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Councillor - Town of Blue Mountains

Council Chamber News – Development, Fire and Windfall, March, 2015

OK – spring is in the air but the Town Budget may bring a chill.

Remember the budget started on a very positive note in January with a proposed increase in the Town levy at around 2.85% and a blended tax rate of less than 1.0%. However, after considering a number of additions for 2015 (originally called ‘Enhancements’), the Town levy has now risen to 5.43%. There is some good news from the County, who are offering a decrease of 2.0% in their budget, which will reflect a blended tax rate of 1.28% (combines Town, County and Education tax rates).

The biggest impact in the Town levy comes from the addition of three new hires (an Engineer, an Engineering Technician and a Planning Technician), all of whom are expected to provide support in a revised and streamlined Development Application Review Process (more on this later).

Now, a 1.28% blended tax rate doesn’t sound too bad but If we approve the budget for 2015, as presented,, we are also approving in principle a budget for years 2016 and 2017, at 7.3% and 7.7% respectively. We must remember that the 2015 levy reflects only partial salaries for the three new hires (less than 50%) and then the salaries increase to 100% or $250,000 in 2016 and 2017. I can guarantee that we will not be getting the same deal next year from the County at -2.0%. In fact, I will bet that it will be more like +2.0% or a 4.0% swing and a blended rate much higher than 1.23%, probably closer to 4.0% or more.

If you have any concerns about taxation in our community, you need to attend a Public Information Session on March 23rd between 6.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. and speak -up a Public Meeting on the same date at 7.00 p.m.

There will be no increase in your water and wastewater fixed and variable rates. Yeh!

Here are some other recent and important developments over the past month:

1)         A major organizational change is in the works! Council has approved a switch in responsibilities that will see the Director of Planning, Building and By-law Enforcement now taking on all development-related engineering services, as the new Director of Planning and Development. The Director of Engineering and Public Works will be assigned the new role of Director of Infrastructure and Public Works, with a focus on operation, maintenance, repair and replacement of existing municipal structure and the development and maintenance of a Town asset management plan. Of course, this impacts the 2015 budget and beyond with three new hires mentioned above. (LINK to the staff and consultant report presented on March 16th.)

2)         The Fire Department is undergoing some major challenges to ‘response times’ and the ability to mitigate fire risks. At the present time, the net cost of fire service in our municipality accounts for almost 12% ($1.66 million) of our net operating budget. Over the past 5 years, the Fire Department averaged 191 calls per year, of which only 16 were fires and 4 were structural fires. The remainder of the calls for service were false alarms and other emergencies like auto accidents. In response to structure fires, we are advised that the department responds with approximately 20 personnel and the average ‘on the scene’ time is 10 minutes.

So what are the problems? The response times are high given our topography and limited volunteer program (should be closer to 4 minutes, which is considered the ‘flashover’ time for saving a building). In order to improve our Level of Fire Service, Fire Chief, Rob Collins, is recommending that we review our current Fire Master Plan immediately, maintain our current composite department comprised of existing permanent staff (now unionized) supported by a complement of up to 48 paid-on call volunteers, investigate the mandatory use of automatic sprinkler systems in new homes and existing high risk buildings, and continue to work (or push) with neighboring municipalities as well as potential community business partners to develop mutual assistance partnerships to facilitate enhanced response capabilities. (LINK to the report).

3)         An application has been received and deemed complete (i.e. all required reports and drawings have been received by the TBM Planning Department) that will require an Official Plan Amendment, a Zoning By-law Amendment and Site Plan Approval for a proposed 242 unit residential consisting of 2-storey, 3-storey and 4-storey low rise apartment style units located at the north-west corner of Grey Road 19 and Grey Road 21. The development is being proposed as a ‘Medium Density’ one reflecting a density of 55 units per hectare (22.25 units per acre). A Public meeting was held on March 2, 2015, with close to 50 people in attendance and some 36 written letters/emails (as of that date) being submitted and objecting to this development. The area of concerns revolve around 10 themes, with the top 5 being; 1) high density is not compatible with the surrounding area; 2) height of 4-storeys is too high; 3) increase in traffic flows would create congestion, safety issues and diversion into residential communities; 4) there will be negative visual impact on the gateway to Blue and the character of surrounding neighborhoods; and 5) increase noise will be created by traffic and density. (LINK to Report) We understand that staff are in communication with the developer to discuss mitigating these concerns and will report back to Council Committee of the Whole sometime in May. If substantial changes are made to this proposed development, then another Public Meeting may be required (or recommended). If you have any concerns and haven’t voiced your opinion, we want to hear from you – Council will be asked to make a very important decision that will hopefully reflect the best interests of our community.

