At Monday’s Council meeting, several contentious issues were decided – but first there were three delegations from citizens about stormwater fees and one about “sleeping cabins” for the homeless. Council approved a plan for the Albert Street Shelter, moved forward on the sleeping cabins, approved stormwater fees and quickly approved free downtown parking until January 1, 2023. Although the delegations strongly criticized the new stormwater fees, Council’s only concession was to review them after a year. Most debate is supposed to happen at the Committee of the Whole meeting a week earlier but Councillors did discuss at length what they heard from the delegations. However, in the end, Council mostly went with Staff recommendations. Along the way, there were things to learn.
There are basically two criticisms:
- No incentives or credits are offered for people to minimize run-offs
- The fees are not equitable since they do not allow for large properties of mostly grass with low run-off (e.g. cemeteries) nor are they different where properties simply have a ditch as a drain.
Mayor Cleveland pointed out that the measure was approved and effective July 1, 2022 (although it was not implemented – no-one was billed) and the new by-Law simply increases the rate, The increase is needed since the planned expenditure in 2023 is $1.6M compared with the $400K spent in 2022. All money raised by the new fee will be spent on stormwater management.
Bryan Lambert said that the new fee is “new money” and a “tax grab”. He pointed to a number of errors and anomalies in the report and by-law. Comments by Director Wills repeated that the new fee is “more equitable” but it seems that not everyone agrees.
Randy Barber suggested and other councillors agreed that an Ad Hoc committee could be formed to advise Council on how best to proceed. The idea is that any recommended changes would be made before the 2024 budget is set – apparently on March 1, 2024. Meanwhile, Council approved the fees recommended for 2023. There is more on this subject in this post here and the post when it was approved in June here. I understand that starting 1 January 2023, the average residential taxpayer will be billed $72.38 per year – that’s $6.03 per month. It will be on your LUSI bill for electricity and water.
Albert Street Shelter
Originally described as a Transit shelter but also for putting on skates for the Rink and more recently as a warming room. It includes two washrooms that have been abused by drug users and has become a haven for homeless people and a crime and security problem. As reported here nearby resident Carol Leighton asked Council for some changes and Brent Larmer has now presented a plan to Council with both immediate and long term changes.
Brent reports that both Police and By-Law officers have responded to numerous calls to the Shelter, especially in the last few months. Council approved both his short term and Long-term plans.
Summary of Plans
Short term Summary
- Rename the facility to “Albert St Washroom”
- Offer controlled-access to the Albert St washroom during peak hours over the holidays (1 pm – 8 pm, December 20, 2022 – January 8, 2023). Parks staff will maintain the washrooms in a good state, and Bylaw staff will allow one user inside at a time (guardians with children and those requiring assistance excepted). One washroom will be available at a time.
- Should a washroom user overstay a reasonable time such as 10-15 minutes, Bylaw and/or Police have process and procedures in place to remove individuals while respecting their rights and dignity.
- After the holidays (January 9, 2023), staff will close the Albert St washrooms entirely since there are not the resources to staff the facility continuously.
Long Term Plan summary
- The Albert St washrooms are no longer safe for the public to attend without security present.
- As the 2023 budget will be considered by Council in January and February, staff will prepare service level options and physical building improvements to be considered at that time to maintain adequate service levels for the Albert St washrooms and other facilities.
Council approved Brent’s plan with the exception that one Porta-Pottie will be added when the washroom building is closed.
Northumberland Sleeping Cabin Collective
The group with the idea of providing a better alternative to tents is missing a fundamental requirement: somewhere to put them. As described in a previous post here, the volunteer group which is sponsored by the Green Wood Coalition, wants to build six 8 ft x 10 ft cabins in a 6 month pilot to house 10 to 12 individuals who are currently homeless. Delegation spokesperson Meghan Sheffield specifically asked Council to help with providing part of the Memorial Arena parking lot as the location. She requested that “Council identify any by-laws, permits and authorizations required”. But the process will not happen in the group’s time frame – it will need to go through the Planning Department like any other development. Mayor Cleveland remarked that this project was similar to a request from Habitat for Humanity. When asked for a time estimate, Director Anne Taylor Scott said that rezoning alone would take 3 months.
There were a couple of clarifications provided:
- The village will be fenced and locked. All visitors will be required to sign in/out.
- Access will be available to wrap-around services that address mental and physical well being, addiction counselling, and harm reduction.
When asked what is the difference between this and Transition House, two answers were given: “don’t know” and “don’t help at all”. It’s not clear if the planned users of the cabins will want to abide by the rules of the village.
Councillor Darling, noting that this is a County responsibility, asked if the County had been asked for a location – he thought there was available space on Ontario Street. But Meghan said that she asked the County and they said they had no available space.
Council approved proceeding with the project 4-3 [corrected from original]. Miriam Mutton voted against [best I could see – along with Brian Darling and Randy Barber] and said that although she really cared about people, this was not sustainable and not a viable solution. (The full gallery were unhappy with this!) Note that “proceeding” does not mean it will happen, it’s just that staff will go the next step which is an application to the planning department.
It was a long meeting with other decisions including free Downtown parking from now until January 1, improvements in Council meeting procedures to speed things up and ratification of decisions made at last week’s Committee of the Whole – including proceeding with work on the Waterfront as reported here.
- Video of Council meeting – Go to 2:15 mark for beginning of delegations discussed above.
- Watson and Associates Report on Stormwater
Addendum – 21 Dec 2022, 4:45 pm
It appears that our new Mayor uses Social Media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, to pass along communication that he sees as important. He has now done that (communicated) on the subject of what Council actually approved about cabins at their meeting on Monday. I note that he’s not disputing what I have reported above but rather he’s concerned with misinformation on social media.
Here are the two links: