Thursday, January 26, 2012

Growth Plan-Staff Salary Increases-Council Report Card

I attended the ministry briefing on the Amended Growth Plan for the Simcoe Sub Region in Alliston on January 19th. The ministry and growth secretariat have provided a document that if properly implemented and followed will in fact allow the area to grow at a sustainable rate. But like all documents and regulations of this nature, it will be the County and local Springwater’s application of the Plan that will determine whether it will be sustainable. The final regulations I hope will clarify some gaping holes that the development community will drive through if the local and county councils fail to do their jobs.

I commented previously that our local council has the full authority to approve the way it wants the township to grow. The Amendment confirms that. They must take control and not be overwhelmed by developers, planners, engineers and lawyers with ideas that may be counter to the health and welfare of Springwater.

Springwater could amend their Official Plan and restrict development to the 6,400 people that the Province has proposed. Springwater is not a primary residential growth area or urban node. So if the council of Springwater does their job, they will follow the wishes of most the residents and control the growth in our communities. The large developments around Midhurst are not envisioned in the growth plan as most of the criteria are not met as outlined in the Growth Plan for the Golden Horseshoe.

I hope our Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Councillors read the Toronto Star on the failure of Mississauga’s Development Charges to keep up with the cost of required infrastructure and services. The residents there are facing a 7% increase even with cutbacks in services. This is what I have warned against in my numerous articles, even though many on council and senior staff are convinced we can stay ahead of the costs with development charges.

I was reviewing the presentation for the final 2012 budget that was presented to council. One thing on slide 28 jumped out at me. It read “Salaries are slightly higher - Some downsizing done but offset by Council approved position changes”. If we reduced staff at the top administrative level and combined functions and increased efficiencies and use of manpower in operations, how can the staff costs be higher? I have requested information on the rate increases of the senior staff and I suspect they received much more than the 3% that the rest of the township staff received. It begs the question, “if we are asking department staff to do more and only receive 3%, is it not fair that the executive group do the same”? It sounds like the senior staff may have received significant increases which I estimate may be anywhere between 5 and 10%. Is that fair? It is unfortunate that these matters are settled behind closed doors.

Deputy Mayor McLean made a good suggestion at the last council meeting. He suggested that there should be a council report card on how they are doing. Unfortunately it sounds like they will evaluate themselves. I have many students I teach that would love that concept. So I will do a little report card of my own based on their strategic plan and some other matters that are important. I base these rating on my presence at most council meetings. I will give the council a P for pass, N for needed improvement and an F for failing and explain my reasoning.


Meetings P Good effort allowing questions at council and planning meetings but could be a little more open to comments also

Town Hall Meetings N No regular ward meetings with council to discuss local issues

Economic Development

Economic Development Committee N Only internal committee, no new jobs, few times discussed at council

Economic Development Strategy F Very little done with the almost $30,000 study done by previous council

Promotion of Elmvale main street N Some support but not much as Elmvale is still losing main street businesses

Springwater Brand P Signage is underway

Promotion and development of existing businesses F No purchasing policy for preferred local suppliers of services

Growth Management

Growth allocation F Following developer lead strategies rather creating its own phasing strategies

Sustainable Infrastructure

Improve Roads and Bridges P Dedicating investment in previously ignored need

Drinking Water N Still problems with some of the municipal water in small developments

Financial Management

Long Term Capital Plan P Asset management appears to be in place

Creation of Finance Committee P Budget Committee did a good job

Procurement Policy N Develop local business preferred list for products and Services

Green Agenda

Renewable energy N Need some say in local initiatives

Environmental Impact N Fleet selection, car pooling,

Growth decisions F Create growth in existing walking communities like Elmvale

Recycling and Waste N Become test area for some alternatives rather than just relegating to County

Review Potential of Alternate Energy for township buildings P Studies to be undertaken

Community Partnerships

Board of Education EDHS P Shared facilities at Arena

Health Services P Shared facilities at Knox building

Food Bank P Shared facilities at Knox building

Volunteerism and recognition P Good programs in place

Recreation P Good support for local facilities


Ratepayer response N Allow more interaction with councilors and constituents rather than controlled messaging

Council Corner P Nice addition under this council

Reporting of Council initiatives P Adequate information

Overall I would give this council a passing grade. Most councilors do their home work and are truly interested in making Springwater a better place for all of us. We do have some on council that need to pull up their sox and be better informed of matters on the agenda so they can make improved decisions with township matters. I do see a disconnect between what communities want to see and some of the council’s direction and decisions. More dialogue and town hall events could easily correct that flaw.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Growth in Simcoe County - Good Effort but not Great

Province eases restrictions on municipalities

By Kate Harries AWARE Simcoe January 19 2012

The Ontario government has bowed to local municipal pressure by easing restrictions on how much growth can take place in Simcoe County.