Issues of Concern:

1)         Staff provided a list of Community Services fees and Charges for 2015. If you have a favorite municipal service or facility that you use on a regular basis, you might want to check this list to determine what it will cost you in 2015 (see LINK). We are advised that new changes will result in an additional $16,000 in revenue. The debate is still out in raising fees at Tomahawk and making it a full user-fee tourist/community facility and more sustainable.

2)         Council approved a motion to reduce the speed limit along Beaver Street from 50km/hr to 40 km/hr to help deal with safety issues around Moreau Park and more pedestrian movement into Town. This will be more important once Sobeys and the LCBO are built. Council also agreed to include a provision of sidewalks or paved shoulders when Beaver Street is improved.

3)         Frazil ice blockages on the Beaver River in Clarksburg this past winter have caused considerable concern and resulted in some damages to homes in the Margaret Street area. The cost of mitigating any further water damages (excavators, loaders, etc) has resulted in $48,758.59 in costs to the Town. Council has agreed to bill 50% of these costs to the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority (GSCA), who are responsible for river management.

4)         The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) wanted total relief from the Noise By-law to permit construction noise along Hwy. 26 (between Thornbury and the Town of Collingwood boundary) after the permitted hours or during the night between 7.00 p.m. and 7.00 a.m. from the fall of 2015 to the fall of 2016. This would mean allowing blasting, milling, pulverizing, paving and the installation of culverts during night time periods. I moved a motion (that was approved) that we deny this request. MTO and their consultants will be advised to present a deputation to Council and the Public should they wish to pursue this request. Stay tuned!

Quick Hits:       

1)         Council has agreed to enter the Heart and Stroke Foundation Big Bike Event to be held in Thornbury on May 11th, 2015. This means that a team of staff and Council will be assembled to ride a 30-seat bicycle along a proposed route (an easy one I hope) to raise awareness and funding to support the work of the Foundation. We might need to ask for volunteers from the community to replace some of us old folk.

2)         We have been approached by Mountain Goat Film Company requesting that the Town consider creating a film policy to attract film and television productions to our area and the surrounding Georgian Triangle Area. Council directed staff to invite the producer of this company to provide a visual presentation and a business plan that could promote public-private partnerships as well as regional partnerships.

3)         Grey County has commenced an environmental assessment regarding Grey Road 19 and Grey Road 21 intersection improvements. This will be a joint venture with the County of Simcoe and the Town of Collingwood, who have jurisdiction over Mountain Road. There will be a Public Information meeting in the upcoming months. A number of views have been expressed by stakeholders requesting the construction of a two lane roundabout that would support the existing roundabout at Gord Canning Drive and Grey Road 119 and help ensure better long-term, successful traffic flow in this area.

4)         Grey County received $100,000 provincial grant to be used to create a central dispatch to help the transit systems in the county work together to serve users. Hopefully, there will be some benefits to the residents of The Blue Mountains and maybe some help to provide additional services to our successful Collingwood-Blue Mountains Bus Transit system.

Upcoming Events:

1)         A Public Open Session and Public Meeting on the 2015 Town Budget is scheduled for Monday March 23rd starting at 6.00 p.m.

2)         A Special Meeting of Council is scheduled on Wednesday Match 25th at 9.00 a.m. until 12.00 p.m., regarding the Town’s Emergency Management Plan – dealing with the elements and avoiding disasters.

3)         Council on March 30th at 7.00 p.m. at the Town Hall. Staff will be looking for Council to consider comments from the March 23 Public Meeting, then finalize and adopt a 2015 Budget By-law.