An interesting and creative play with the rules!

If one digs deep enough long term municipal ambitions can be discovered. As keen policy wonks know politicians are really only the face of the administration. They come and go but programmes never change and are always on track. Those programmes will veer left or right, depending on who has been elected but the the thrust never changes. And, the public can discover what is coming down the pipe if you know where to look. Capital budget forecasts are a good source but we see the best source this week. The Development Charges Bylaw.

A Development Charge is the amount of money that the Town extracts from Developers when they choose to build a unit, of any type, in the Municipality. In January 2017 the Town adopted a new rate of $11,308 for a single detached dwelling. With the adoption of the consultant’s report read here, that fee will jump to $16,603. In these times of rising house prices this jump will be hardly noticed but expect every bit of this fee to be passed on to the buyer. We at the BR expect no whines from local developers for a couple of reasons – a series of consultations took place in the past few months and because it will be passed on no big deal – blame the Town for that increase in the price of your new home. The Town will say to all and sundry “No big deal, we are still only 60% cheaper than Clarington.”

The item that jumped out to us was the inclusion of having DCs pay for a Marina expansion – 150 new docks and a $3 million admin building. This is where it gets interesting because Tourism Facility costs are not eligible to be funded by DC – see the discussion from the report below.

3.2 Issue —Question of the eligibility of marina services in the calculation of development
charges.
The Cobourg marina serves a tourist function by attracting people to Cobourg. As a tourism facility, it is an ineligible service for inclusion in the DC by-law because it is considered discretionary and not required for development to occur.
In that light the consultants have justified their reason for the inclusion – a very creative interpretation.
<snip>Marina services are not identified in the regulation as an ineligible service. Furthermore, the inclusion of marina services within the 2016 DCBS is justified as these services are designed to provide a service similar to that of parks and recreation. These facilities are not provided for the purposes of culture, tourism, or entertainment. Moreover, data relating to usage of these facilities shows that they are used predominantly by residents of the Town, providing further support that marina services are not provided as a tourism function</snip>
So having allowed themselves to dip into the DC reserves, and have done so since 2012 when the last study was adopted, we look at what the Town wants to spend that money on. Click on the image, expand it and you will see that a budget line for the Marina expansion is setup. This is prudent as circumstances change but if anybody thought the idea of Marina expansion was dead is celebrating too soon. It is not dead and already paid for.
click to enlarge

Now for a change in the topic: as readers should know there was an election in the UK this week. The Conservative  PM, Teresa May took advantage of favourable polls and an opposition party in chaos to call an early election. With polls showing her as being able to win 200 more seats she pulled the plug. Her election campaign has been described as the worst in memory. Using standard Tory tactics, she refused to debate opponents she relied on her personality (big mistake she hasn’t got one), had to change her policy midstream and generally became unelectable in a big way. In contrast Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition published a genuine left wing back to the roots manifesto. It took off and was enthusiastically received as an alternative. Corbyn, despite earlier claims that he was not a good campaigner proved his critics wrong and pulled crowds that resembled Bernie Sanders rallies. The end result was a shocker and one that put PMTM in a minority government situation. For a synopsis and commentary on this election I turn to a favourite of the BR. The first clip shows a very ‘clean’ Tom Walker, a comedian, aka Jonathan Pie, with a wrapup of the UK election from his perspective:

Another JP video, his jubilation – is profanity laced but if the profanity wasn’t used the impact of the message would be lost.

Waterfront reflections

click to enlargeThe waterfront, the supposed jewel of Cobourg, the logo on the logo and the place for dreamers to play!

 

click to enlargeThe pic on the right came from ourontario.ca with the caption that reads:

“The harbour has been rebuilt, dredged and expanded many times in the past century and a half. It is actually entirely artificial as the bay formed by Midtown Creek was just a swampy inlet, which the Cobourg business people quickly recognized as a great opportunity if it became a major stopping place for trade on route to the Trent and St.Lawrence waterways. The Cobourg Harbour Co. owned the harbour for many years but in 1850 the town bought the harbour back at a huge expense. It accomodated railways, steamships and ferries, was disfigured for years by huge piles of coal and gigantic oil tanks. It was redesigned for small pleasure craft in the early 1980s and to this day undergoes various changes.”

After some forty years of active municipal involvement, the first real study of the area came about in the 70s with the first committee to review harbour development and morphed into a couple of secondary plans and then a waterfront study with three phases and now yet another consultant’s review hopefully we can finish the job.

