Fire at Port Sydney Ultramar gas station, no damage to pumps

Posted March 30, 9pm: A fire early this evening at Smith’s Gas Station off Highway 11 in Port Sydney caused significant damage to the building — but reports suggest the fire did not spread to the pumps. Thanks to MNW readers for tipping us to the blaze and expressing their concern. Watch The Huntsville Forester for updates on this story. The

Ultramar Port Sydney gas station fire
Ultramar Clean up continues. Photo: N. Fountain

Forester reports the Huntsville Fire Department was called tonight to the gas station during the evening after a customer smelled smoke. No injuries were reported. To follow the story and see pictures of the huge amount of smoke that billowed out of the building, visit The Huntsville Forester.

Bracebridge budget brings 4.34% tax hike

Posted March 28: Bracebridge Town Council has passed its 2013 Municipal Budget — and it has a new format outlining both the budget and business plan objectives driving budget numbers. In a press release, the Town says the document will better meet the needs of Council and the public, and regular reporting against this document will further enhance the Town’s collective public accountability. During 2013, staff will be reporting back to Council on a quarterly basis not only on financial matters and variances, but also on business plan projects and initiatives.

The budget, approved yesterday, will result in a lower-tier general property tax increase of approximately 4.34 per cent for the average residential property for 2013. For a home with a taxable assessment of $200K, a 4.34% increase means an extra $32 in lower tier general municipal taxes for the year.

“There is good news throughout the budget document,” said Mayor Graydon Smith. “There are a number of projects for 2013 that will benefit the community and make Bracebridge a better place for residents and visitors alike. I am very pleased with the work done by both Town Council and staff. Once again we have achieved a balanced approach for addressing the Town’s current needs, as well as providing for future infrastructure requirements.”

Budget and Business Plan Highlights:

  • Accessibility Improvements
  • Enhancements to Town website
  • Updates to Town Hall public and office areas
  • Accessible washrooms at Kerr Park Chalet and Oakley Village Square
  • Accessibility improvements to Visitor Information Centre
  • Infrastructure Improvements and Asset Management
  • New 2013 Public Works capital projects including Ann Street storm sewers; James Street
  • improvements; York Street road, storm sewer and sidewalk reconstruction; Quebec Street rehabilitation; Douglas Drive rehabilitation; and upgrades to Black Bridge
  • Continuation of 2012 Public Works capital projects including Woodchester Avenue and watercourse improvements; Cedar Lane Roundabout; McCutcheon Bridge; and Stephenson Road 1 Bridge
  • Enhanced road and bridge maintenance
  • Development of asset management plan, starting with Town storm sewer system
  • Revitalization of Downtown Historic Walkway including Bracebridge Bay shoreline remediation
  • Kelvin Grove Park washroom upgrades
  • Continuation of Woodchester Villa restoration project
  • New CIP (Community Improvement Plan) initiatives
  • Development Charge By Law review
  • Marketing and economic development support for Canyon Creek Business Park
  • Wayfinding and brand implementation

Conservancy & Coffee: Musquash Road Nature Reserve has new corporate protector

Muskoka Roastery Coffee to steward over 250 acres of Muskoka

Posted March 24, 5:40pm: Muskoka Conservancy (MC) is teaming up with the Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company to steward over 250 acres of nature reserves in Muskoka, starting with the Musquash Road Nature Reserve.

Musquash Nature Reserve, Muskoka Conservancy, Nature reserve, Dark Sky, Torrance Barrens
Musquash photo by Mike Foster contributed by Muskoka Conservancy

“When we protect property, we promise our donors that we will steward the land forever,”  says Kristie Virgoe, Muskoka Conservancy’s Executive Director. “This is a promise we take very seriously.  Stewardship and monitoring properties requires time and resources, and we are very grateful to the Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co for adopting 250 acres for the next year.”

The first property that will be “adopted” by the coffee company for the year is the Musquash Road Nature Reserve — 195 acres that is surrounded by and managed as part of the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve.  It was donated to Muskoka Conservancy in 2001 by Club Link.  “As part of the Dark Sky Reserve, Musquash Road Nature Reserve is a spectacular place to visit and see the night sky.” says Virgoe.  “The generous support of the Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company will help us manage this property for the many visitors it receives through the year.”