Flexibility is being touted as the hallmarked of Amendment 1, new provincial legislation governing growth in Simcoe County that goes into effect today.

The question is whether municipalities will hold to the population numbers established by the province now that tough enforcement measures proposed by the province over a year ago have been removed.

AWARE Simcoe is holding a meeting on Saturday at the Angus Recreation Centre, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., to discuss the issue of sprawl and what effect the new provincial policies will have.

Today at the Nottawasaga Inn, several Simcoe County mayors expressed optimism that the changes put them back in control of development in their municipalities.

“Thank you for listening,” Innisfil Mayor Barb Baguley told provincial officials at the morning technical briefing, attended by over 200 people. Some 350 attended a $60 lunch hosted by the Alliston Chamber of Commerce.

Cheryl Shindruk, vice-presdent of Geranium Corporation and chair of the Simcoe County chapter of the Building Industry Land Development Association, also expressed appreciation.

Changes that are welcomed by municipal politicians and developers include:

-Removal of “interim settlement boundaries,” a measure by which the province aimed to draw back boundaries in cases where councils had approved excessive development.

-Addition of Alcona in Innisfil as a primary settlement area (a term that replaces ‘urban growth node,’ the terminology used to date.) This means that major growth is to be directed to seven areas - Barrie, Orillia, Collingwood, Midland-Penetanguishene, Alliston, Bradford and, now, Alcona.

-Greater flexibility for approval of development in settlement areas.

-Municipalities may request that the minister review decisions relating to uses and boundaries of four strategic employment area – in Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil Heights, the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport in Oro-Medonte and the Rama Road district.

The province also announced a provision that will sunset in five years for an extra 20,000 of population to be allocated by the County of Simcoe.

The new polices in Amendment 1 do not apply to the rest of the Greater Golden Horseshoe area which, along with Simcoe County, fall under Places to Grow planning legislation

“This is a strong statement that Simcoe is significantly different to other parts of the Greater Golden Horseshoe,” Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli told a crowd of politicians, lawyers, developers, planners and citizens at his announcement this morning.

“The Simcoe area is unique in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, with important sensitive environmental resources, complex growth challenges, and intense development pressures,” Chiarellii said. Two key environmental assets identified in ministry documents are Lake Simcoe and high quality agricultural lands. (Some expressed disappointment that the Nottawasaga watershed was not mentioned.)

Unchanged are the population and growth forecasts established by the province in 2006, when Places to Grow came into effect – a total population, including Barrie and Orillia, of 667,000 by 2031, and a total employment figure of 254,000.

“What has changed,” said provincial development facilitator Paula Dill, “is the increased flexibility for Simcoe County municipalities to approve development if they have historically designated lands that would accommodate growth... The aim is to direct growth to areas that offer municipal water and wastewater treatment."

Dill explained that a new policy allows development in settlement areas in excess of what is needed to accommodate the forecasts, provided that the development is on lands designated for urban use as of today.

“This added flexibility will address much of what we heard through the consultation. It will mean that even if a municipality has lands that were designated for urban development 20 or 30 years ago where growth has not proceeded, the municipality may continue to approve new development, provided that those lands are in a settlement area, and are designated.

“Furthermore, the county may approve, adopt an official plan or amendment that redesignates rural lands as urban land within a settlement area. The total amount of urban land approved under this policy cannot exceed the amount of land that could accommodate 20,000 people across the county. This policy will sunset in five years.

“In all cases, approvals must demonstrate that they meet the planning tests such as contributing to achievement of density and intensification targets and any applicable requirements that relate to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.”

Dill said municipalities will be encouraged to achieve greater efficiency and conservation in energy, water and wastewater management through building and community design.

And, she added, “the County of Simcoe and the lower-tier municipalities shall establish and implement policies to ensure the orderly and timely progression of development on lands for urban uses.”

Bill French of Springwater asked Dill what is to happen in the case of a small municipality that has a forecast increase of 6,000 people people between now and 2031, and yet on the books the township is adding 30,000. "How are those two going to meet?"

