1 – Improvements for TML / Better Community:
The importance of public engagement has been overlooked by Council recently- for a variety of reasons. Council needs to improve communication with constituents to better understand the concerns and priorities of residents and local businesses. Since delegation to Council or Committee alone does not provide adequate opportunity for two-way discussion I propose to hold regularly-scheduled, open-agenda Town Hall meetings (two per ward per year, in the evening or on weekends) to allow residents (either directly or through ratepayers’, cottage, neighbourhood or lake associations), local businesses and other interested parties the opportunity to have informal access to the mayor, members of council from their ward and senior Township staff.
My website identifies “Community Development” as one of the four pillars of a proposed action plan for Muskoka Lakes. In addition to promoting growth in year-round employment and the need for attainable housing (addressed elsewhere in this document) it identifies two more factors that I believe are critical to the community-building effort: the Township’s publicly accessible infrastructure (community centres, arenas, parks, trails, water access, etc.) must meet the needs of all residents; and the Township must support the development of community service agencies, youth and senior’s programmes and organized athletic activities.
2 – Tax Increases / Effective Delivery
I propose the following which are intended to drive efficiency in the delivery of services to our constituents:
- Reinstate the Budget Advisory Committee – participation on the BAC by citizen members, with their different insights and skillsets, should result in an initial draft budget that is more easily supported and quicker to approve.
- Introduce “zero-based budgeting” to our traditional budget process. Traditional budgeting tends to aggregate bad assumptions and magnify them year-over-year, and almost always results in expense padding. Applying ZBB principles to one-quarter of our cost centres annually would allow the entire Township budget to be run through the ZBB process once during each term of Council.
- Work with District Council to identify opportunities for economies of scale where combining the procurement of services or equipment with other municipalities may present an opportunity to drive a more cost-effective delivery of services to our constituents.
- Consider the opportunity to self-insure or to pool risk with other municipalities in an effort to contain the Township’s large and fast-growing insurance expense.
3a – Data to Justify Environmental Improvements:
My proposed action plan calls for the creation of a “Century Plan” for the environment for this exact reason: we need to establish long-range, data-driven, and specific goals for the health of the key ecosystems that must be protected in our environment. Monitoring the health of these ecosystems over time will allow any deterioration to be discerned from the data quickly and remediation to commence immediately. Since remediation of water quality problems (or any number of other environmental catastrophes) can take decades, a plan of relevant data gathering, monitoring and a prescribed and timely reaction to deteriorating conditions should continue in perpetuity. “Managing for excellence” would involve setting goals to improve environmental health over time. One hundred years may seem like forever but in reality, we are only talking about “the next generation” to a Muskoka resident born this year.
3b – Financial Impact of Regulatory Environmental Changes:
There are several environmental improvements likely to flow from the Century Plan.
- First, by setting specific goals for environmental health, monitoring relevant data, and striving to achieve these goals the Township could become leaders in the field of environmental management and could utilize concrete data to support development and planning decisions in the future.
- Next, I understand that this work could well yield a better understanding of the conditions that give rise to blue-green algal outbreaks. I understand that early detection of the conditions giving rise to an outbreak is the biggest challenge to avoiding them: the actual outbreak may well be avoided with aeration if commenced soon enough.
- I also understand that calcium deficiency in the watershed is a contributing factor to blue-green algal issues and that simple ash application to the forest can go a long way towards remediating that problem, in addition to prompting stronger and better-growing trees.
- Finally, with flooding being a new constant in our lives (likely to be exacerbated by the effects of global warming) it is worth noting that 50% of a tree’s mass is water… a healthy forest of trees storing all that water must logically reduce the volume of water available to flood boathouses and shorelines in the spring.
As for the cost… the great news is that, thanks to the good work of the Muskoka Watershed Council (and other interested groups) much of the groundwork to create a science-based programme for collecting data relevant to the health of the Muskoka watershed has been done and relevant data has been collected and shared for almost 20 years. Using the existing (and still collected) data to set goals, prescribe remedial action (if necessary) and fix timelines for periodic review or reassessment could convert the work of the MWC, an advisory body, into a regulatory tool for the Township’s use at relatively little incremental cost.
4 – Affordable Housing:
This is a huge, huge issue- not just in Muskoka but also across Ontario and most of Canada. There are some short-term actions that can be considered by the Township, such as:
- Reducing minimum size restrictions on dwellings to allow for the construction of Tiny Homes
- Expanding the opportunity to construct secondary dwelling units in urban centres to allow for “granny flats” or garden suites.
- Encourage more development by groups such as Habitat for Humanity, which is currently building a two-family residential property in Bala.
- Waive fees and charges associated with new attainable residential construction and streamline the permitting and approval process to reduce construction delays.
Many of these ideas have already been proposed, but even if they were fully rolled out my sense is that it would still be too little to address the magnitude of the current attainable housing shortage in the Township.
The District of Muskoka has an initiative called, I believe, “Housing for Everyone” which looks like a good, comprehensive approach to tackling the problem, but given the sharp increase in residential property values in Muskoka during COVID I suspect that the problem has grown considerably, and more urgency (and more resources) will be necessary to see meaningful results.