Musquash Nature Reserve, Muskoka Conservancy, Nature reserve, Dark Sky, Torrance Barrens
Musquash Road Nature Preserve, Photo: Mike Foster

Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co is equally excited about this partnership. “We have a deep connection with Muskoka, the place we call home,” says Patricia Snell, President and co-founder of Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co in Huntsville.  “Our partnership with Muskoka Conservancy allows us to contribute to protecting and sustaining the natural splendour of our environment.”

While establishing the cost of annual stewardship is difficult, Virgoe estimates that the properties cost, on average $5.60 per acre per year to effectively manage.  “The costs include maintenance, signage, staff time, and taxes.” explains Virgoe.  “We are lucky that we have such dedicated volunteers that help us with the monitoring of these properties.  Without them the costs would be much higher.”  The Muskoka Conservancy continues to build a “stewardship reserve” fund to ensure the long term management goals of each property can be met.

About Muskoka Conservancy
Muskoka Conservancy (MC) is a charitable land trust that works with the community to protect sensitive lands, provide private land stewardship, and educational outreach throughout Muskoka.  In January 2013 two well known environmental charities, the Muskoka Heritage Foundation and Muskoka Heritage Trust merged to become the Muskoka Conservancy.  MC is honoured to work with landowners to protect Muskoka’s special places by establishing nature reserves and conservation easements.  To date, they protect over 1,800 acres of Muskoka’s iconic landscape.

Fed Funding for Foley Agricultural Hall in Seguin, $425K in upgrades

Posted March 24, 12:30pm: The Foley Agricultural Hall in Seguin Township is getting $425,000 in federal money for improvements aimed at increasing recreational opportunities for Seguin residents. Specifically the money is for hall renovations and creation of a business and resource centre.

Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement announced the funding through the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund (CIIF) yesterday while at the 11th Annual Great Baked Potato Bash in Foley. “The event we are celebrating today is one of many, including the annual Foley Fall Fair, which will benefit from this funding for needed upgrades,” said Clement.

According to a press release from Clement’s office, the funding will enable the Township of Seguin to fully refurbish the Foley Agricultural Hall into a new community facility incorporating multiple uses for the entire region, including both business and recreational opportunities. The project will feature a renovation to the community hall, as well as the addition of a new library resource centre, Agricultural Society Office and meeting rooms. The new centre will continue to host all of the Agricultural Society’s events such as the Foley Fall Fair and Plant Sale as well as other annual functions that residents have grown to love.

Said Sequin Township Mayor David Conn: “Our residents will certainly benefit from the newly renovated centre with improved recreational opportunities greatly increasing our quality of life. This project is the culmination of a number of years work and a close cooperative effort with the Foley Agricultural Society. We thank them for their ongoing effort and look forward to the rebirth of agricultural activities in Foley, something that has had a significant historical value in our community.”

The Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund is designed to support communities and create jobs through repairs and improvements to existing community facilities over the next two years.

Muskoka Watershed Council now has support of Friends of the Muskoka Watershed

Friends of the Muskoka Watershed will Strengthen the Muskoka Watershed Council

*Clarification – no change to Muskoka Watershed Council – but a new organization has been created to support it.*

Posted March 21, 11:33am – The Friends of the Muskoka Watershed (FMW) is a new organization created to take over the non-governmental role supporting the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC), in collaboration with The District Municipality of Muskoka. FMW’s objectives are to focus resources on fundraising and administration, ensuring that Muskoka Watershed Council can continue to champion watershed health.

The initiative comes in the wake of changes at the Muskoka Heritage Foundation (MHF), which in January 2013 merged with the Muskoka Heritage Trust (MHT) to form the Muskoka Conservancy. The Muskoka Conservancy will continue to provide the programs and services of MHF and MHT. With a more focused mandate, the Muskoka Conservancy recognizes that it is in the best interest of the Muskoka Watershed Council to seek a new supporting organization that is better aligned with MWC’s objective to champion watershed health.  FMW proposes to replace the Foundation in the Watershed Council collaborative that was founded in 2001 with The District Municipality of Muskoka.