Dill replied: “The amendment says if you are in a settlement area and designated urban, the municipality can approve... What this is doing is recognizing that there are a lot of old, old approvals that are taking up a lot of room. We are trying to direct growth to where it should be.”

French didn’t name Midhurst but continued with details of the Midhurst situation: "Is it possible that, given that the population growth is limited to another 6,000 people between now and 2031, that in fact it may meet some of the criteria, that in fact 30,000 people would be allowed in that area? It’s not an urban node.”

Dill: “It depends on the amount of population that is allocated to that municipality.If the allocation is 6,000 and it is designated to be urban development in a settlement area, the municipality may indeed approve in excess of Schedule 7 if it is designated urban. If it’s not urban then it doesn’t qualify.”

French: “Well right now it’s a designated settlement area, but it’s agricultural.”

Dill: “It’s got to be within settlement and it’s got to be designated urban.”

French: “If it’s not zoned for residential or whatever, then it’s not permitted.”

Dell: “It may not be.”

French then asked, referring to the 667,000 population forecast for the county in 2031: “The 667 number - is that a solid number?

Yes,” Dill said. “At this point in time.”

Asked whether Dill’s report would be released, deputy minister Drew Fagan said, “it’s not actually a formal report.” Dill said the advice she provided to the minister is reflected in the amendment.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Midhurst-Hillsdale-Centre Vespra Development

I mention these three settlement areas in the heading of this article as they appear to be indicators of the new type of development growth our small communities are facing in Springwater. They are also signs of unwanted change.

Hillsdale received approval of a development of about 500 homes two years ago after local residents dropped their OMB appeal because of fears of a lawsuit from the developer.

Centre Vespra are nearing the end of the planning and approval period which will see another 500 homes added to their small quaint rural area. There is a large residential group assembled trying to restrict the size of the development.

As far as Midhurst everyone knows that if the secondary plan is approved after the OMB hearing sometime this year, up to 10,000 homes or around 30,000 residents could be added over the next ten or more years. A very large resident group is coming together to fight this plan.

These new subdivision plans represent the largest developments that Springwater has ever seen. In all cases, a majority of residents in these areas reject the plans. That is a new phenomenom. However not one person I spoken to objects to development in principle. They simply believe, as a rural area, Springwater needs carefully designed and complementary developments that will not destroy the reason people moved here. The three developments certainly do not meet that criteria.

Why is this happening?

In many small municipalities such as Springwater, local councils have been hoodwinked by large developers and their planning consultants and lawyers. Instead of local councils planning their community’s future, they are allowing the developers to dictate how and when areas will be developed. There is no question that many of these developers are quite good at designing communities with attractive housing, green spaces and general land use. Unfortunately most of the community designs are great for urban centres like Barrie, but not conducive to rural living. The missing link is that the local council is the party responsible to say when and how many houses will be built in an area, not the developers. Councils like Springwater should be enhancing their official plans and dictating to developers what the municipality wants and how they would like it phased in over specific periods of time. This is totally within their jurisdiction and would allow both the community and developers to reach amicable resolutions. This next comment may surprise you. Even though I have been accused of being anti developer, I don’t find the actual problem with the developers. Some have been heavy handed, but so be it. Generally they are simply maximizing the use of landholdings they have secured as any good capitalist would do. Their shareholders expect nothing less. The real problem in my view is the lack of knowledge and lack of visionary leadership in the local councils. I encourage you to ask any of our Springwater elected officials if they have read the provincial documents that guide development growth including the Provincial Policy Statement, Places to Grow and the more recent Proposed Amendment 1 of the Growth Plan for the Simcoe County area. Ask them if they understand how they apply to Springwater. Also ask them if they have actually read the township’s own Official Plan or the By-laws that control development. Nothing requires them to do so. For the most part, by what I hear and see at the council and planning meetings, they haven’t studied them and simply depend on staff to direct them and recommend resolutions to pass at council and planning meetings. To read all the documents I mentioned would take them no more than a day if they dedicated the time. That is why we elected them.

