Last night’s Council meeting was interesting on a couple of fronts. Council wrestled with the issue of a new aerial ladder truck, the topic of social media, and the rezoning issues were not as simple as I initially thought when reading the original agenda.
Discussion Notes and Decisions
Items 2.1.1, 2.1.2 and 2.1.3 the open public meeting rezoning sessions revealed some concerns. Item 2.1.2, the application to rezone a rural property to ‘Special Provision’, basically allowing for commercial activity, was opposed by local residents on the basis of anticipated noise and traffic increases as well as the prospect of blasting to prepare the property for industrial use. (As an aside – I learned last night that the Town has no bylaws limiting or controlling blasting. Given the common need to remove rock for construction projects the lack of any type of regulation seems to be an oversight. We have Town bylaws regarding fireworks but not blasting?) We’ll see where this discussion ends up. My sense is that the Town has little enough property that it does not need more trucking and construction type businesses. But this is a Council decision. In the case of the eight unit apartment, Item 2.1.1, a next door neighbour requested that Council approval be contingent on the construction of an appropriate privacy type barrier. The third rezoning request, item 2.1.3. was unopposed.
As expected the rezoning request for 24 Bay Street, Item 10.4.1, was approved. Interestingly there was no Council discussion on the merits of the objections raised by a neighbour at a previous Council meeting.
Well prior to the meeting I certainly didn’t get the thrust of Item 9.1.1, “Provision of Public Notice” for the Town. I thought this related to improving communication of Town activities and initiatives with residents. It seems however that what is at issue is the practice of certain Council members messaging during Council meetings. I believe any type of censorship is inappropriate, but I also believe it be a matter of respect and good business that Councillors and Mayor pay full attention to the proceedings at hand. Having Councillors sending or receiving messages during Council sessions would seem to be a distraction. I am actually more concerned by the receiving than the sending of messages (although I disapprove of both practices). It might be construed that receiving a message during a Council meeting is a way for someone to influence the discussion of an active or upcoming agenda item. There are many times I would have liked to offer my ‘two cents’ during the active discussion of a topic, but was prevented from doing so by the meeting rules. But it would be nice if I could text or email a Councillor or the Mayor during a Council meeting discussion to make my point. Let’s have our elected officials focus on the meeting and leave the sending and receiving of messages to the close of the meeting. Any urgent family messages could be directed to town staff who could then interrupt the meeting as appropriate.
I’ll be sending a proposal to Council concerning social media as it relates to keeping town residents up-to-date with current issues. I’m not sure Staff and Council really gets it. It doesn’t have to be that hard.
The wood chipper Item 9.2.1 was approved.
Item 9.3.1 a request for pre-budget approval for a new ladder truck for the Fire Department was turned down with the intention that it would be reviewed again when more information was available on how the million dollar plus expense would be paid for.
I have questions on this investment. Yes, safety should not be compromised. (Please note that there is limited available information on this purchase, for some reason it is being kept ‘confidential’ at the request of the supplier. This strikes me as ridiculous; it is a major expense, the same piece of equipment is being offered to other municipalities, and the Fire Department and Town are not requiring an RFP for the purchase. Complete transparency on this issue seems mandatory.)
But why a 117 foot aerial ladder truck? There was a suggestion made that not having the truck would reduce the Town’s fire safety rating and raise insurance costs. The reality as I understand it is that it would raise the insurance rates for those properties that require a 117 foot aerial ladder truck. If this was not the case then every community that did not have a 117 foot ladder truck would have a poorer fire insurance rating and would pay higher rates; even if they didn’t have a building higher than two stories.
This seems to me a case of ‘the difference between the men and the boys is the price of their toys’. If you have ever bought a car you have faced the salesperson who offered you a fully equipped vehicle at a ‘bargain price’ that is much more expensive than you had budgeted or felt you needed. Yes those heated leather seats would be nice, and the ability to tow a 25 foot boat you don’t own would be a real advantage, if you owned a 25 foot boat. Let’s look at getting what we need, not what is being offered as a bargain. I would suggest the purchase of a new ladder truck, something we probably need, be considered only after a full analysis of needs and options is prepared. A million dollar plus piece of equipment will come with much higher annual costs for maintenance and training. It might even require additional staff to operate or maintain it. But we won’t know any of this until a full analysis is provided to Council and the the Town. And let’s drop the secrecy issue, this is a very big purchase that needs to be understood and debated, not something that is done behind closed doors.
I applaud the three councillors who raised the issue of cost and asked that the issue be reviewed with more information. It’s hard to say no to something that has ‘safety’ written all over it. But an informed decision is the basis for a good decision.
All-in-all an interesting meeting, much more fun than most prime time television. The next Council meeting is January 17th. See you there.