“Muskoka Watershed Council’s record of accomplishment stems from the volunteered expertise of many people and community organizations throughout Muskoka,” states Dr. Norman Yan. “The FMW proposal aims to ensure this collaboration continues.”

Dr. Yan is the newly minted Chair of the Friends of the Muskoka Watershed, a professor in the Department of Biology at York University and a resident of Bracebridge. Much of his research has been conducted on lakes in Muskoka.

“Over the years, Muskoka Watershed Council has worked collaboratively with many organizations across Muskoka to undertake such projects as the Muskoka Watershed Inventory, the Canadian Water Network research program, and the Well Aware Program. MWC has also produced three report cards on watershed health with the fourth report card scheduled to be released in May 2014,” says MWC Chair Patricia Arney.

Despite their more focused approach, and withdrawal from the District collaboration, the Muskoka Conservancy remains supportive of the MWC cause. “This is a natural evolution that reflects the growth and development of both organizations and we expect to continue to collaborate in the future on projects that will benefit the environment in Muskoka,” explained Allyn Abbott, President of the Muskoka Conservancy.

The new arrangement awaits approval by Muskoka District Council. The new Friends of the Muskoka Watershed will present to District in April.

Related Articles: Muskoka Heritage Trust moves forward with new Board

Springwater township man identified as snowmobile crash victim

Update: Snowmobile accident victim identified
Update posted March 20, 10:22am: Ontario Provincial Police today confirmed the identity of the victim of Sunday’s snowmobile accident on Go Home Lake. 50-year-old Ralph Hoffman of Springwater Township was killed after his snowmobile crashed into some trees on the shore of the lake. See earlier post below.

Early morning crash kills snowmobile driver on Go Home Lake

Posted March 17, 5.59pm:  The Bracebridge OPP are reporting one man is dead after an early morning snowmobile crash on Go Home Lake in Georgian Bay Township.
Police say two snowmobiles were crossing the lake together about 5:45am today (Mar. 17). They believe the driver of one of the sleds was thrown from his machine after it ran onto shoreline rocks and collided with some trees. Police say speed was a factor in the crash.

The male driver was pronounced dead at the scene. His name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. A post mortem is scheduled for tomorrow (Mar. 18) in Bracebridge and the investigation is ongoing.

Jack knifed tractor trailer spills diesel oil, closes Hwy 118 for almost 13 hrs

Tractor trailer jack knifes, spills diesel oil in Port Carling

Update: Traffic began moving on Highway 118 both ways past Port Carling’s Ferndale Road at 1:30pm today — almost 13 hours after a tractor trailer spilled diesel fuel early this (Wednesday) morning.

Posted March 20, 9am: It could be awhile before traffic gets through on Hwy 118 after a tractor trailer jack knifed at Ferndale Road in Port Carling early this morning and spilled diesel fuel. Moose FM has the story and pictures. Below is the media release from the OPP. The amount of potential damage from the fuel spill is unknown at this time but Ministry of Environment officials are reportedly on the scene.

From Bracebridge OPP: On Wednesday March 20, 2013, at 1:01 AM, officers from the Bracebridge Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) responded to a report of single motor vehicle collision on Muskoka Road 118 involving a transport truck.

A preliminary investigation from the scene has revealed that a tandem trailer carrying fuel related products has jack knifed. The driver of the truck was not injured, but due to fuel leaking from one of the trailers,  Muskoka Road 118 west of Brown Road has been closed and will remain closed until further notice.

At present, the clean up is underway as approximately 3000 litres of diesel fuel has reportedly leaked from a damaged trailer.

The spilled fuel has been contained by members of the Muskoka Fire Department who are on scene. The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has been notified and will be attending to supervise and assist with the cleanup.

Due to the location, there is no detour that can be instituted and Muskoka Road 118 will remain closed indefinitely until the spilled fuel can be cleaned up and the remaining fuel safely removed from the involved trailers.

Additional updates will be made available as the ongoing investigation continues.

