Community Basics: Septics, Budgets and Festivals

Septic Inspection

A septic system inspection program is back on the agenda. The Corporate Services Committee heard verbal briefings from the Public Health Unit and the Chief Building Inspector on options. The public health unit was skeptical of the value and affordability of a Township-wide mandatory inspection program. They also questioned the legality of just inspecting septic systems on Lakes.
A program in Tay Valley Township allows a lake association to request a mandatory inspection program, run by the Township, for its lake. Central Frontenac Township has a committee developing a program that could lead to mandatory pumping of septic systems every five years. While the details are still being finalized, the pumping company would be responsible for completing a short form on the condition of the septic and those records would be monitored by the Township. Similar programs exist in Quebec.
Township staff have been asked to come back with a report on the next steps. One proposal is to create a community committee to look at the options and hold a public meeting to discuss programs like the ones in Tay Valley and Central Frontenac.

Budget Update

Council passed a 28 million dollar budget for 2017 with a 2% tax increase: possibly the lowest increase of all area municipalities. It is a fair budget and continues to improve services. It passed in a 4-3 vote. I, Councillors Revill and McDougall, and Mayor Vandewal voted in favour.
Councillors Barr and Sleeth wished to maintain the solid waste charge which would likely have both further increased taxes and provided fewer services. There was some concern that rolling the solid waste charge into general revenues meant Council wanted to end the bag tag system. There is strong community support for waste diversion and it is important to the future of our landfills and the health of the Township. No proposals have there been discussed to weaken the system and you will be getting your bag tags at the end of February.
Mark Segsworth, our Pubic Works Manager, sits on the provincial body establishing guidelines for the Waste Free Ontario Act and he will update Council on the Act in February. I hope this legislation will produce some significant improvements in waste reduction, reuse and recycling.
There is nothing special about a 0%, 2% or 4 % budget increase. It is important to have sufficient income to provide the services the community needs balanced against the ability of people to pay. The political nature of these financial decisions is one reason Council agreed to a more open budget process. I would encourage everyone to have their say next year. It will make a difference to the decision that Council makes.

Democracy Deficit?

Two facts this month point to some problems with our local democracy. First, we now have a Council where only 4 of the nine members were elected. Second, our largest District, Loughborough, has 34% more voters than our smallest, Bedford. This gap is likely to get bigger leading to a further lack of equal representation across the Township.
These facts are a starting point for a community discussion on how to improve the representativeness and accountability of our Council.

Up coming events

The Third Annual Perth Road Winter Olympics will be held at the Harris Hall Park, in Perth Road, on Saturday, February 11 from noon till 2:30. Come out and enjoy some outdoor family run and good chili. Everyone is welcome.
The Lakes and Trails Festival is planned for July 15 from 10-3 pm at the Point Park in Sydenham. The event is being organized by South Frontenac Rides, the Sydenham Canoe Club and a group of Sydenham residents. The festival will include a bike around Sydenham Lake, a historical-scavenger-hunt walk around Sydenham, a dragon boat, a paddling scavenger-hunt on the Lake and a community BBQ: more details to follow. It is hoped that the festival will become an annual event that brings the community together.
South Frontenac’s Canada 150 celebration will be held on August 26, in Centennial Park. Once again, more details to follow.

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Year End Surprises

Rather than being straightforward the last Council meeting of 2016 contained two surprises.

Budget Blocked

After two months of negotiation and compromise an agreement, supported by most Councillors, had been reached on the 2017 budget. The only step left was final approval.

Councillors Sleeth and Roberts withdrew their support just before the vote at the December 20 meeting. They questioned one of the first items all Councillors agreed to back in October: to roll the sanitation charge into the overall tax levy. The proposed budget lost on a tie vote: once again illustrating that ‘it is not over until it is over’.

Rolling the sanitation charge into the general tax levy would make the Municipal Taxes slightly fairer. 70% of township properties, the lower valued properties, would see slightly smaller increases in their taxes, the other 30% would see a slightly larger increase.

