Mr. Reeve , Members of Council , and members of Township administration, we are grateful for the opportunity to appear before you tonight on the first of what we hope will be many co-operative and productive opportunities in the months and years ahead.
We represent the approximately 30 Lakefront associations and groups that exist along the Huron shoreline with membership ranging from 4 to 140 properties. Our most recent meeting took place last November 25 and we had 30 people in attendance representing 16 of the lakefront groups. We think that represents a significant degree of interest, given that the traditional cottage season ended on Thanksgiving, over a month before the meeting. It may also reflect the changing nature of seasonal residential properties- less emphasis on the seasonal , and more on the residential as a growing number of conversions take place.
And even if our members are not here to keep in touch, we know that their interest in Township activities is year-round by their visits to our Website (www.northwesthuron.com) where we attempt to post items of interest on a regular basis.
The issues/challenges noted below are in no particular order and we acknowledge that they are not all top priorities with Council, but they are no doubt on the "radar screen" for both of us and by working together we can deal with them more efficiently and more effectively.
Congratulations are in order for the courage in choosing and the skill shown in executing the mail in ballot process. Nowhere in Ontario did it go more smoothly and the number of ballots cast should be sufficient proof that it has the support of the electorate for its continuation. Yes, it may cost more than the traditional paper ballot process but the outstanding participation rate should be more than enough to justify the investment.
We understand that the Provincial Government has backed away from direct encouragement of the municipal amalgamation process for the foreseeable future and while they appear to be acknowledging the fact that amalgamations are not necessarily cost reduction gold mines, we agree that they can improve the capacity of some local governments through pooling of resources and more particularly through strengthening the administrative capacity.
The Province is also indirectly acknowledging that one size does not fit all across Ontario and we would like to point out to Council that that same concept should be closely considered when dealing with Lakefront servicing issues. Differences in service delivery may be quite appropriate in different areas.
This is one of those issues where different approaches have been used in different areas over the years, and with much success. However, we understand that there has been a problem in recent years with contaminated recycling loads, to the extent that consideration could be given to eliminating this service. We would strongly encourage Council not to take this step until our organization has had a chance to work with you in educating our membership so that we can help create a win-win situation. We believe that it is in exactly this way we can add value to the Community.
Always a troublesome issue in any municipality, but no doubt more complicated with a mixture of open year round roads, assumed but no winter maintenance roads, unassumed no maintenance roads, and perhaps even a few private roads not in Township ownership. And we realize that these situations prevail in parts of the Township other than the lakefront, although the lakefront is where the greatest variety exists.
We understand that the Township is considering an overall Roads Needs Study and wonder if its adoption would not be premature in advance of a Strategic Plan for the new Municipality? Certainly it would be a key input to the Plan.
We are willing to help, but obviously it would be inappropriate for any of us to take the leadership role in such an exercise. Perhaps with the assistance of County Planning staff such a project could take place over 2001 in order that Council would have the results in time to provide input to its 2002 Budget deliberations. If the planning for such a project could be mapped out by the County staff, lakefront and other interested Township residents could play active roles in data gathering and focus group work in order to keep the cost down. Models are available from other municipalities which could be used as a guide.
Our members have had direct experience with such plans in both the private and public sectors and are unanimous in support of their value in helping new or changed organizations to deal with priority setting in the face of limited resources in order to meet stakeholder demands.
Obviously a high priority for all of us in the Township, because a polluted Lake Huron, either actual or perceived, will depress lakefront property values, and we do not need to tell you what a significant portion of Township tax revenue these properties produce. But, more importantly, we are concerned with our ability to enjoy the beaches of Ashfield and Colborne today and for generations to come. If it were just economics, none of us would tie our money up in cottages as they are not investments producing a financial return. We would be renters, but we have strong connections to the land, often going back generations, just as farm residents often do, and probably share a similar sense of rootedness.