 

Muskoka Lakes man charged in power of attorney fraud

Son defrauds father, police warn against elder abuse
Posted March 18, 1:25pm: A 44-year-old man from Muskoka Lakes township will appear in court in Huntsville next month to answer charges he stole money earmarked for his elderly father’s care.
The accused, who has not been identified by police to protect his father, has been charged with Theft Over $5000.00 by person holding position of Power of Attorney under the criminal Code of Canada. The charge came after a month of investigation by the Huntsville Muskoka Crime Unit into a man holding power of attorney of a senior in a local care home.
Police note that some seniors are embarrassed to report any form of elder abuse and urge people not to blame themselves; rather, they should talk to someone they trust. They say the same goes if you think someone is a victim of senior abuse, adding there are many groups in the community who want to help and protect the rights, safety and dignity of seniors. According to the OPP, elder abuse is a growing problem within Muskoka’s senior population.

Neighbours rally to rebuild part of Wahta Road #1

With help from friends, a Wahta woman no longer stranded

Posted March 18, 7:50am: A Wahta Mohawk elder lives on a road that’s become so bad that she can’t get out and Meals on Wheels and emergency services can’t get in, but her neighbours are coming to the rescue today (March 18).

Wahta, Muskoka, Wahta Mohawks, Band Council, Wahta Mohawk Territory, Dewasha
Neighbours re-open Wahta Rd 1

Wahta Road #1 hasn’t been in great shape for a long time, but now it’s  become impassable. For 64-year-old Barbara Dewasha, who suffers from the lung disease COPD and a disabling back condition, the problem is becoming insurmountable. She worries about what might happen should she need ambulance service and now her Meals and Wheels program has been cut off due to the state of the road. This past week, the good people who administrate a Meals on Wheels program for Wahta Mohawk Territory told Dewasha their hands were tied: if she couldn’t walk out to the main road – Muskoka Road 38 – to meet them, they were told they would have to stop delivering the meals she depends on because her road was impassable. So the meals have stopped.

Why has her road become so run down? Dewasha says the road has been getting worse over the years, especially during the spring thaw. She says she approached Wahta Council at a meeting last fall to talk about a culvert, and was offered recently by Council Member Stuart Lane a load of sweepings if she would pay $100 for it. But that was a short-term fix, says Dewasha, for something she’s been raising as an issue for at least two years – and has been on Council’s radar since at least 2000 (when a snow plough became stuck). The problem has come to a head urgently because Dewasha’s health has made her less mobile so she can’t get out to the main road.

Dewasha says no help coming from her Band Council
Dewasha says she began to panic last Sunday when she was running out of medication. “I called members of our Council for three days in a row to ask for help. I spoke with [Council member] Stuart Lane who said there was no help to be given, and finally on Wednesday,

Wahta, Muskoka, Wahta Mohawks, Band Council, Wahta Mohawk Territory, Dewasha
Neighbours fill in new culvert on Wahta Rd 1

[Council member] Danny Stock said it wasn’t up to Council.” She adds a worker from the Wahta office told her the issue had been raised to the band’s administration but she hasn’t heard back from anyone. “I’ve been told they are refusing to help, and that they say it’s private road,” explains Dewasha.

Dewasha lives about a quarter mile off of Highway 38 on Wahta Road 1 that she says is a Band-owned concession road.

Neighbours tackle road problems
Fortunately, Dewasha has neighbours who are concerned for her and are determined to fix the road themselves. “People are getting together as a community to help keep me in my house,” she says.

With the help of a borrowed backhoe to drain the ruts and move water off the road, and about $1,000 raised to buy a durable plastic culvert from Muskoka Lumber and fill from Brent Quarries, Cal White, George Decaire, Darryl Decaire and Jimmy Smith (to name a few) will be out this morning digging up the road, and lowering the plastic culvert, in a bid to make the road passable again. Dewasha adds others in the community are bringing sandwiches and coffee to help the volunteer workers.

“No one should be treated the way Dewasha has been treated,” says White, who lives just a few kilometers away from Wahta Road #1. White continues that anyone who thinks it’s a private road (as Dewasha says Council has asserted) should just look at the signage. “It’s listed as Wahta Road 1. If that doesn’t make it clear that it’s the Band Council’s responsibility to maintain it, I don’t know what does.”