The sanitation charge has long since lost any relationship to the actual costs of recycling and waste management. Rolling those costs into the general levy, like any other service, puts greater pressure on waste management to be as effective as possible.

Rather than starting 2017 implementing the new budget, staff is now redrafting new proposals for consideration.

Councillors Clipped?

The other surprise was a motion to review our rules of procedure. We had just completed a review of this bylaw a year ago.

The motivation for the review raises a few questions. The intention seems to be to limit the issues that Councillors can discuss with constituents.

There are already some clear limits on this interaction. Councillors are prohibited from releasing information raised in a closed meeting. This restriction applies to a small number of issues set by provincial law. All other items must be discussed in public.

Similarly, Councillors, unless specifically designated to do so, are not permitted to negotiate on behalf of the Township; nor can they direct staff. Most of these restrictions make common sense and are already part of our legal framework.

Further restrictions limiting general discussions between residents and Councillors would be going against more openness and accountability. It may also be a violation of Canada’s charter rights.

One common, and accurate, criticism of our democracy is that staff and politicians make too many decisions without properly considering residents concerns. This undemocratic practice is based in an out-of-date way of doing Township business. It assumes that accountability simply involves voting. After the election, according to this opinion, Councillors and staff know best. They should just get on with making decisions: the less public interference the better.

Most residents want more accountability and involvement. This is what makes a vibrant democracy. This Council has made some progress with improvements in notice requirements and public involvement. But more needs to be done. New restrictions will not help.

Filling Councillor Robinson’s Seat

As many of you know Councillor Bill Robinson, from Portland District, passed away in December. On January 10, Council will consider how to fill the position. There are two main options. One is that Council can appoint a new Councillor. The other is to hold a by-election.

A by-election would be the most democratic. There are almost two years left in this term of Council and the residents should get to decide on who represents them. The arguments against holding a by-election are that the term is over half over and the cost is significant. I am interested in your comments, should we appoint or hold a by-election?

2017 is the 150th anniversary of our beloved Country. I hope you will be able to participate in the many celebrations.

I wish you, your family and friends a very happy new year. I look forward to working with you to make our part of Canada a better place. See you around the Township.

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Two Down Two To Go

We have made it half way.  Two years ago this Council was elected.  South Frontenac had a new mayor and six new councilors.  Last month, we finally passed improvements to public involvement and Council accountability:  two priorities of mine in the campaign.

Public Involvement and Council Accountability

ON December 6 Council passed changes to the public notice bylaw.  The two most significant were on notice for subdivision proposals and on the budget.

The new bylaw requires six weeks pubic notice for meetings on new subdivisions and condominiums. It also requires that developers post a one meter by one point two meter notice six weeks before the meeting.  It is time we did away with that yellow paper notice that was hidden among the bushes. Both of these changes should give residents, both permanent and seasonal, more time to respond with their concerns and suggestions for new proposals.

This year Council made the full draft budget available to public inspection and comment before it was considered by Council.  While only two groups took advantage of this process both deputations had an impact on the final budget. The process to allow members of the public to comment on the budget when changes can easily be made is now part of our bylaws.  It will happen again next year. I would encourage more involvement in the Township’s finances. The budget both sets how much tax we pay and how it is spent: essentially what kind of community our tax dollars are going to support.

As useful as both of these changes are, they still miss a huge opportunity to improve Council’s communication with residents:  social media.  The good news is that some money has been set aside in the budget to improve the website and email lists.  Also there is consideration of hiring a clerk specifically for Council duties.  If this happens that person’s job could include managing social media connections.  This is a necessary step if Council is to go to the next level in public involvement and accountability.

The 2017 Budget

Council is considering a budget with a 2.2% increase over last year.

