Water and Budget Setbacks

This past month has seen setbacks, in two different senses, coming before Council.

30 Metre Setback from Lakes

A core principle in the Township’s planning to protect lakes has been establishing a minimum 30 meter shoreline buffer.  The importance of this setback, where no building should take place and clearing should be minimized, was established in the 1992 Rideau Lakes Study, and recently updated in the Hutchinson Report.

While this principle is adhered to for new construction there are many older buildings closer to the lake, sometimes right on the shore line.  These structures are allowed to continue and be fixed up if they do not increase in size. But what to do if they are damaged or allowed to deteriorate?

The Township’s policy has been if they were damaged by unforeseen circumstances, for example by fire or a falling tree, then a similar sized building could be rebuilt. This has been a very rare occurrence and in the few times it has happened most owners have wanted to expand their building so a new site has been chosen.   When someone has wanted to rebuild their structure from the ground up, the practice has been to permit this only if it is setback 30 meters, or they can apply for a variance if for a closer site if there is no suitable building site 30 meters back from the lake.

This practice has been challenged recently and the planning department has recommended that the ambiguity in the zoning bylaw be changed to say that if the walls come down then the new structure has to be moved back. While that would be the overriding principle of the proposed changes, the property owner could apply to the Committee of Adjustment for a closer building site. These changes would encourage owners to keep their buildings in good repair as this is an uncontested way of maintaining a home close to the water.

The Committee of Adjustment is a committee of Councillors and Township residents with a long history of responding reasonably to the individual property owners circumstances within overall Township priorities.

Some residents have expressed concern about these changes. Council has deferred the issue for two months to obtain a more detailed legal opinion and gather more community input. Please send your comments to me and the Township.

Over Spending Sets Back Budget

The final reckoning on last year’s budget showed a deficit of 429 thousand dollars.  The main causes of the overage were $130,000 in unbudgeted expenditures on the 150th anniversary celebrations in Harrowsmith’s Centennial Park and a variety of road projects.

Overall I feel that the Public Works department should have latitude to, when they see something that needs doing, do it. These decisions usually benefit the Township but that latitude comes with limitations: two of the primary ones are that new projects should not lead to significant deficits nor should they set priorities that have not been passed by Council.

With Council’s full support the public works department has been preparing multiyear capital asset management plans, identifying needs and timelines.  A new capital purchase, like emergency road closure trailers that had not been previously identified to Council, should come before Council before acquisition.

Similarly, I support a program of centrelines on secondary roads, but that program should be implemented by prioritizing roads that need lines and budgeting for them over a series of years. And that priority should be passed by Council before being implemented.  The same logic goes for installing needed guard rails, road ditching or upgrading to more reflective signs.

We were trying to move away from ad hoc decision making.  This should result in better financial planning and asset management.

Last year’s deficit was covered through a mixture of reducing public works expenses in this year’s budget and withdrawal from reserves.  Council has asked the Chief Administrative Officer to implement policies that will keep the expenses within the approved budget and only run a deficit if it is approved by Council.

Upcoming Items

  • Council has asked staff to bring back a report on a new structure for recreational user fees to “address the challenges and meet the needs of the Community.”
  • A draft bylaw that will lengthen the notice provisions for subdivision planning meetings to six weeks and improve public signage will soon be coming to Council.
  • The consultant’s report the Township’s organization will be presented to Council on April 12.


About Ross Sutherland

retired nurse, researcher, public health care activist.
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