LAKE OF BAYS – Overall, 2012 was a good year for the Township of Lake of Bays, says Mayor Bob Young, although there were some challenges.
“The most difficult challenge was the new parks bylaw,” he said. “The issue was rife with history (under discussion for close to 5 years), emotion and strongly differing opinions. Council continued to work slowly forward, taking small steps and treated every other member of council in a civil and positive fashion. We now have a very workable document, which has solved the longer term parking of vehicles and, at remote sites, boats (issue) There is, and will always be, more work to do but I am proud of the accomplishments of this council.”
Part of the strife from the parks bylaw was due to issues at some specific sites, mainly Norway Point.
After settling the bylaw in November, the mayor brought forward a draft motion to ban a group of residents from approaching council or staff any further.
Mayor Young said the motion was brought forward after council passed a vulnerability policy, during that same November meeting, which talked about dealing with volatile and hostile customers. He said the correspondence from both sides was becoming belligerent and it seemed impossible for staff to satisfy the two sides.
Members of council did not support the draft motion and said it was their duty to listen to residents’ complaints, but acknowledged the complaints should not involve attacking individuals in the community. Members said they hoped common sense would prevail in the future.
Young said he wouldn’t have changed how the overall issue was handled.
“I don’t think so because with the dynamics of a large number of players (lobby group, resident group, business groups and interested parties at large), the ebb and flow of the discussion was unpredictable and therefore patience and a long term view kept the process moving forward,” he said.
The past year did present the mayor with some learning opportunities.
“While this is not a new learning, I have had it soundly reinforced to me that as a mayor you must trust and rely on the skills of your staff,” he said. “Do not meddle, most of the time they know best (certainly better than I). However, support them as they are the interface with the constituents and we all know that you cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time. If you do this, they will reward you many times over and I am proud of our staff - it is small but knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. I also learned, or again had reinforced, the power of the people (constituents) especially those very committed to a cause. Even though they may not be long in number, they can be very influential. I have learned that you must always listen and be patient.”
As for 2013, roads maintenance will continue to play a major role in the Township’s finances, said the mayor, with the replacement of a bridge on Fieldale Road and a culvert on Tasso Lake.
“With clever budgeting and grants, we have been able to include both items in the 2013 capital budget without requiring a major tax increase (utilizing a $50,000 Federal government grant and proposing to issue a $500,000 debenture).”
Something that has always been a concern to Mayor Young is the cost the township pays for District of Muskoka services. Council already has staff investigating whether it’s financially viable to separate from the district on a number of services.
“With the new MPAC property assessment data in hand, we must pay 11.4 per cent of all of the costs at the district level and yet we have barely 5 per cent of the population,” said Young. “Compare that to Bracebridge, which will have to pay 12.2 per cent of the district costs for an urban centre with 16,500 people versus the 3,500 in Lake of Bays. The mandated use of property tax assessment to allocate government costs is archaic and patently absurd.”
He said change can only come from the provincial government and with the “chaos that reigns at the moment in Queen’s Park” he doesn’t see any foreseeable level of stability for the first half of 2013.
“Therefore we in the Lake of Bays will need to eliminate or repatriate any and all district costs that we can,” he said. “This will include insisting that all planning activities except for the District Official Plan are downloaded to the lower tier, we will investigate repatriating our roads from the district and we will insist that a new governance model (Airport Commission) is implemented for the Airport with a different, more equitable cost sharing regime (costs directly shared by the municipalities, not through the district).”
One of the Township’s key opportunities the mayor would like to see progress is the work on economic development, which has been pushed along by an intern whose contract ends in February.
“We are including monies in the 2013 budget so that this initiative does not die,” said Young. “We are at the early stages of collaborative activities between our three communities (Dwight, Dorset and Baysville) and I do not want to lose the momentum.”