New MPAC assessments created some short term difficulties in this year’s budget.  Most properties in South Frontenac, farms being the big exception, should see a slight decrease in their MPAC values this year and relatively modest increases over the next four years.  The drop in overall assessment meant a slight drop in the overall tax base.  A sharp change from the approximately 6% increases MPAC has been giving to Township finances over the past few years.  This change in good for individual property owners, but tough on our collective financial responsibilities.

If the budget passes as currently drafted repairs to Sunbury Road will be phased in with the hope of getting some of the provincial and federal infrastructure money to help with the project.  The decision on whether or not to borrow money was avoided for this year.

Among the 21 pages of proposals there is money in the budget to finalize repairs to the Knowlton Lake and Buck Lake public boat launches. A million dollars is allocated for rebuilding Bedford Road from the dam to Alton road.  A public meeting will be held in the New Year to review proposals and get public input.   The walkway in the Point Park will be paved and the public dock replaced.

Perth Road Fire Hall

Council has contracted architects’ to design a new fire hall for Perth Road with the following parameters: 3 x 1 ½ length bays, drive through bays, steel clad interior bay finishes and drywall for all other internal space, steel external finishes with modest masonry work on the front façade only, pitched steel roofing, a training room sized for 30 and radiant in floor heating for bays and forced air HVAC for office space.

We hope to finalize drawings in three months and build over the summer. It is needed and will be great addition to our fire service.

 

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Advocacy and Resident Budget Comment

One role of Council is to lobby other levels of government for changes that will benefit South Frontenac. The following are a few issues we have commented on recently. Most resolutions were passed unanimously.

“Cap and Trade”

The province’s “Cap and Trade” program is supposed work like this: costs will increase on fossil fuels, gas, oil, and propane, and the income from these increased costs will pay for two billion dollars worth of carbon reduction programs. Over time both the cost of fossil fuels and the amount available for carbon reduction initiatives will go up.

Council proposed to the provincial government that there should be an accounting of how the money is spent in South Frontenac. A rough guess is that we will pay about 3.5 million dollars in extra cap and trade costs so we should see an equivalent amount of money spent here.

Second, council would like a portion of that money allocated to the municipality to be spent on carbon reduction programs that are decided by the local government. A wide range of projects, like, extra insulation in municipal buildings, commuter parking, more LED lighting, heat pumps or electric car charging stations, could be useful in our community.

This is how the federal government’s Gas Tax program works. The federal government collects a gas tax which is allocated to the municipalities for infrastructure repairs. The province or the feds decide on the priority and leave it up to the municipality to decide how that money should be best spent locally.

Agricultural Land

As part of Council’s ongoing efforts to preserve agricultural land we voted to petition the Ministry of Agriculture to declare farm land in the Hartington area that is listed in the Canadian soil inventory as class one agricultural land, as agricultural rather than rural, it’s currently zoning.

During the process of amalgamation this block on land was switched from prime agricultural to rural. With increased pressure for residential development it is important to return this land to its proper designation which would encourage agriculture and discourage housing subdivisions.

Guaranteed Income

The Council supported the national campaign for a basic income guarantee. The resolution was brought to Council by a local group working on poverty reduction. Many people in South Frontenac are facing economic hardships as witnessed by the numbers accessing the food bank and other South Frontenac Community Services.One of the financial pressures on all families, more so in rural communities, is the rapidly rising cost of hydro.

Among other benefits, a basic income guarantee will help provide working-age Canadians, who overall have little security in the event of job loss, disability, divorce, prolonged illness and treatment, maternity, economic recession and other life events, a guaranteed income. More information can be found at: http://www.basicincomecanada.org/about_basic_income.

Don’t Privatize Ontario Hydro

The cost of hydro has been a significant concern in rural Ontario. While the causes are complex, and sometimes contentious, there is general agreement on Council that selling off Hydro One would only make the problems worse.

Hydro is a valuable public asset providing an essential service. It should be controlled by the public and work for the public interest and not for private profit.