Last year we began a program of water testing in concert with the Conservation Authority to monitor lakefront conditions and also conditions along Highway 21 where streams cross that outlet to the Lake. We found a variety of results and plan to expand the volume and frequency of testing this year, again in cooperation with the Conservation Authority.
And, we also agree that greater attention needs to be paid to the management of septic systems along the lakeshore and elsewhere. We are willing to participate in an education program and to support regular testing and maintenance of these systems. We all need to do our part to protect the environment.
We are proud to be part of a Municipality which has taken bold steps to challenge those who may not see stewardship of our natural resources as an important issue. Congratulations on the recent success in court.
We also understand that this has been a significant burden on the Municipal tax base. We encourage Council to keep its resolve strong and if additional resources need to be sought from other levels of government we will be there to support Council. Many of us would be willing to lobby our "home" MPPs on the Township's behalf as well as those in government directly involved in the issue. All you have to do is ask us.
Again, a very significant issue. An issue more pressing than many others in light of current and pending Provincial Government Regulations. This is likely one that cannot await completion of a strategic planning process before a Township strategy has to be developed, as the Province appears to be setting the agenda on this issue. Although there are likely some communal wells in other areas of the Township, and we understand that there is at least one area where the Township has had to take action already, we would like to be able to participate in the process that leads to the solution(s) required to meet or to challenge Provincial Regulations, as the greatest number of affected systems are along the lake.
While this is an issue that is dealt with at the County level we would like to make a couple of comments. Although the process of taxation based on Current Value Assessment does not reflect the seasonal nature of much of the present lakefront use, we recognize that the Township cannot decrease its expenditures in any significant way with the seasons. Thus we support the current system while recognizing that it is not perfect.
However, we understand that there may be some attempts under way to expand tax policy rules which could permit a reduction in the burden borne by the farmlands in the residential and farm class by shifting a greater burden to the residential portion of the class. The impetus for such a move seems to be to the prices being paid for farmland, both to purchase and to rent, across Ontario, relative to its productive value in today's markets for crops.
If such an initiative is introduced, we encourage our County Council representatives to consider very carefully the short and long term impacts of such a move. Huron has a long history of being
a leader in taxation fairness and this principle should be continued.
Last, but not least, we would like to make several comments on this topic.
We would encourage the development of a Township website as soon as is practical. We are aware of other municipalities of a similar size in Ontario that use theirs to great advantage for posting information, minutes, notices, and links to other sites, which not only would provide for a better informed electorate, but also reduce the number of time consuming calls to staff asking for basic information. We know that 50% of our membership has access to the Web and email and we understand that this number is usually much higher in the agricultural community. We would also be willing to obtain some help from our members to advise the Township on how to proceed in development of such a site, as we realize that staff time is at a premium.
Internet use can also improve tax collection capacity, Councillor communication, and access to information best practices from other municipalities to name but a few areas.
But, there are still, as mentioned above, a substantial number of ratepayers without web access to whom we will have to communicate by mail. We have, with Ashfield Township's cooperation, sent one such newsletter, but the cost of continuing is prohibitive for our Association. We would like to ask the new Township to consider if we could piggyback on their tax bill mailings in order to enhance our mutual objectives. We will, of course, be continuing to work through or constituent associations but access to the entire membership at least once annually would be very helpful and allow us to turn our scarce resources to more productive pursuits.
We would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you tonight and to outline some of the areas where we see a clear opportunity for more effective services through cooperation between us. Our next meeting for all Lakeshore residents is scheduled for mid summer and we invite you to participate. The date is either June 30 or July 7, final date and location to be confirmed shortly.
We are sure that there are and will be other opportunities for us to work together and we encourage you to think of what we might add to the mix. Our members skills and interests are broad and encompass almost every field imaginable . While we might not be as immediately available as permanent residents, technology is reducing that gap.
Let's work together to make our new municipality the model for Ontario municipalities with a mixture of permanent and seasonal residency. Thank you.