Too Many Plants; Too Little Staff

Invasive Species Strategy

Giant Hog Weed, Wild Parsnip, Phragmites, Dog-Strangling Vine, Buckthorn, Purple Loosestrife, Eurasian Milfoil, just to name a few, are uninvited plant guests to our area.  Now what to do with them? The Conservation Authority hosted a seminar run by Ontario’s Invasive Species Council to help municipalities address that question.

Some of the key messages from that meeting were:

  • You need a strategy.
  • It is often not a case of eradication but of control, most species are too endemic.
  • Each area is different, so strategies should be local.

While it was not a message from the provincially funded organization, it was abundantly clear that the province was going to provide encouragement and advice but little, if any, financial help.  In other words, the Township is on its own.

In recent years the Township’s response has been piece meal and crisis driven.  The 2018 budget contains 124 thousand dollars for road side mowing and weed spaying, our two approaches to invasive species control.  This year’s expenses are $20,000 lower than 2018.  By a vote of eight to one Council supported this reduction.

In February, Council passed a resolution to develop a “targeted, strategic and fiscally responsible invasive species strategy” for South Frontenac.  The strategy is to consider concrete actions, like what species are a priority, priority actions, public education and involvement, controls on equipment cleaning, replanting problem areas and the use of summer staff dedicated to invasive species control.

If the Public Works Department does not have sufficient staff to develop the strategy in a timely manner they have been asked to come back to Council with a proposal to contract the development of an Invasive Plant Management Strategy.

30-Metre OMB follow-up

Council passed a motion to produce a fact sheet outlining what property owners need to know on development close to water.  The fact sheet will include the guidelines in the OMB ruling on grandfathered structures within 30meters of lakes, as well as approvals needed and applying to the Committee of Adjustment.

Council has also asked the building department to keep track of the number of permits that are issued to rebuild structures on the same foot print with the same gross floor area within the 30-metre lake protection zone.

Desert Lake Campground

Following the recommendation of the Desert Lake Property Owners Association Council agreed to allow a noise exemption to the Desert Lake Campground for four, 7:30 to 10:30, concerts this summer.

Community concerns about the number and placement of docks has been raised again and will be brought back to the Corporate Services Committee.

Plans are proceeding to redevelop the Causeway this year, probably in the fall.  A public meeting will be held to obtain community input on the plans.

Staff Shortages

The Township is currently actively looking to fill some key staff positions, including a building inspector, a Manger of Development Services and a permanent Fire Chief.  Tom Berriault has been promoted to the position of Chief Building Official.

 

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New Year Blahs and Money

The first month, under Council’s new rules of procedure, was slow.  There were only three meetings: a Council meeting, a Committee of the Whole meeting and a Corporate Affairs Committee.

Rutledge Speed Reduction Hits Bump.

The new rules are partially responsible for the delayed response to community concerns about high traffic speeds on Rutledge Road.

The Public Services Committee recommended numerous reductions in speed limits on Rutledge Road near Sydenham. Unfortunately, they left out the section from Ashwood Crescent to Boundary Road: a concern for many residents.  An amendment at Council to reduce the speed limit on this section was defeated.  A second motion was referred back to committee which does not meet again until after the first council meeting in February.

Part of the problem is that the Public Services Committee reported directly to Council rather than Committee of the Whole.  At Committee of the Whole it would have been easier to identify the problem and change the recommendation before it came to Council. The report directly to Council required formal amendments and motions for any changes.

It is too early to draw firm conclusions about the new rules of procedure but the concern that they shift power away from Council and the public to staff is still there.

Township Investing

How to maximize income from and protection for the Township’s 16-million-dollar reserve fund was up for debate in January.

The reserves are money the Township has in the bank.  They provide operating funds before the taxes are collected allowing the Township to avoid taking short term loans.  Reserves also pay for capital projects, like firehalls, road rebuilds and large equipment purchases. And they are valuable in case of a major emergency: for example, a devastating forest fire or key bridge collapse.

How large our reserves should be is a political question. Some minimums are useful. For example, in the case of a natural disaster the Township is on the hook for the first 3 million dollars before provincial assistance starts. And we need about 5 million to cover our yearly operating shortfalls before taxes are paid.

With the goal of increasing the income from the money in the bank in August 2016 Council established a new investment policy. About 6 million dollars was transferred from the savings account to mutual funds run by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

The mutual fund results were mixed. Over the first year and a half returns were often small threatening underlying capital value.  While the year end results were adequate the decision was made to return the funds to investments that guarantee the capital and issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for investment advisory services.

The Township’s investment strategy will be re-evaluated after the results of the RFP are known.

Township Twitter and Facebook Accounts

The Township set up Twitter and Facebook accounts in January.  You can join both sites and get South Frontenac’s official news at Twitter account: @SthFrontenacTwp , and Facebook: Corp of Township of South Frontenac.

Bedford Road

Ditching for the reconstruction of Bedford Road between Alton and the Sydenham dam should begin in the first week of February. All the construction is scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2018.  Similarly, the Perth Road Fire Hall is progressing well and should be open latter this spring or early summer.