Springwater Council needs to understand that they are not just a board of directors for the township but in fact are the executive management committee and must get their hands dirty. The mayor is the CEO according to the Municipal Act and has the same authority to provide direction as any corporate leader would provide. Of course the council will take advice from bureaucrats, but the elected officials are supposed to be at the helm, not the bureaucrats. The Springwater Council needs to take charge of where it is going with development in general. It should outline a master development plan and inform those land owners and developers in designated settlement areas of how they want them to proceed. In this way they would have much more control of the developments and the associated capital costs for infrastructure. By allowing smaller and controlled development in chunks the township would be able to adjust development charges to meet the increasing costs of the services and avoid deficits or unfairly passing on some of the costs to the general taxpayer. Even though councils always say that all the infrastructure and associated costs of new development is born by the developers through (DC’s) development charges, that is simply not true as all costs can never be anticipated. As an example, when I was reviewing the Midhurst Secondary Plan costs to date I was dismayed that even before we get into the actual development stage we are already in a $104,000 deficit position for the secondary plan itself. Ultimately if the OMB rejects the Midhurst Secondary plan that $104,000 deficit will be made up by the taxpayer either directly or indirectly. The cost for the plan to date is about $175,000 and we have only collected $71,000. That is just for the plan and not any associated services such as roads, sewers or water works. This is an example of the tip of the ice berg and how quickly things can get out of control with poorly controlled development. Talk to your friends in Barrie. Barrie has had huge developments for decades but the development charges never seem to stop the increase in their tax levies. Unbridled development is not the panacea that our mayor, deputy mayor and most of our councillors think it is.

I applaud the resident groups in Hillsdale, Centre Vespra and Midhurst for taking a stand to protect the character of their communities and that of Springwater as a whole. I would like to see some of our key farmers speak out against the loss of some of the most valuable farmland in Springwater as these developments proceed. I can only ask that our elected officials take the time to better understand the irreversible harm that will be done if development is not controlled by the council and planning committee.

This council did not create this crisis, but they must now take charge and start the rebuilding process and put Springwater on a new land development heading. Springwater needs and can sustain about a 2% growth rate or about 200 plus new homes a year. That should be part of new master plan. That controlled growth may help reduce the cost of development land as large speculators may not be as enticed to tie up 1000 acres of land if they know the township is only allowing 200 to 300 homes a year to be built. It would help resurrect the small builder that has been annihilated in the last 20 years as land would be sold in smaller parcels and more attainable by the local builders. These builders typically employ local tradesmen, supplies and services which would add to the Springwater economy. This type of orderly development could help lower our mill rate and truly make Springwater a sustainable community.

I ask you to challenge your Mayor, Deputy Mayor and councilors if you want to retain the rural character of Springwater. Without input from you, this council will follow the easy path that the three councils before them followed. As we are now seeing that path is not sustainable and could be very costly.

The first step in a positive direction would be for this council to make a decision to stand aside and allow the County and Province to resolve the OMB appeal on the Midhurst Secondary Plan. Some would say why won’t the township spend the money and oppose the plan instead. In simple terms Springwater would expose itself to millions in lawsuits as the councils before them lawfully (rightly or wrongly) approved these settlement area plans in Hillsdale, Centre Vespra and Midhurst. However there is no need for the township to spend up to $200,000 in our money to fight for something most people oppose. The OMB fight is between the County and the Province and that is where it should be resolved.

In the case of Springwater Smaller is Better.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Where is the Openeness and Transparency from our Mayors and Deputy Mayors

This is a letter sent from AWARE Simcoe to the Warden

To Warden Cal Patterson and members of Simcoe County Council

Dear members of County Council,

Issues of open government were at the core of the foundation of AWARE Simcoe in 2010 and were central to the 2010 municipal election in which an unprecedented number of new councillors were elected.

Every new councillor – and many incumbents - campaigned on promises to ensure openness and transparency and we believe that the profound change that occurred in October 2010 reflected the electorate’s strong desire for increased accountability and greater public involvement in municipal decision-making.

That is why we were dismayed when County Council decided on November 27 2011 to hire John Maddox of JGM Consulting as its closed meeting investigator, rather than use the Ontario Ombudsman.

Since 2008, when the Sunshine Law came into effect, it has been mandatory to have an independent investigator to review the decision of a council or committee to meet in secret, when requested by a member of the public. If none is appointed, the Ombudsman becomes the default investigator, if needed.

In our view, the choice was between an independent officer of the Legislature, at no direct cost to the local taxpayer, and a consultant at $100 an hour plus retainer. County Council chose the latter, in sharp contrast to at least three councils in Simcoe County that chose the cost-effective and arm’s-length option: Bradford West Gwillimbury, Midland and Tiny have all appointed the Ombudsman to be their closed meeting investigator.

In this they join some 200 other municipalities. Another 136 have picked Local Authority Services Limited, a subsidiary company of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, which also bid for Simcoe County’s business. Only 50 municipalities have retained John Maddox.