Enter stage left the Thincdesign team.
Consulting Team
Mike Tocher, thinc design
Peter Heyblom, thinc design
Mary Catherine Mehak, Mehak, Kelly & Associates

The BR had the opportunity to meet these folks on Wednesday of this week when they hosted a ‘charrette” – a design session for the residents. Wikipedia has an interesting contribution that sums up our attitude to these affairs. We would say that charrettes are situations where dreamers play with other people’s money and land to produce fantasy projects. But wikipedia puts it much more nicely – “In planning, the charrette has become a technique for consulting with all stakeholders. This type of charrette (sometimes called an enquiry by design) typically involves intense and possibly multi-day meetings, involving municipal officials, developers, and residents. A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions and attempts to defuse typical confrontational attitudes between residents and developers. Charrettes tend to involve small groups, however the residents participating may not represent all the residents nor have the moral authority to represent them. Residents who do participate get early input into the planning process. For developers and municipal officials charrettes achieve community involvement, may satisfy consultation criteria, with the objective of avoiding costly legal battles.”

As I signed in, had a lovely chat with an old aquaintance – Teresa Behan, looked around and noticed about fifteen people in the room, as I left about forty five minutes before the close of the session 102 people had signed in. Spotting a person I thought looked like a consultant – younger man, with a nametag slung around his neck, chatting with others and available. “Hello my name is Ben Burd!” “I’m Mike” no last name. Having trolled various sites, I later learned it was Tocher. Nice guy, very helpful and good listener. Answered most of my questions and deduced he was/is passionate about the topic and project. He told me that the most active of the five tables was the Marina/Trailer Park table. He did tell the BR that the thorny topic of how to weight the responses hasn’t been discussed, but in his experience with other projects weighting responses doesn’t really move items up the priority list.

Moving over to the fellow who was the facilitator at the Marina/Trailer Park table I introduced myself to Peter (Heyblom) he answered all my questions but he appeared to be flagging in interest – five hours of public intereaction would do that to the hardiest of men. But, he did tell me that the Trailer Park and the public’s ideas of what to do with it was a hot topic. All participants had many ideas and expressed them well. Consensus emerged – the trailer park should remain but update it, but how to update it has no consensus. The status quo still prevails but the dreamers, less than 10% of respondents still would like to see a boutique hotel/restaurant. For the latest results of the online survey click here.

All in all a good effort by the consultants and just over a hundred people participated – an even better effort.

Postscript: A data analyst would have a field day with this survey. As at 1000hrs Sunday morning 1,085 people started the survey by telling the surveyors that they either used or did not use the waterfront. By the time the surveyed had reached the end of the survey 303 people failed to finish. We guess minutiae is not for everybody!

The view from seat #8

Prep work for the May 29th COW.

A meeting with contrasts and choices to be made:

Safety vs NIMBY. Abbott Blvd could be described by some, especially by the residents, as bucolic (def = ” relating to or typical of rural life”). A little slice of countryside in the City, part of the local charm. For many years it was also the area that the affluent made their homes – hence the air of ‘upper-crust’.The Town wants to follow through with its commitment to a safer community by installing sidewalks in the Town. For some reason, we don’t know, why as we have not seen the priority list, Abbott Blvd has been chosen for one of this years projects. This has some of the residents in an uproar and three spokespeople (read their presentation here) are going to Council on Monday night to tell Council that they do not want sidewalks. Clutching a petition that contains 112 names, Council will be told that because there has never been an accident involving pedestrians the roadway is safe to walk on and the street doesn’t need a sidewalk.The Town has a position, (read it here) and it is based entirely on traffic patterns and safety as well as fulfilling the mandate to complete Official Plan aspirations.

abbotpic

So here’s the political problem; will Council do the right thing or try to please the objectors? We at the BR are on the side of the sidewalks. The report mentions a family with a stroller walking in the road. It’s bad enough that anybody should walk in the road but a person pushing a stroller, having to depend on the goodwill and skill of a driver is really bad. It will not be easy to fit a sidewalk into the space available. There is a line of hydro poles five feet from the curb, but it can be done and at least the pedestrians are off the road.