Lakes and Trails Festival

Planning has begun for the second annual Lakes and Trails Festival. Last summer hundreds of people enjoyed a day of activity, local history and community.  The 2018 Festival will be held on Saturday July 14 and feature cycling, paddling, and a historical walking tour.  For more information or to help send me a note.

 

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Why the MNRF should Stop Johnson’s Point Development

The letter linked in this post is a good summary of why the MNRF, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, should stop the Johnson’s Point condominium development.  Many thanks to all the individuals who have worked so hard to protect this valuable South Frontenac resource.

Donnelly Law over letter to ER Submission, Dec. 11, 2017

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The Budget: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

The budget keeps the tax increase at a stable, affordable level (2%) and maintains a healthy reserve. It reflects the increased cost of drainage and winter maintenance due to the impacts of climate change.  This budget could be described as our first climate change budget.

As well as generally maintaining service levels the budget also makes a positive step towards a skateboard park, an off-leash dog park, and expanding township employment.

The budget debate supported a fund to help lake associations undertake Recreational Lake studies, an important tool for long-term lake health and controlled development: though no monies were allocated at this time.

The Bad

This budget missed an opportunity to increase support for vibrant communities both through more grant money for community initiatives and for legal costs to defend our planning principles and bylaws.  Another missed opportunity was a decrease, rather than increase, in resources to control invasive species.

The Ugly

The ugly is more about the process for getting an item in the budget than what is in the budget..

Last summer Public Services suggested a halt to resurfacing gravel roads for five years due to the cost of Road 38 repairs.  After some discussion Council requested a list of gravel roads and their priority for hard topping.  Instead, the Public Services Committee recommended hard-topping Carrying Place Road and Deyo’s/Bunker Hill Roads.

Despite repeated requests, there was no rational presented to support this recommendation. Traffic counts were submitted late in the budget process which supported hard topping Massassagua Road and Burridge Road South.  Carrying Place and Deyo’s/ Bunkers Hill Roads have the third and fourth highest traffic counts.

Early in the process Councillor Sleeth had argued that Carrying Place Road would have significantly increased traffic due to a new approved subdivision. This makes sense but it has still not been provided as a formal rational.

Deyo’s/Bunker Hill Roads do not have the same defence. If the idea is to create another main north south route in the middle of the Township –  hard topping will do that – it is not clear that it is a good idea.  It certainly is not one that has been debated and decided.    In 2018, a master traffic plan will be done that should provide an answer to questions like that.  To hard top this lower priority road before we have that advice and made a decision on its recommendations seems premature.

There is another alternative that may work better for more people. Rather than targeting two roads for the full treatment, Council could increase ditching, drainage, quality of gravel and grading on the many gravel roads that become virtually undrivable after heavy rains, which are happening more often.

This key recommendation on roads looks a bit like the backroom politics of old days, rather than the open and accountable government that our strategic plan says we should be working towards and that residents want. What ever policies we support, including in the budget, need to be adequately rationalized to Council and the public and decided through open, informed debate.

New Procedural Bylaw

Council has a new procedural bylaw that comes into effect January 1, 2017.  It reduces the number of meetings, puts more work onto subcommittees and will likely limit notice to the public and media for some issues coming before Council. For more comments on the new bylaw click this link.

Seniors Housing

The Township has a fairly unique opportunity to acquire upwards of a million dollars to build new seniors housing units in the Township.  Council has agreed to work with Kingston Frontenac Housing Corporation to explore organizational options and locations for 12 units of seniors housing. The timeline for presenting a concrete proposal for funding is relatively short.
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Anyone with suggestions for a possible location in the Hamlets of Sydenham, Inverary or Verona is asked to Contact Wayne Orr, the Township CAO at the Township offices as soon as possible.

Private Lane Upgrades

In 2017, the Township spent $83,045 dollars helping upgrade private lanes.  The program will continue next year. If you are on a private lane and considering an upgrade, please contact Public Works for some advice and possible funding support.

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Proposed Procedural Bylaw Changes

Council is considering changes to it’s Procedural Bylaw that could increase the power of small groups of Council and the Staff. The most concerning impact is that the public and media will only have three days of meaningful notice for an increased number of recommendations before they are voted on by Council. Under clause 7(h) recommendations from sub-committees can choose to report directly to Council or Committee of the Whole.

Unless a member of the public, media or Council goes to the sub-committee meetings it would not be clear what is being discussed and being recommended. For most people the first time a proposal would be known is when it shows up on Council’s agenda, three days before at a formal Council meeting. Three days is not enough time to find out about the issue let alone, provide comment.

It is a step back from the public notification and accountability currently in place. The norm is that most items come to Committee of the Whole before going to Council giving a minimum of 10 days for questioning and comment. Committee of the Whole has the added advantage of discussions being more informal facilitating problem solving and workable compromises.

The question was asked: Does Council have to debate everything again when a committee has already spent hours on it?