Benefits from Large Renewable Energy Projects

There were many difficulties with the large renewable energy program. One of them was no assurance that if the province approves a large renewable energy project in a municipality that the Township will not get any benefit from the development.

Council passed a motion, which was supported by dozens of other municipalities, that any renewable project, whether it had local Council support or not, would have to pay the Township.

This is important because there are no extra taxes from these developments. Essentially, the benefit agreements become a way for renewable energy projects, like any other land user, to pay a share of the municipality’s costs.

Budget Input Time

The 2017 draft budget for 28 million dollars is available for public comment. To review a copy of the proposed budget go to item 11(c) of the November 1 Council agenda: https://southfrontenac.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/20714?preview=28492

We are anticipating some shortfall in funding for this year due to the lower than usual MPAC assessments. We need to know what your priorities are. Should we cut or defer some programs or raise taxes? Your comments can be submitted in writing, or come to the November 8 Committee of the Whole meeting and tell us what you think.

I would like to hear what you have to say.

Please let me know your opinion on any of the above issues as well as any other concerns you may have.

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Money Matters

The Township’s 2017 budget cycle has begun with a few new twists.

Borrowing for Roads

The Public Works Department has recommended that the Township borrow 11 million dollars to rebuild Sunbury and Westport Roads.  These repairs and upgrades are on top of the regular roads budget of about 5 million a year.

Necessary Road Work?

One of South Frontenac’s anomalies is that all the major roads are Township roads.  Their upkeep is our responsibility.

The Township has been lobbying to have 38, a regional road, taken over by the county or the province. They listen politely, but that is all. Similarly, we have asked for provincial support for Sunbury Road repairs.  It is a designated Emergency Diversion Route (EDR) for Highway 401 and most damage is caused by that use.  Again, no luck.

There is a compelling case that a 10% cost saving can be achieved if these roads are done all at once, rather than in short sections over many years. The result is very high costs in the year when the work is done.

One question that has been asked of public works is: can we separate the work on these roads, keeping them safe with necessary repairs, so they are not done back to back?

The proposal is also to upgrade both Sunbury and Westport Road to asphalt from tar and gravel at a significant extra cost.  Is this upgrade justified by traffic volumes and projected use?   The main traffic flows in the Township are north and south into Kingston, and the east west connections seem to be declining in importance.

Financing Major Projects

The financing proposal is that the Township borrow from Infrastructure Ontario, which in turn borrows on the international capital market.  The current interest rate charged by Infrastructure Ontario is 2.74% for a 25 year loan.

One question that needs to be asked is, why we are borrowing when we have 14 million dollars in Township reserves which have been saved to pay for major projects like these?

The Township currently earns about 2.0% on the long-term part of its investments: less on the short-term investments.  Taking a straight comparison on 11 million dollars that would be a loss of at least 75 thousand a year.

The Treasurer said we would be paying 3.7 million dollars in interest on the loan: that is money sent to lenders outside the Township, when we could keep much of that money in the Township by repaying the equivalent of interest and capital back into the reserves.  This alternative is being explored.

Roads Budget 5% Increase

The roads budget is projected to increase by 5% a year, which includes the loan repayment.   Council has given initial direction to staff to increase the Township tax rate by 2.2%. If nothing else changes these two figures, a 5% percent increase in roads and a 2.2% increase in taxes, would mean significant cuts in our other expenses: facilities, energy retrofits, recreation, planning, fire, poverty reduction, administration, bylaw enforcement.

So far we have been able to avoid this problem because increases in property values (MPAC assessments) and new development have usually increased our Township budget by over 6% a year. If either development slows or property values drop and we owe significant sums to external sources, we will have a serious financial problem in the Township.

Tell Council Your Budget Ideas

Council, for the first time, is inviting residents to comment on the full draft budget. The 2017 draft budget will be public on November 1 with public deputations heard on November 8. Take a look at it. We would love to hear your views on  where the Township should be spending money, what expenditures are a waste, and what do you think of  the overall approach.

