Candidate – Deputy Mayor of Dysart et al
1. Do you favour the concept of an amalgamated, single-tier government for Haliburton County? What would the advantages of such a system be, or, conversely, what are the advantages of maintaining the existing two-tier system?
The argument in favour of moving to single tier is that services delivered by one, larger body will provide greater value for money for residents and more efficient public services.
The argument for remaining a two tier system is that it allows for local flexibility around local identities and policies. Being such a large sparsely populated geographic area also brings unique challenges that may not be best served by one single level of government.
There is a real potential for increased taxes to property owners in Dysart without additional benefit, since all would be taxed at a common county level.
Any change from the current way of doing business must be done with a goal to achieve cost savings and improve services.
I believe that we could accomplish both goals by considering a Confederation model of governance (think federal and provincial relationships). This model was recommended to the Alberta Association of Districts and Counties as a good choice for amalgamating rural to rural municipalities.
In the Confederation model, the county assumes responsibility for certain agreed upon municipal services while others remain at a municipal level.
2. Is the county’s tourism strategy working? What are its strong points and weaknesses? Is there anything that could be done differently to attract more people to the Haliburton Highlands?
The three pillars of the tourism strategy are: the arts, outdoor activities, and unique culinary experience.
Promotion of the arts and the outdoor experience appear to be working. The third pillar; promotion of unique culinary experiences does not seem to be as successful.
The 2017 tourism poll question “Why did you come to the Highlands” shows some positive numbers in outdoor activities (37 per cent), visiting friends (25 per cent) and the arts (14 per cent). Food only seven per cent.
The 2017 poll also contains some disappointing numbers. It still appears that most people have heard about Haliburton County directly from friends or family, or because a friend or family has cottaged here (50 per cent). Social media, websites, and traditional advertising comprise 14 per cent.
It would seem that we are not a tourism destination in the traditional sense. Sixty-five per cent of poll respondents either own a cottage here (so are they really tourists) or stayed at a friend’s cottage. Eight per cent rented a cottage. Standard accommodators (hotels, motels, campgrounds, etc) accounted for just 16 per cent.
So is the program successful? Components are, perhaps it’s time to revisit the program and refine future direction and efforts. With a budget of approximately $400K it is important that we ensure we get best value for our tax dollars.
3. The county is currently in the process of strengthening its shoreline protection bylaw. What provisions and restrictions should be included to adequately protect the health of the county’s lakes?
I believe that the protection of our waters is critical to the economic and recreational future of the Highlands. Good lake health is vital for our lakefront property owners (both for enjoyment and investment protection), our off-water residents and our many visitors.
Shoreline preservation and tree cutting bylaws, sewage system inspections, stopping invasive species, and fluctuating water levels in our reservoir lakes are all critical components of a major Haliburton County lake health initiative that needs to be considered under one umbrella.
I do have concerns that more regulations beyond what is proposed will result in a further deterioration of private property owner rights, and more infractions may occur as sight lines to the lake become impacted. The regulations will require more staff time attending sites for approvals, investigating complaints, and follow up legal proceedings.
There is a shared responsibility, and potentially more long-term benefit if lake associations and the three levels of government (provincial, county, and municipal) develop and deliver educational material to ensure waterfront property owners are not only aware of the impacts they make to the health of our lakes, but how to improve the waterfront experience for generations to come.
4. The issue of short-term rentals of private cottages continues to be a topic of discussion in the community. Should municipalities be implementing control measures on short-term rentals; why or why not? What does a responsible framework for the control of short-term rentals look like?
All four municipalities are examining short-term rentals and the impact they have. Highlands East has just released a draft bylaw to address this topic.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the first contact many have with the Highlands is by renting a cottage on one of our lakes. In fact eight per cent of our visitors rent cottages here in the Highlands (2017 County Tourism Poll).
Renters contribute to the economy by shopping locally, eating in local restaurants, and participating in the many summer events and festivals.
Septic tank capacity (ie. overcrowding) is probably the major issue, along with increased landfill pressure and noise. There are already bylaws in place to deal with noise complaints (Dysart 2016-62), and Dysart has a Cottage Kit for people who rent their cottages, designed specifically for renters.
We have a number of responsible cottage rental agencies with strict codes of conduct here in the county. These agencies are to be applauded for their efforts to minimize conflicts and pressure on our resources.
It will be interesting to see the feedback the Highlands East draft bylaw receives and that if needed, a compromise document can be finalized that minimizes red tape but still meets the needs of the public.
5. The county has been working toward a public transportation plan, which has not yet been produced. Do you think the county should offer a public transportation service; why or why not? What would a sustainable transportation system look like?
Existing research (according to the Transportation Task Force) shows that there is a significant portion of the population (20-30 per cent) of Haliburton County whose opportunities are limited by lack of access to regular, affordable transportation.
The county supported the business case presented by the Transportation Task Force and has selected a booked shared ride public transportation system to best serve the public. The service would operate five days a week with an annual potential cost of $192,000. County transit services will need to be placed within the County of Haliburton organizational structure, either as a new entity or within an existing department. In my opinion, this may potentially increase costs well above the task force estimate.
Unfortunately an Uber model similar to what Innisfil is currently testing was not included for consideration. By the task force’s own report: “This Uber partnership will continue to be monitored as the cost to users is low, service could be available 24/7 if desired, it is demand-responsive, there is no overhead or contracted costs to the municipality and it generates new employment.”
A proposed implementation plan will be coming back to council in November. It will be interesting to see the results.