The answer is an unequivocal YES. It is Council’s duty to question, discuss and vote on all policy. Also, the openness of these meetings is the main way that Municipal business is transparent and accountable. It is not sufficient to say we should support a recommendation because the committee has discussed it at length. That would be like believing the used car salesman who says “trust me, it was only driven to church by an elderly lady”. We and the public should have time to go over the records and take the recommendation for a test drive before the vote.

The job of committees is to make a recommendation with rational that helps Council and the public understand an issue and form an educated opinion on the recommendation. Without that rational and the possibility of debate there is no transparency, no accountability.

It has been said that only items which are not controversial will be referred directly to Council. If an item is truly non-controversial then it will go through Committee of the Whole with no comments and the same report can be used for Council so there is no extra work for staff.

It is very difficult to gage whether a recommendation is controversial or not without putting it out for public comment. It is possible that the three committee members and staff may not have taken into account everything that needs to be thought of about on a certain issue. There at 20,000 residents in the Township, many with different valid and often conflicting opinions, many of these are represented on Council. This is a matter of transparency and of allowing everyone, including those with minority opinions, a chance to have a meaningful say.

All Committee recommendations and reports should come before the Committee of the Whole before going to Council. This will allow for full debate, create better policy, improve transparency, and allow the public a better chance to be engaged.

Clause 7(h) needs to be changed and the time for committee of the whole meetings increased. The proposed bylaw also decreases the number of Committee of the Whole meetings from two to one a month.

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November 2017 Report

Climate Change and Lake Health

One of the emerging lake quality puzzles is that phosphate levels in lakes have decreased and stabilized, yet algae blooms, in particular blue-green algae (the poisonous one), have increased. This conundrum was recently addressed by Neil Hutchinson, who literally wrote the recommendations that many municipalities use to support their lake health policies.

According to Hutchinson government regulations reducing phosphate, for instance in soap; changes in forestry and farming practices; municipal regulations protecting shorelines; and, better sewage disposal, including septic’s, have decreased water phosphate levels since the 1950’s. Despite these gains the last couple of decades have seen an increase in algae blooms and, more troubling, an increase in the amount of blue-green algae. Why?

Hutchinson suggests that rising lake water temperatures is a major contributor. Algae thrives in these conditions. He also outlined the mechanisms that favour the development of blue-green algae in warmer water. To see his slide show, follow the link.

Locally, reports of green algae on Dog Lake and Big Rideau Lake support Hutchinson’s observations, certainly the decrease in ice cover and quality of ice has been well noted.

Climate change has affected our community with the increase in the number of invasive species, the damage to roads from one-in-a- hundred-year rain storms that are occurring a couple of times a year and droughts that are increasing fire hazards. It might also be wise to see climate change as a threat to lake health.

Council Reorganization

Council is proposing changes in the way it works. The main changes would decrease Committee of the Whole meetings to once a month and increase the power of the smaller sub-committees: planning, corporate services, recreation and public services. The impact of these changes is hard to predict but they will affect the way Township policies are made.

Smaller committees can give more detailed consideration to issues. Also, Committee of the Whole and Council meetings are usually relatively short. Reducing the number of these meetings would free up staff time and save money.

On the other hand, allowing these smaller committee to develop proposals without public input, or input from all Councillors could shift some power from the public and Council to staff and subcommittees of Council. This difficulty could largely be eliminated if the sub-committees reported to a Committee of the Whole meeting before motions go to Council. The drafting of the bylaws on outdoor wood burning furnaces and lane assumption benefited from the interaction between the sub-committees and the Committee of the Whole.

When items are fully discussed at the committee level, with input from all Councillors and the public, the final motions will be more complete, any disagreements will be clearer, amendments will be more precise and discussion more focused. Two Committee of the Whole meetings and only one Council meeting a Month would facilitate this discussion and community engagement.

Some Councillors are opposed to reducing the number of Council meetings because they fear it will “hold up development”. The road to many of bad development decisions is paved with “don’t hold up development” concerns. Responsible development takes time and open consideration.

Public comment on changes to the Procedural Bylaw will be heard on November 28. Come out to the public meeting and make your voice heard on how the Township works. A more complete summary of the proposed changes can be found at this link.

Public Budget Input on November 14

The draft budget for 2018 will be available on-line November 3 and the November 14 Committee of the Whole will hear public delegations on any aspect of the budget. If you think something is missing, or does not need to be there, come and be heard.

Seniors Housing

There is a need for good quality, affordable seniors housing in the Township. There are often wait lists for the seniors housing we already have.

The Township has an opportunity to access 1.3 million dollars from the County and the province through the city of Kingston. South Frontenac would need to come up with an additional equivalent of $600, 000 to build 12 more units of non-profit seniors housing.

Using $600, 000 of local resources to gain a 3 million dollar needed project seems like a good use of public resources. To firm up the 1.3 million dollars Council needs to express an interest in proceeding by December. The issue will be coming back to Council in November.

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Climate Change And Lake Health

Effects of Lake Health from Beyond the Shorelines – Dr. N. Hutchinson

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