Until then, White says the community will do what it can for Dewasha. Adds White, “Once people heard about what was going on, we raised money [for supplies such as the culvert and gravel] in less than 24 hours with contributions from members as far away as Manitoba.”

Other Wahta-related posts: What’s going on in Wahta? Some community members..

Liberal Leadership Update: and then there were 6: Bertschi bounces

Update March 21: Lawyer David Bertschi today withdrew from the federal Liberal leadership race, saying he doesn’t have the critical mass needed to proceed. He’s withdrawn just before the final debate in Ottawa before Liberal supporters vote for a new leader. Still in: Justin Trudeau, Joyce Murray, Martha Hall Findlay, Martin Cauchon, Deborah Coyne and Karen McCrimmon.

THEN THERE WERE SEVEN: Garneau bows out, Hall Findlay won’t give up

Updated March 340pm: At 11am this morning, Liberal leadership hopeful Marc Garneau bowed out officially of the race for the federal party’s top post. Saying “numbers don’t lie” Garneau explained polls show overwhelming support for Justin Trudeau and that he himself was running “second.” The internal survey of 6,000 Liberals he was referring to puts support for Trudeau at 72%. Garneau was second with 15%. The numbers show

Marc Garneau Visit
Garneau visited Muskoka Jan. 24. Former Muskoka-Parry Sound MP Andy Mitchell was his campaign chair

Liberal MP Joyce Murray at 7.4% support and Martha Hall Findlay with 5.2%.

The Martha Hall Findlay camp was quick to respond, thanking Garneau for his contributions and saying they’re not waving the white flag.

“It’s been good, and important, to have had Marc in the race,” says Hall Findlay. “I have always had tremendous respect for him personally, and his contributions to this campaign have made an impression on the Party and indeed all Canadians. We are a stronger Party today because Marc Garneau ran for leadership; we are all grateful.”

She continues: “Marc represented a serious, substantive, experienced choice for the Party, as do I. When push comes to shove, in 2015, that’s what Canadians will be looking for to go head to head against Stephen Harper. I’m in this race because I have strong views about what the Liberal Party needs, and what Canada needs. We need a new way to tackle  the real issues facing Canadians. We have to base what we do on understanding business, markets and the economy, as well as the challenges facing Canadians and their families: where economic prosperity, fiscal prudence, environmental sustainability and equality of opportunity for all Canadians can (and should) be parallel goals. That’s the Canada I want to build, that’s why I’m running, and that’s why I’m running until Liberals make their final choice.”

She notes it’s not just the numbers that must be considered – it’s the math. “There are some ridings with thousands of registered voters — but each one of those ridings is worth 100 points.  There are also a large number of ridings with very few, many with fewer than 50.  Each one of those ridings is also worth 100 points.  We have run a truly national campaign, and have approached it very strategically,” says Hall Findlay.

Garneau’s departure leaves seven Liberal hopefuls who will debate next in Montreal on March 23.

Related Posts: Parry Sound debate watch Feb. 2 (and why Parry Sound-Muskoka a must stop)

Updated Feb. 12, 9.34pm. Martha Hall Findlay sends her regrets she had to cancel her visit to Muskoka this Thursday. The federal Liberal leadership contender is hoping she can reschedule for sometime next week. Campaign team member Jonathan Holtby says  Martha fell ill and they had to cancel her visits to Gravenhurst, Barrie and Orillia. They have another date in mind (possibly as early as February 19) but nothing can be confirmed at this time.

Update posted Feb 12. 5.50 pm. Five minutes after sending out an update on the on again, off again Martha Hall Findlay visit to Muskoka, we get word she has cancelled again. This seems odd, considering I wrote to her campaign team yesterday to ask why the Muskoka visit wasn’t on her ‘this week with Martha’ notice sent to press. I was assured the visit was still on. Now we hear she is feeling under the weather. Hope she gets some Valentine’s Day love wherever she ends up on Thursday. It’s tough out there on the campaign trail. Guess Justin Trudeau will get all the attention from riding Liberals then when he shows up on Friday. Trudeau will be at the Bracebridge Sportsplex Auditorium (located at 110 Clearbrook Trail, off of Muskoka Rd 4) at noon on Friday. Doors will open at 11:30am.

