extent and danger of the ill-repair, the number of full-time families and home density are other factors that could also be considered.

The gravel roads in Loughborough District with the highest traffic counts are: Frye, Maple Leaf, Freeman, Gould Lake, Billy Green, Eel Bay, Hidden Valley and Shales Road.

Staff have also been asked to include Gravel roads in the Township’s Asset Management Plan.  Being included in the Asset Management plan is in important step to the regular allocation of upgrading funds.

Download the full list of gravel roads:

gravel-road-traffic-counts-summary-2010-2019highest-lowest-1S

High-Speed Internet

In the last month Council has sent letters of support for applications from WTC and Xplornet to the Universal Broadband Fund for new fiber and 5G wireless internet access in the Township. Community members have also proposed creating an internet hub at the Fermoy hall and a Facebook petition has asked Council to take broader action.  Thanks to all who are working on improving this essential service.

There is a commitment to bring back, relatively quickly, further information on what Council can do and what is being done in the Township. 

 

Posted in South Frontenac Township | Tagged | 2 Comments