What’s your position on Arva Fire Hall?

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This is a question I’ve been hearing a lot lately, especially since closing Arva Fire Hall was just put to a vote last week. My understanding is that a decision was deferred for a year, which I was thankful to hear, but it also means I’ll be voting on it if I’m elected Councillor. So to make my position very clear, I’m posting it publicly.

I took the time to read the staff report and recommendations. While I tend to appreciate the effort that staff and consultants put into such reports, I must say that I cannot bring myself to agree that Arva’s fire hall should be eliminated for a number of reasons:

  • There will, no doubt, be additional growth in Arva in the future. Arva’s fire hall is also the second busiest in Middlesex Centre!
  • Eliminating the fire hall in Arva puts its residents more than 11km away from a Middlesex Centre fire hall, resulting in an instant increase to property insurance rates (property insurers use 8km as their benchmark) unless the municipality has an agreement in place that London’s nearest fire halls will service Arva.
  • As outlined in the report, existing volunteers may choose to not support the Ilderton or Bryanston stations, resulting in a decrease in the number of firefighters available for an increased workload.
  • If the Arva Flour Mill ever catches on fire… well, I think we all know how flour reacts to fire, and the resulting damage could be devastating to multiple properties in the area depending on the severity of the incident.

So, that’s a long way of saying that I’m against closing any existing fire halls. We have a large municipality and need all the coverage we can get, and we need to ensure our volunteers have the equipment they need to respond to emergencies. I want to work together with citizens to build communities that are connected, respected, and protected.

“Do you have any signs?”

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The more people I talk to, the more frequently I hear the question, “Do you have any signs?”

I’m flattered that people are asking, but for several reasons the answer is, “Sorry, I don’t.” Here’s why.

My platform includes talk of fiscal responsibility. It is something I truly believe in, especially when you are spending other people’s money. We have all seen too often, whether here in Middlesex Centre or around the province, just how easy it is to be flippant with funds provided by others.

When I talk of fiscal responsibility, I am talking about how I treat my own money, and how I would treat the municipal budget. It isn’t something to simply read over and pass. It’s something that can always be under going minor tweaks in order to get the best value for the dollars being spent. The Kaizen approach, if you will. And looking for better and less expensive ways to do the same thing is not something that should simply be reserved for budget time.

I don’t look at my personal finances once a year. I am always evaluating whether I’m spending the right, or least, amount of money for the services I consume. If I can make something more inexpensive but attain the same result (e.g. property insurance, Internet service, phone service, purchasing groceries), I do. The same should be able to be said about any government. And as I outline in my platform – it’s not about cutting jobs, but finding better and more efficient ways to do things.

So instead of choosing to spend hard-earned campaign contributions on a bunch signs that would not be used for another four years – to the tune of at least $5 per sign – I have chosen to knock on every single door in the ward. You will see me at events, you might see me at your door, at the arena, or even walking/running around Kilworth. Feel free to engage with me at any of these times, because I feel we can get a lot more done speaking to each other.

Planning Notice Signs

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I would like to discuss an issue that falls under the Communication portion of my platform, that being planning notice signs.

We see these fairly often around Middlesex Centre. There is one in Ilderton right now in a field at the corner of Hyde Park Rd and Ilderton Rd. They vary in size depending on the size of the land affected, serve to notify us that the existing zoning for a parcel of land may soon change, and that you can contact the municipality if you would like more information. But for such an important piece of communication between the municipality and its citizens, the signs don’t really provide you with any pertinent information.

It’s one thing for a parcel of land along, let’s say, Glendon Drive to change from low density residential to medium density residential. Or even from medium density commercial to low density commercial. A minor change typically is not of any interest to most citizens, and that’s not really a problem. What is a problem is that the same sign is used for potentially drastic changes, like rezoning from low density residential to industrial. Did you know someone wants to put a factory next to your house?

There would be much more communication about such a change, including neighbouring properties being notified about a public participation meeting and so on. But the point stands: the same planning notice sign gives you no context about why you might want to call. It should, shouldn’t it?

If elected Councillor of Ward 4, I would propose a drastic redesign of Middlesex Centre’s planning notice signs. I would like to see us go from this:

mc-planning-notice-sign

To something like this:

ottawa-new-sign

Source: http://spacing.ca/national/2014/06/24/meslin-ottawa-unveils-new-design-development-signs/

Ottawa’s is a good example of what a planning notice sign can be. A depiction of what’s proposed, better contact information (like who to speak to), and even a brief summary of the proposal. This is far more effective than what Middlesex Centre, or any nearby municipality, uses today. There are many more examples here (page 2).

At the end of the day, it’s a small change that can have a huge impact on communication between Middlesex Centre and its residents. You deserve to know what’s going on, right upfront without having to jump through hoops. And when you have better information, you can then decide for yourself if you want to take your engagement to the next level. And that’s one example of what I mean when I talk about building communities together.

Comments on Development Charges Study

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Last Wednesday there was a public participation meeting at 4pm in Middlesex Centre Council chambers. Unfortunately only two members of the public (including myself) and one member of the press were able to make the meeting, but a consultant named Andrew from Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. was on-hand to give a presentation of the background study, its conclusions, and a proposed development charge bylaw to replace the existing bylaw.