Update: Township of Muskoka Lakes reports on budget progress

Updated Mar. 6, 4.28pm: The Township of Muskoka Lakes has issued a media release regarding budget progress made at its March 1st meeting. The following is the verbatim release distributed Monday, March 4 about the last budget meeting held Friday, March. 1.

Related article: Cottage Country Now Article on Budget meeting: http://www.cottagecountrynow.ca/news/cityhall/article/1590429

MEDIA RELEASE: The Township of Muskoka Lakes made significant progress this afternoon [Mar. 1] towards the 2013 fiscal year and its Strategic Plan.

At a Special Council Meeting, Council appointed members to its Zoning Bylaw Review Steering Committee.  Appointments to the Committee include Anne McCauley, Susan Benson, Fiona Blair, Bill Grimmett, Denise Rundle, Arnie Coulson, Margaret Walton, Mayor Alice Murphy, Councillor Ruth Nishikawa and Councillor Brad Burgess, who will act as Chair of the Committee.

Mayor Murphy stated; “Council is very pleased with the appointment of this Committee.  We have assembled a very diverse and very talented group of people representing all Wards in Muskoka Lakes that have been charged with the review of our Zoning Bylaw and making recommendations regarding needed changes.”

The Zoning Bylaw Review Steering Committee will be assisted by staffing resources that will include; Director of Planning, David Pink, Chief Building Official Neil Donaldson and CAO, Chris Wray.

Mayor and Council also considered the 2013 Municipal Budget that had been forwarded for consideration by the Committee of the Whole. The budget includes a 2.7% increase in levy requirement over 2012.  This means that Residential property owners will see an average increase of $2.54 per $100,000 of assessment. Other highlights include:

  • An $8.2 million levy to provide all Township services, including summer and winter road maintenance, planning and development services, fire and protective functions, recreation and cultural activities, as well as general administrative functions.
  • The budget utilizes cost savings that were achieved in 2012 to provide service improvements related to by-law enforcement, as well as community related economic development.  It also addresses a comprehensive zoning by-law review and improvements to long term capital asset management.
  • Municipal infrastructure will benefit from $3.2 million of investment, including the Township’s roads and bridges, recreational facilities, and fire department equipment

Mayor Murphy stated; “Council is very pleased that we have been able to finalize our budget at this early date.  We are all appreciative for the assistance provided by the Finance Committee led by Councillors Don Furniss and Brad Burgess, the hard work of our staff and the passion of Council.”

Updated Mar. 1, 5.16pm: Attendees at today’s Muskoka Lakes Township budget meeting say a few changes were made to the budget today that prepares it for ratification at the next regular Council meeting on March 15. A motion by Councillor Ron Brent and seconded by Councillor Gault McTaggart recommended a decrease of about $14K in the heritage budget. The fire department budget will also be treated separately to allow Councillor Jean Anne Baranik to vote on the rest of the budget (she recuses herself on fire department matters as her husband is Deputy Fire Chief.

Posted Mar 1. Muskoka Lakes Township Council today gathers at 230pm to consider the budget and may pass a resolution to adopt it. The budget would have to be ratified at the next Council meeting on Friday, March 15. While the public can’t make any more comments or delegations, they can send letters if they have remaining concerns to the Clerk and all Councillors. Of course, the public can observe today’s proceedings in Council Chambers in Port Carling.

Meantime, here are two public delegations that were given at the earlier public input meeting by members of the two ratepayer associations in Muskoka Lakes — the Muskoka Lakes Association and an individual who was speaking for herself but represented the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association on the budget committee. If you are interested in reading their perspectives, one is here in Downloadable PDF Format: the other is pasted in to be read below.

Note: The budget has undergone changes since the public input night, the evening these presentations were given. For example, the levy is now under 3%. The heritage budget increase was to be discussed the day after the public input night and remains a concern for councillors.

In the MLA presentation, the MLA asks that a review of accomplishments of the Economic Development department be undertaken before that department is funded again. The association is concerned about duplication of services among municipalities. Here is the MLA presentation in PDF Format.

