Last night’s meeting had a little more excitement than usual as an unexpected roadblock arose for what was expected to be a non-controversial issue. There were a couple of last minute items added to the agenda that will impact the town going forward. And the latest information on heating in the BOCC is that it should be operational Friday, the 21st, in time to handle the bit of a freeze we expect this weekend. (Assuming of course the world doesn’t end as suggested by the Mayan Apocalypse wing-nuts.)

Some information was provided concerning the tree removal that is ongoing on Tower Hill. Apparently there is concern that the problem with diseased trees is spreading beyond Tower Hill to the adjacent MNR property. I hope that we will be presented with a comprehensive plan to remediate and appropriately replant the garden and plantation (the forested area as it was originally called). There are many experienced resources the town has available to ask for advice and help. I expect to provide a post on the Tower Hill tree situation in the next couple of weeks with some before and after photos. There are still more trees that need to come down so the Public Works group will be busy for some time to come as their schedules permit.

Unless budget cuts are enacted there will be Christmas tree pick up in the New Year.

 Meeting Highlights:

4.1 – the letter to council with comments on the Official Plan was forwarded to the Community Development department.

6.4.3 – was a last minute addition to the agenda that came out of the earlier closed meeting and concerned a settlement with property taxes for the Lakeland Long Term Care facility. I am not sure I caught all of the details but apparently the facility will be paying property taxes to the town in the amount of $123,000 per year. Of this total the West Parry Sound Health Centre is responsible for 15%, and the province 85%. The town intends to return the hospital’s portion as a donation, so there is no net impact on the hospital’s financial position as a result of the settlement. (Note: this was a last minute agenda item that was only briefly discussed and explained, so the town should be consulted for details. I apologize in advance if any portion of this summary is incorrect or misleading.)

8.1 – a resolution in support of the Township of the Archipelago’s statement related to their concerns about low water levels in Georgian Bay was carried. There is a plan to hold a multi-community meeting on February 6th hosted by Parry Sound and the Archipelago to discuss and address the challenges of the low water.

9.1.1 – a resolution for the Public Works department to submit an Expression of Interest for provincial infrastructure funding was approved. After much debate about what program(s) would be identified, and discussion of the town’s asset management plan, it was agreed that first priority would be given to Forest Street. The province has apparently increased the size of the fund to $90 million, with individual project funding of up to $2 million.

9.3.1 – council approved a direction to send a letter to the provincial government requesting the restrictive covenant on the George Street properties be lifted to permit their sale as property lots by the town. There was a sense that the province would not act quickly on this request, but a time frame was not offered by staff.

9.4.1 – a resolution regarding recognition certificates and plaques was approved.

9.5.1 – a resolution supporting revisions to the current draft of the Official Plan that would permit the Old Pump House to be used for a variety of non-residential purposes elicited considerable discussion before being carried. As it now stands the property has a special designation that permits it to be used as a residence, but none of the uses suggested by the Waterfront Committee. Even uses that would be permitted by a residential designation, for example a bed and breakfast or home business, are not permitted, as the property is not now zoned residential. With this understood, council approved the resolution as drafted. There were concerns raised by several members of council about parking issues that might arise with some of the suggested uses. But these it was agreed, could be addressed later when an application was actually made to adapt the property for one of these uses.

10.3.1 – a by-law permitting six separate residential units in the existing building at 48 Cascade Street was approved.

10.3.2, 10.3.3 – council approved by-laws permitting the sale of town properties on Emily Street and Railway Avenue, as well as Ye Olde Pumpe House (sounds 18th Century and exclusive doesn’t it).  An interesting discussion arose as to whether the town and the public were better served by the current process of requesting bids for properties or using a real estate firm. My sense is that the use of a real estate agent is better, even if it costs the town a percentage of the sale price. This approach would permit the ‘average Joe’ to express an interest and purchase the property. As it is now the process is familiar only to developers who know what the process is, and have an idea of what a fair market price might be. How does the average person figure out where to get the forms, how to fill them out, much less determine a reasonable price? So the ‘average Joe’ doesn’t bother and the developers get the property at a ‘commercial’ rate, not one that might be upped by the interest of non-developers. This is particularly true of these single lots that are being offered for sale. Perhaps a town resident wants to build a house for themselves or help a sibling or child. They really aren’t in a position to bid on the house with a reasonable expectation of being successful. So, for bigger pieces of real estate, let’s say something that would support a five or ten house development, keep the current bid process, the ‘average Joe’ really wouldn’t be interested. But for individual lots, and Ye Olde Pumpe House, let’s use a real estate agent. It’s a more inclusive process that may actually bring in more money, even after a real estate commission.

10.4.1, 10.4.2 – council approved by-laws establishing billing and collection procedures for water and waste water services, and the setting of an interim tax levy for 2013 pending the approval of a final budget.

10.5.1 – a by-law to enter into a 5-year agreement with Festival of the Sound to rent the CP station for use as its headquarters was passed, but not before some interesting maneuvering. What started out as a reasonably innocent request for information on whether the Festival or the town were responsible for snow removal (the town was in the proposed lease), turned into a couple of amendments and three separate votes. The councillor who raised the initial question suggested that it wasn’t fair that the Festival would not be responsible for snow removal costs, while the Chamber who rent the CN Station were. (Note: the Chamber does pay for snow removal, but doesn’t pay rent, does pay property taxes and utilities, but sublets a portion of the property and collects rent. Got it?) So an amendment was proposed and passed that effectively stated the Festival would be responsible for comparable costs as were the responsibility of the Chamber. But that would of course mean the Festival would need to review the revised terms with their Board, and the proposed January 1, 2013 start of the lease would not be possible, especially if they suggested additional terms that required council review and approval. (This is getting too long, let me start another paragraph. There’s more.)

So one of the councillors reminded council the deals couldn’t be compared, rent – no rent, snow plowing – no snow plowing, etc., or as they said “it’s apples and oranges”. But since the amendment had been carried by a majority of the council members they could not  go back and vote on the original lease proposal, which at this point seemed reasonable to the majority of council. So it was proposed that a second amendment be put forward and voted on that would specifically state the town was responsible for any cost related to snow removal at the CP Station. This amendment was carried, and all that remained was voting on the original by-law, with the two amendments that offset each other. The by-law was carried with one dissention, the councillor who hadn’t properly read the lease agreement and asked the initial snow-plowing question. So all’s well that end well. The town is in a better position financially and the Festival has a wonderful location from which to build it’s brand and bring even more visitors to Parry Sound to help support the local economy. (Disclosure: our daughter works for Festival of the Sound.)

All in all it was an interesting and entertaining meeting (there is no admission charge and there are lots of great seats). And it was over by 8:30.

The next meeting of council is January 15th. The Mayor’s Levee will be held in the council chambers on the 13th, with more information to follow. See you there, and happy holidays. (Note: I wanted to save this piece of Bridge Art for the start of the NHL season, but no luck, and no hope for anything soon. Enjoy the action at the BOCC.)

Bridge Art – Hockey

Bridge ARt - Hockey