Those interested in presenting to Council are encouraged to contact the Clerk’s office at Extension 2222.  Alternatively, written submissions may be forwarded to the Clerk’s Office: admin@southfrontenac.net.

Updates

697 residents completed the Recreation Survey. Congratulations it was a great response. The results are available in the September 27 Committee of the Whole agenda, item 7a, or I can send them to you. They are being considered by the Recreation Committees for future action.

Despite Council and staff efforts Sydenham’s beer store is closing.  On a positive note, the Point Restaurant has opened and is being very well used.

The site for the new Perth Road Fire Hall has been finalized and discussion has begun on what to build.

Plans are underway for a Township wide Canada 150 celebration at Centennial Park.  There is an organizational meeting Wednesday, October 12.  Everyone is welcome.

 

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Water Here and Gone

We live in an area with an abundance of wonderful lakes, yet we were reminded this summer of how precious water is.  Local farmers could not harvest sufficient hay, wells went dry and gardens failed. One of our priorities needs to be protecting our lakes and water.

Enforcement

A common, and often legitimate, concern is that laws are not, or only selectively, enforced, including laws to protect water.   Municipally, this usually refers to zoning bylaws and conditions that must be met before a subdivision-condominium can be finalized.

Three current enforcement actions involving lake protection bylaws are of interest.

1) In 2012 the front porch of a cottage on Dog Lake suffered damage from high winds. It is an older cottage within 5 meters of water’s edge on top of a cliff.  The owners replaced the porch with a two story addition without a permit or planning approval.  It is not clear whether the replacement is closer to the lake, but it is certainly bigger.  The owner started construction on other renovations and applied to Council for zoning relief to allow the two story addition. Their appeal was unanimously rejected and a stop work order is in place. The case has been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.

2) A 2007 Ontario Municipal Board decision allowed a Sydenham Lake landowner to create three lots but under strict conditions that the mature forest be left to protect the steep shoreline. After the site plan was registered on title, the owner clear-cut down to the lake and moved significant amounts of earth to create a landing. The Township prohibited any development on the lots until full remediation took place.  Satisfactory remediation was done and the development restrictions were lifted in 2016. While remediation cannot return the site to its original state, the delay and cost of remediation are significant penalties.

3) In 2013 a cottage was built within 3 meters of Buck Lake without a permit or zoning relief.  The owner says it was meant be a pump house, but it is clearly not.  The lot could easily accommodate a residential development 30 meters back from the Lake.  The Township ordered the building removed.  The order has been appealed and the case will be in court on September 15, 2016.

These incidents illustrate that enforcement can be done with good bylaws and Council support, but that it does take time and significant resources.

New Planning-Development Manager

One piece of the enforcement puzzle is proper staffing. At the August meeting Council agreed to hire a new Manager of Planning and Development, in part, to ensure that the conditions of approval for subdivisions and condominiums are fully implemented.  At the first September Council meeting I will be supporting a motion to contract consultants to monitor the conditions of approval currently in place until this person is hired.

Who can use the lakes?

As part of the ongoing discussion on lake protection a few people have suggested making it harder for non-lake property owners to access the lakes, possibly even charging a user’s fee.

This summer we went to Tadoussac, in the Saguenay, and had many lovely swims in a local lake.  Over the years I, and many others in the Township, have used lakes and rivers in every province and territory for swimming, boating and fishing.  Except for parks, I have used these lakes and rivers free as part of my rights as a Canadian citizen, and been able to share this resource with local residents.  I would hope that visitors and non-lake residents of South Frontenac would enjoy the same hospitality.

There is a profound obligation to protect these water resources. An obligation that is shared by property owners, visitors, and governments. Municipally we can do our part with good education programs, septic inspections, naturalizing shorelines, facilitating boat washing at ramps, having lake plans, passing and enforcing strong bylaws, respecting controls put in place by other levels of government and applying them to all lake users. This is only a partial list, but if we focus our efforts on making these a reality that would go a long way to protecting this valuable national resource.