The following presentation was given by Andree Baillargeon, a member of the budget committee and the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association, who was stopped from finishing her presentation when she reached the words ‘hydro plant’. She had apparently exceeded her five minute presentation limit.

Baillargeon Presentation:

Mayor Murphy, Municipality Councillors and members of the public. Thank you for allowing me to speak.

I am Andree Baillargeon, Beaumaris. Prior to moving here as a year round resident, my husband and I came here to the family cottages. My husband since the 1960s!

I am not here to talk about myself but am here to comment on the proposed budget for 2013. I was asked to join the Budget Review Committee in the fall of 2012. I was able to attend the meeting to review the first draft but unable to attend the meeting of the Budget Review Committee of Jan 21st, but provided my input via email. I was not able to attend the Committee of the Whole Version 3.

At the time I was asked not to provide information back to the Muskoka Ratepayers Association. However, now I find myself in the position that I must express my overall concern regarding the budget in public.

The first draft that I saw had a levy increase required for 2013 of 3.7%, which at the time I thought was too high.  It increased to 4.1% and back to 3.6% due to an adjustment of 2012 budget item on culvert installations.  The Township of Muskoka Lakes needs to go back to Economic principle and fundamentals relating to both Fiscal and Monetary Policy.

Fiscal policy relate to the levels of government expenditures, taxation and government debt. Tax increases leave both individuals and business with less disposable income, be it for housing, cars, personal items or dividends or spending on business expansion. We are in a recession in this area and cannot afford to have our taxes increased. Yes, you might think that a large percentage of the taxes come from very wealthy people who can afford to pay. Do not kid yourself. If you are Canadian you are paying lots of taxes already. If you are a wealthy American you are going to see your disposable income drop. Did the municipality see the number of building permits and planning fees drop over the past couple of years. Well, expect to see a continuing trend. One option that the government has is to implement policies that include tax incentives that would stimulate the economy. I did not see any dollars that would indicate The Township of Muskoka Lakes considered such policies.

Although some economic theories may suggest that government spending itself stimulates the economy, it is only for the short run. The government cannot sustain continued expansion of its expenses as this requires increasing taxes, slowing the economy.

Debt not being paid down? You will notice that the Township of Muskoka Lakes incurs financing charges on debentures that it has issued. In other words, the Township borrowed money a number of years ago and has not been paying down its debt. I was very disappointed when, during the Budget Advisory Committee meeting, I was told that the amount of debt compared to other municipalities of the same size. Why would we compare ourselves to anyone?  Do we, resident/homeowner, compare our level of debt to our neighbours. The Township does not need this extra expense.  In fact these interest charges restrict the municipality in fiscal and monetary policy options.  When these debentures mature the Township would have options such as putting monies into savings, lowering taxes, etc….

Let me go back to the Levy increase for 2013.   First I would like to congratulate the Municipality on reducing insurance costs, equipment maintenance and rentals, utilities, building maintenance, memberships and conferences, mileage and travel, advertising and uniforms and clothing expenditures from 2011 to 2012. However, expenses in Wages and benefits, Roads, General Supplies, Communication and IT, Education and training, promotions and grants, writeoffs, Postage and tax billing, and Agreements creating an overall increase in levy requirements from $7,293,799 ($8,393,799 less $1.1M extraordinary expense) to $8,108,349, an increase of 11%.

Comparing 2012 Budget to 2012 Estimated, the estimate being, the actual expenditures for 2012 from January to the end of October with an estimate of expenses for Nov and Dec of 2012, I looked at items that were over budget by greater than 5%

  • Wages and benefits:  $251,998   5%
  • Legal, audit and consulting:  $109,327   22%
  • General Supplies and services:    $48,841       13%
  • Fuel & Lubricants: $14,437     37%
  • Postage and Tax billing: $9,491        24%
  • Agreements:  $43,040    113%
  • Reserves: $80,238   34%

Can the Municipality justify this? Are any of these items going to be reoccurring?

Now create a 2013 budget that is realistic.