The most important takeaway from the proposed bylaw is that Middlesex Centre will move from varied development charges in Ilderton, Ilderton West, Komoka, Kilworth and Delaware to a single, uniform development charge. This will make things simpler for developers, easier for the municipality to apply, and also far easier for the municipality to project revenues. It’s win-win.

Answers to questions I asked at the meeting are as follows:

  • School boards are exempted from paying development charges under the Development Charges Act. This was a huge blow to further development in Delaware since the London District Catholic School Board didn’t have to pay development charges for the new Our Lady of Lourdes.
  • We are recouping 100% of what we can as allowed under the Development Charges Act.
  • Development charges will be indexed based on StatsCan data.

Upon further review of the data and proposed bylaw in the study, I came to some additional concerns that needed to be submitted. I wrote the email below and sent it to the Clerk for inclusion in Wednesday’s agenda as a comment on the background study.

Hello,

I am submitting these comments for inclusion in Council’s agenda for the upcoming Council meeting on July 23, 2014 regarding changes to the proposed development charges by-law.

I have read the report and proposed by-law assembled by Watson & Associates Economists Ltd, and I have some concerns that are not addressed in the report or analysis.

  1. There are no provisions here for recovering costs associated with expanding police services to new developments. The provincial development charges law provides provisions for recovering 100% of the costs associated with police detachments, police rolling stock, and small equipment & gear. At the public meeting on July 16, 2014 I was told by Andrew, from Watson & Associates, that the proposed by-law would institute development charges to recoup 100% of the eligible fees. At the moment, this does not appear to be true. At a time when police services costs are skyrocketing, I feel it’s extremely important to set aside funds, collected through development charges, to help Middlesex Centre cope with rising police services costs.
  2. The development charge for libraries that is proposed to be levied against apartments appears to be artificially low. Apartment dwellers are just as likely, if not more likely depending on their demographic, to utilize libraries.
  3. In 2013 I was told by my Councillor that Public Works had to defer purchasing a new vehicle due to financial constraints. And yet the proposed development charges for Public Works has been reduced compared with existing fees. Why is that? I cannot find justification in the document.
  4. The table on page 113 clearly illustrates that the Water Reserve Fund will begin experiencing substantially negative cash flow, and will be in deficit by the year 2022. This deficit continues until 2034. Given the lack of major projects that the Water Reserve Fund will finance, in direct contrast with the Waste Water Reserve Fund, I encourage Council to consider increasing the Water development charge slightly in order to reduce the municipality’s debt, if not avoid it entirely with respect to the Water Reserve Fund.
  5. Lastly, I’m disappointed that the graphs shown on Wednesday at the public meeting – graphs illustrating how high/low Middlesex Centre’s current and proposed development charges are and will be in relation to nearby municipalities – are not included in the background study. I thought these were good fodder, but now I can’t reference them.

In light of the issues and questions above, I am urging Council to defer this back to staff for further review. I believe we’re very close to having an effective development charges by-law for 2014, but we are not quite “there” yet.

Thank you,

Derek E. Silva

A member of the public and a member of Council both expressed an interest in knowing what would happen if we reduced the industrial development charge to $0, hoping it would entice more industry to Middlesex Centre. This is something that several municipalities near us have already done including London, Woodstock, and St. Thomas. Given the lack of “big wins” over the last few years, I don’t see this strategy working. For starters it means the slack would have to be picked up elsewhere, and that elsewhere would almost certainly be property taxes. In addition to that, every economist I follow, and every discussion about where to set up a new business I’ve been privy to, has rarely (if ever) mentioned development charges as part of the conversation.

What is discussed instead is the labour force available, the land available, access to infrastructure, and so on. Access to infrastructure, especially Internet infrastructure, is something we could focus and have a direct effect on. Waiving development charges on new industrial buildings just means citizens are subsidizing the development charges instead. I cannot vote in favour of that, but that is the road some will try to take us down.

If you would like to learn more about the Development Charges Act, or the proposed bylaw for Middlesex Centre, I am happy to answer any questions!

Healthy Hikes Challenge

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Reading through recent Middlesex Centre council meeting minutes — what? Isn’t that what you do in your spare time? 🙂 — I came across a notice about the Healthy Hikes Challenge.

From their website:

Conservation Ontario and Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities challenge you to spend time hiking in our province’s over 270 Conservation Areas and track your progress for a chance to win great prizes! Healthy Hikes will teach you about the ways our environment boosts your health and how you can energize your body and mind by Stepping into Nature.

At first I got excited about the prospects of taking more time to visit Komoka Provincial Park and maybe win a prize by doing something that’s good for me. Unfortunately, a second later I realized I was thinking of a Provincial Park, and not a Conservation Area. So for me that means I would need to drive to the Coldstream Conservation Area, or walk/bike to Komoka Provincial Park to accomplish (minus the prizes) the same thing.

I think I’ll stick with Komoka Provincial Park, but I would still encourage you to participate in the Healthy Hikes Challenge! If you already frequent a Conservation Area near you, it’s easy to register and log your activity. There are some pretty great prizes on the line too!

Image Credit: Ontario Conservation Areas