Enjoy what remains of summer, go for a nice swim and let me know your opinion on any of the above issues as well as any other concerns you may have.

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Resolutions Coming

The important debates of the last few months are working towards resolution.

A Planning-Development Coordinator

Council has been grappling with some big planning issues:

  • Should South Frontenac have final approval for subdivision and condominium development?
  • How do we enforce the conditions placed on developments like Johnson’s Point?
  • How do we make the development process as transparent and seamless as possible?
  • How do we ensure meaningful resident consultation in the planning and development process?

Most answers to these questions involve more staff time.  One solution, which Council is slowly working towards, is to hire a planning-development manager/coordinator.  The Corporate Services Committee had a good discussion on the issue last month and will be bringing forward a recommendation to the August council meeting.

Final Authority for Subdivision Approvals

Two benefits of the Township having final approval for subdivision and condominium developments are:

  • Unifying zoning changes and planning approvals should reduce cost and waste. The Township is responsible for subdivision zoning changes: the County is responsible for the planning approvals. We are currently paying both planning departments to review each proposal when ony one process is needed.
  • Recent changes to the provincial Planning Act will make South Frontenac residents appeal their concerns about developments to a small committee appointed by County Council. Most members of the County’s Planning Committee will be from the other Frontenac Townships. Leaving planning approvals with the County makes development a more technocratic process which strongly favours big developers. Unifying planning and zoning approvals in the Township will keep our public planning meetings in the Township. Residents will have increased access. It will increase democratic involvement.

The issue will likely be coming back to Council on August 2 for a review of the previous decision to take control of final planning approvals in 2019.

Lake Protection

On June 7, Council passed two amendments to zoning bylaws 5.10.2 and 5.11: two sections concerning development within 30 meters of water bodies.  Details can be found in my June 17 post. 

Section 5.10.2 has been one of the cornerstones of the Township’s lake protection policy since our first official plan was passed in 2003.   In essence, the 30 meter setback creates a zone of influence around lakes where sound environmental stewardship and community development goals can be enforced.

The 30 meters zone helps with two concerns for lake quality:

1) Controlling excess runoff from shorelines which is a significant source of nutrients in lakes; and,

2) Promoting healthy biodiversity in lakes, an important lake quality ingredient. 90% of the species in the lakes use the shoreline at some point in their life cycle.

Maintaining these protections is particularly important with the encroachment of invasive species and the presence of blue green algae blooms last year in the Rideau Lakes.

Sections 5.10.2 and 5.11 have been in place for 13 years and worked fairly well. Without them there could be a general free-for-all in lake front development. Most residents don’t want this. It would be bad for the Township, property values and environmental health.

A new educational booklet has been produced by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority on blue green algae identification and prevention.  The booklet can be read on line or, if you wish a hard copy, please contact me.

Compulsory Septic inspection?

Another concern for lake protection is ensuring proper functioning septic tanks.  A report on options for compulsory septic inspection was presented to the Committee of the Whole on November 24, 2015, item b.  The alternatives presented were costly, over a million dollars, and would take many years to complete.  We are currently waiting to hire a Chief Building Official to hear from other Townships about the programs they run.  Septic inspection is still an active item on Council’s agenda.

Public Budget Input

Council has designated a special meeting, after the 2017 draft budget has been released, and before Council votes, for community input.  All community members are encouraged to come and say what they think the Township should be funding, what proposed expenses make no sense, or how the Township can to improve its money management.  The community input meeting is scheduled for November 8, at 7pm in the Council Chambers.

I would like to know your opinion on any of the above issues as well as any other concerns you may have.  Please give me a call, 613-532-7846, or send me an email.

Enjoy your summer, keep cool.

 

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