  • 2010 Actuals show a Levy Requirement of $7,169,739
  • 2011 Actuals show a Levy Requirements of $8,393,799 which we understand that the increase was caused by one time events relating to Milford Bay. If we remove this extraordinary expense, the Levy Required for 2011 would have been in line with 2010’s expenses, around the $7,293,799.

Now the Municipality is requesting a Levy requirement of $8,272,109, an increase of 13%. Just not acceptable and one reason that you do not compare budget to budget but look to zero based budgeting instead.

How did monthly banking revenue, interest earned jump from $1,681 in 2011 to $77,637 in 2012. The Treasury department has budgeted $65,000 of interest earned in 2013 and then applied an expense of $65,000 to be moved to reserves. Where did the principal for this interest come from?

In 2011 the Building department transferred to reserves $123,633. In 2012, it is estimated that the department will withdraw from the reserves $10,921. The 2013 Budget is showing $93,128 being drawn from the reserves. How could the Municipality have caused a variance of $216,761 in the building department alone. This cannot continue. However, increasing the cost of permits etc… is just another tax and will reduce the number of permits requested.

Heritage monies questioned

I take offence to the fact that the Township of Muskoka Lakes Council is asking for a budget of $60,200 for the Heritage Committee. The Heritage Committee spent an estimated $50,528 in 2012 verses $1000 in 2011. This amount is 102% over the 2012 budget. A request for $31,200 in the original 2013 budget was out of line. To increase the amount to $60,200 is unthinkable.

Using heritage funds to make life difficult for the development of the Bala Falls Power Plant i.e. putting restrictions on lands, such a parking lots, dilapidated docks, designating view and vistas, etc… is a misappropriation of funds.

As suggested by a number of attendees at the Budget Committee meeting on Thursday, Dec 13, 2012, many communities had been able to enhance their downtowns by giving them a heritage feel. An example of this is Nelson, B.C. The Heritage Committee worked with the many stakeholders on a plan before any money was spent in legal fees and designation. A number of buildings were then designated as Heritage Sites, but these were dated buildings that had architecture which provided character to the redevelopment of the main street.

Heritage conservation should be viewed as a matter of local public policy, and should be undertaken within the framework of overall development objectives and community programs. It is important for the Township of Muskoka Lakes to assess its present situation and future prospects with regard to economic opportunities, local resources, and community services and amenities.  From such an assessment, municipal and regional development plans can be formulated which promote the highest possible quality of life for community residents. Such plans could be used to co-ordinate the activities of all levels of government as well as private developers so that situations of conflict can be adjudicated and opportunities for co-operation reorganized.

Township of Muskoka Lakes is making a big mistake. Putting restrictions on lands, such a parking lots…, to restrict the development of the Bala Falls Power Plant will undermine opportunities that exist and may disparage the Heritage Committee, now and in the future.  Until an overall assessment, including economic opportunities, local resources, etc… can be done, move monies to a Heritage Trust for the upgrades to crown properties and funding individual property owners who are affected by and willing to participated in a heritage conservation program when all the plans are complete, which may take years.

Establishing plans and designations require high levels of communication and coordination with the residents, business owner, etc… and should be accomplished on a volunteer basis. There will end up being monies spent on upgrading designated facilities. The Heritage Committee is premature is wanting to change the Official Plan to require heritage impact assessments, requesting view and vista  designations and to ask the province to formally recognize Bala, Port Carling and Windermere as tourist and cultural designations until a full assessment is achieved.

$31,000 in consulting fees for Economic Development. The District should have been responsible for Economic Development and to be looking globally for business opportunities that would not affect the atmosphere and recreational culture of Muskoka. Even Marc Garneau recognizes that year round businesses are needed. If a consultant is justifiably hired, please ensure that you have some performance measurements in place, to provide transparency for the taxpayers of Muskoka .

A further $43000 in consulting fees in the planning department verses $26,997 in 2011, an increase of over 59% strikes me as unreasonable. If there are less severances, minor variances, zoning and by-law permits, there must be a corresponding decrease in expenses, especially consulting and legal fees.

I could spend longer expressing my concern regarding the 2013 Budget, but I believe that I have covered the major areas of concern. The Township of Muskoka Lakes needs to get expenditures back to a pre-2010 level.

Thank you, Andree Baillargeon