Sports vs The Arts. This never ending debate do we support the Arts or Sports is back again. Monday’s agenda has three items asking for money, or support from two youth organisations and the Northumberland Players. One is the “Student Debating Federation” asking for the waiving of the fees for the use of the ‘Old Bailey’ for a four day debating session (read the request/report here). This session will bring 75 students from all of Canada to Cobourg. The waiving of the fees would cost the Town $200 per day – $800. This request has been recommended to be denied. However the writer of the report did offer the suggestion that Council may want to give the Student Federation cash instead. Hmmm cash to pay themselves??? The other artsy request comes from the Northumberland Players who need the money and municipal endorsement to compete in a competition for players and casts, in Ottawa. They asked for a $1,000 (read their request/report here) and the recommendation was to deny the request because others who have travelled in the past to represent the Town in Provincial and National competitions have done it on their own dime. This request if granted would set a precedent! In the same agenda there  is a request from the Cobourg Minor Softball Association seeking funds for the 2017 Canadian U16 Boys Fast Pitch Championships tournament. This gets a more favourable nod (read the memo to Council here).  Actually the request is a big one: waive the facilities fees and provide Legion Fields free to the tournament (a $4,000 value), give them $6,000 in a sponsorship fee and provide a $4,000 guarantee in case of an operating deficit. OR a combination of all or any of the requests. It is interesting that these options are in a Staff report given to Council and doesn’t recommend any specific option just tosses the whole package back to Council and says “you choose”. Could be an interesting debate! But back to the original point the choice between the Arts – Debates, or Sports – softball. Howcum the arty thing is denied and the sporty thing isn’t?

In another vein:Tax refunds.Tax refunds are a normal part of the financial administration of the Town and are brought before Council routinely during the year. They are caused by business decisions, fires and vacancies to name a few reasons but this year the amount of the reductions prompted eagle eyes to look aghast – $2,092,137.78. hdtaxLooking closely in the report we find that one local business has been very successful in its efforts to reduce taxes, gaining a refund for all of the years since 2009. As the business is Home Depot we can assume that the facility had been incorrectly assessed since its opening. A grand total of $263K, another big winner in these refund stakes is LinMac Inc gaining just over a $million back. For the full list read here. Our question is – “if the Town is dependent on MPAC setting the rates for assessment why is the Town paying out and not MPAC?”

Now for a piece of nostalgia

jetburdMany years ago, the 80s to be exact a debate broke out at Cobourg Council about an item that is going to be discussed on Monday evening – use of watersports and equipment on Victoria Beach. I cannot remember the exact debate or why it came about but it must have been topical as the best cartoonist this side of Montreal – Barry King, of Grafton fame, produced this cartoon of yours truly. I am sure that because I was an easy draw I received a lot of attention but this one was spectacular and I have kept it since. Having the chance to print it again, I am sure I am violating BK’s copyright but I am also sure he doesn’t mind another showcase for his prodigous talents.

Any way the discussion Monday will also bring to mind another blast from the past – who can forget the time the brave Councillor Spooner confronted a couple of people on jetskis, who had the temerity to beach them on Victoria Beach? Cllr Spooner immediately, upon seeing this infraction determined it was a breach of beach safety and waded in fully clothed to talk to the miscreants. Another mighty piece of local lore!

 

Economic Development

edEconomic Development – the holy grail for Municipalities. Everybody chants the mantra – “economic development is good for us, we will create jobs and raise money for tax revenue!” Almost every mickey mouse idea can be tagged with the soubriquet. Most voters believe whatever the Pols call ED, because nobody knows what it is.

Municipal questions

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Cobourg Council 1920, sitting in the front row, all nine of them. The back row is the Municipal Staff.

Looks like the Municipal Councils in the East of Northumberland cannot get along. Factional splits in Councils are nothing new, in fact almost every Council has them. But the issues of behaviour in Cramahe and Brighton are worthy of note and leads us to ask the question – “Is the four year term of Councils too long?”

Monday jottings

Beachfront cafe

The contract has been awarded for the Beachfront canteen at the Cobourg beach. It goes to the couple – Lucas Cleveland and Montana DesJardins. They are the pair who want to open a greengrocers and ‘healthy food’ shop on King St but have been stymied by the lack of suitable premises.

Thanks for the Shoutout John

In this morning’s Cobourg news John updates his list of local blogs and what a blog is.

For those landing on my site as a result of clicking on John’s link you may not be aware of this site and deserve an explanation.

The year of the crab 2016 leads into what?

crabMany years ago – in a more genteel time, I heard the year of the time described as the year of the Crab. “People hide in their caves emerge to bite you and then go back in the cave.” Obviously an observation about attitudes towards Politicians. All people wanted to do was bite them on the arse. It hasn’t improved and in fact got worse in 2016.

Spit tests – an opinion from Port Hope

spitBeginning today, Toronto police will be asking motorists to ‘volunteer’ a saliva sample they intend to use in a new drug screening program. So new, as a matter of fact, that the method of testing hasn’t been invented yet. But the police seem to think unless they take it upon themselves to collect random samples from the public, research will slow to a crawl, victim of all that laboratory stuff like double-blind tests and placebos and paid subjects even.