But cost is not the main reason for our dismay. We believe that in an important test of their commitment to transparency, 24 councillors chose to ante up taxpayer dollars in order to maintain control of the process and minimize the possibility of embarrassment or “fuss” by having to disclose matters they don’t want to discuss in public.

The position in favour of the consultant was articulated starkly four years ago by Midland Councillor Bob Jeffery (at that time Midland voted to retain John Maddox). The Ombudsman was like having the fox in the henhouse, he said. “Our guy is here to do our bidding.”

As citizens, we like to have the fox looking out for our interests, and we don’t care to fork out for the guy who will do council’s bidding. We thank the ten councillors who voted for maximum transparency and information-sharing as had been promised at election time.

We feel County Clerk Brenda Clark was unwittingly reflecting the culture of secrecy that has prevailed for so long in this area when she said that the feeling among clerks in Simcoe County was that the Ombudsman “may have reported more than was really necessary.”

We do not fault the Clerk for this. Staff may advise but it is up to council to show leadership and direct staff on issues relating to the mandate they – particularly the newly elected cohort – have received from the electorate.

We were surprised that no member of council questioned what the Clerk meant by “too much information.” As an officer of the Legislature, we would expect the Ombudsman to release as much information as is allowed by the Municipal Act, no more. And no less. That is all a member of the public who questions a council decision to go in camera can ask for.

A couple of days after the meeting we learnt by happenstance that the Simcoe County Clerks and Treasurers Association had written a letter to the Warden and county councillors. Dated November 18, it strongly argued against having the Ombudsman as the closed meeting investigator.

This letter, signed by SCCTA president Carey deGorter, deputy clerk with the City of Barrie, was not part of the materials in the Nov. 27 council agenda, neither was it tabled as an on-desk item, neither was it mentioned in debate.

The assertions made in the letter are startling.

We are surprised that County Council did not afford the Ombudsman an opportunity to respond before making its decision on such a serious matter– the public’s right to know.

AWARE Simcoe contacted the Ombudsman and received further information on some of the points being made by Ms deGorter.

For instance, the claim that the Ombudsman’s definition and scope of a “meeting” that could attract an investigation is broader that is commonly accepted is made in the context of South Bruce Peninsula in which councillors gathered at Tim Hortons. It should be noted that the courts, not the Ombudsman, have established that gatherings of a quorum of council that advance the business of council constitute meetings under the Municipal Act of which notice should be given.

Ms deGorter does not mention that in the South Bruce Peninsula case, the Ombudsman found no contravention of the Municipal Act or illegal gatherings. However, he did caution councillors to be "careful" about such gatherings in the interest of openness and transparency, because the gatherings at Tim Horton's had sparked considerable negative speculation and innuendo within the community.

Another example cited by Ms deGorter concerns a meeting of the City of Oshawa’s development services committee that was closed for "education and training,” which is allowed under the Municipal Act. But the meeting was attended by officials of a recycling company that was the subject of complaints about odour and there was discussion of zoning changes. This was ruled illegal.

Ms deGorter complains of “provocative” language used by the Ombudsman in relation to procedure involving a draft report on which the City of Oshawa and the investigator disagreed. This is a matter of perspective. From our perspective, when the process involves establishing the public’s right to know is at stake, it may on occasion be necessary to call a spade a spade.

But the clerks and treasurers have a different perspective by virtue of their position. When a council goes in camera, it is generally on the advice of the clerk or CAO. When a member of the public asks for a review of that decision, we feel it is preferable for the investigator to be at arm’s length from those being investigated. But the argument being made by the clerks and treasurers’ association is that it is preferable for council to retain control over the process, “to prepare the terms of engagement” as Ms deGorter puts it.

We seriously question whether it is appropriate for the Simcoe County clerks and treasurers association to be lobbying on the issue of who will provide oversight with regard to decisions in which they play such a pivotal role.

We also question what occurred at the Nov. 27 meeting. In effect, the advice of the clerks and treasurers that the Ombudsman not be the closed meetings investigator was given behind closed doors and we would not have found out about it had we not been vigilant in our role as citizen watchdogs.

This all adds up to a questionable process in which information was withheld from the public until after a decision was made on an issue of major public interest for taxpayers and residents.

That’s why we hope that you will see the advantages of revisiting this decision.

We urge you to re-examine the claims made in the Simcoe County Clerks and Treasurers letter, to educate yourselves as to the services provided by the Ombudsman, and to vote with the interests of the public in mind, not the convenience of councillors and staff.