Our new Town Council: What you will get and what you won’t get.
I was very pleased with my first and last foray into municipal politics. Almost 1,000 voters supported my candidacy in a Town where very few people knew my name. We now have a Council led by a very popular Mayor and Deputy Mayor and a group of Councilors with a wide breadth of skills and experience. With a strong mandate, this group has the capacity to deal with the pressing issues facing our Town.
Based on the lengthy campaign and the very good speeches and materials presented by those elected, it is clear what the issues are:
1. A lack of attainable housing
2. Inadequate public transportation
3. High and rising property taxes.
4. A lack of a multi-use recreational facility
5. Youth homelessness
6. Incomplete development of our waterfront
Can townspeople expect progress on these issues?
A review of the campaign positions of the Council elected suggests otherwise.
Progress was made in the past few years with the construction of low-cost rental properties well underway on High Street. This County funded development replaces an older development demolished on the same site and, while important, will not add to the inventory of lower-cost rental homes that existed before the development began. No new initiatives were promised by those elected.
Approximately 3,000 seasonal residences will remain vacant for large portions of the year owing to Collingwood’ ban on short term rentals of unoccupied homes.
The Town’s 2018 budget suggests attainable housing is not a priority.
TOTAL BUDGET $67,100,000 $81,300,000 $82,300,000
2016 2017 2018
Housing $105,541 $ 104,235 $73,561
0.16% 0.13% 0.09% Inadequate Public Transportation
The Town’s 2018 budget included $1,248,086 for transit in addition to a capital budget of $477,500. Ridership was expected at 215,000. With a population estimated at more than 22,000 few persons take the bus and the cost per ride is just over $8.00
During the campaign, I heard from hundreds of townspeople that the bus service was both essential and ineffective, taking too long to get from point to point such that it became useless for those commuting to work.
The Town can learn from the experience of Innisfil who replaced their buses with a contract with Uber where riders pay the equivalent of bus fare and get point to point transportation while the Town pays the difference between the bus fare and the Uber fare. This is worth study.
I expect little to happen during this administration. None of those elected responded to this issue during the campaign and it seems not a priority for those elected. It is likely the Town will simply buy more buses and tinker with the route schedules while paying lip service to this critical regional problem.
High and Rising Property Taxes
Seen in the proper context, property taxes are very high. In 2015, user fees and property taxes totaled $45.3 million. In 2018, they were budgeted at $55.1 million.
The 2018 budget disclosed the average property in Collingwood was assessed at $299,126 for tax purposes. The average property in Collingwood today has a value of almost double that. MPAC assessment are phased in over time and the average assessment will rise materially in the next 3 years.
Despite the issue being raised in the election campaign, there was no commitment by any of the incoming Council to deal with the prospect that property taxes may double over the next three years as higher MPAC appraisals are applied to current mill rates.
Council can alter mill rates. This is a primary function of Council, to set mill rates at a level that reflects the reasonable costs of government programs. The past is an indicator of what will happen.
Taxes have risen every year since 2015 despite the Town generating large surpluses.
Town of Collingwood Reported Surpluses in Annual Financial Statements
2014 2015 2016 2017 4-Year Total
Surplus $ 5,401,899 $ 5,672,542 $ 13,989,152 $ 6,599,063 $ 31,662,656
Multi-Use Recreational Facility
Mayor Elect Brian Saunderson was Chairman of Steering Committee which in 2012 recommended the Town build a multi-use recreational facility (“MURF”). The Town chose instead to put fabric covered structures over two existing recreational areas. Saunderson has not spoken to the issue since that time.
Given the Mayor Elect’s athletic background and history, it is possible the Town will revisit this need, but my expectation is for little progress since, as I will mention in detail later, I believe Mr. Saunderson will focus resources on the Waterfront Master Plan which he claims as a major accomplishment during his term as Deputy Mayor.
Barbara Weider House is the only Collingwood facility targeted at youth homelessness. It relies on donations to operate, with a capital campaign of $850,000 and annual operating costs of $65,000. It is wonderful to see the people of Collingwood support this critical need through donations. It would be even better if the Town assumed the costs of operation and worked with this charity to expand the service to meet the need.
I am appalled that our Town sees fit to spend over $500,000 annually to maintain the Terminals while spending nothing on the issue of youth homelessness. I am hopeful the new Council will make a meaningful contribution to assisting our homeless youth.
On area where we can expect substantial activity is the waterfront. The Waterfront Master Plan is a centerpiece of the Mayor Elect’s campaign promises and will carry a total cost over $50 million. This is where our tax dollars will be spent.
Phase 1 of the plan is estimated to cost $20,546,211 and be completed during the term of the current Council. That phase does not include costs of renovation of the Terminals, which the Waterfront Master Plan foresees as including a Brew Pub.
Phases 2 and 3 of the Waterfront Master Plan are forecast to have costs of $21,952,627 and $8,041,723 respectively. The total plan in round numbers will cost over $50 million and take until 2034 to be competed.
The Waterfront Master Plan plays lip service only to the cost of restoring the Terminals which Tacoma Engineers estimates will cost another $9.7 million. The approved capital plan for Collingwood incudes that $10 million. Taken together, the improvements to Collingwood’s waterfront will cost approximately $60 million.
Democracy is a wonderful institution but carries risks. You get what you vote for.
In the United States, Donald Trump became President. His divisive politics and thoughtless economic and trade policies may have an unhappy ending for that country.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau became prime minister. His economic policies in the name of “climate change” and reconciliation with First Nations have severely damaged Canada’s key oil and gas industry with little likelihood of having a measurable impact on global greenhouse gas emissions or improving lives for First Nations people.
In Collingwood, Brian Saunderson brings a vision of a beautiful harbour that will attract visitors and industry to our Town and improve the quality of life for its citizens.
That vision seems unlikely to materialize for many people.
The Waterfront Master Plan will bring more people to Collingwood. Collingwood will grow and grow rapidly. But most of that growth will be established persons capitalizing on the strength in GTA housing prices and moving to Collingwood’s growing inventory of expensive single-family dwellings.
House prices will surely rise and with them property taxes will move even higher.
Industry will not come. The combination of a scarcity of attainable housing and poor public transportation will see younger persons leave the region leaving a shortage of entry level employees. With costly housing and poor transportation, employers will locate in jurisdictions where business development is the priority backed by reasonable policies to supply services and serviced employment lands to attract the needed workforce.
Labour shortages will worsen. A large portion of Collingwood’s workers already commute from less costly areas such as Wasaga Beach, Thornbury, Meaford and Nottawa but will find the costs of doing so increasingly difficult at entry level wages.
Collingwood will become a country club Town with most of its citizens either retired or nearing retirement, living in beautiful homes and spending their recreational dollars at the wonderful array of private ski clubs in winter and boating in the summer. Children will leave this area for employment elsewhere.
The majority will be people just like me. Established, retired, independent. But they will lack my attachment to Collingwood’s history or culture. Within a decade, the transformation of the Town will be complete – future Council’s will have no interest in “heritage” or “culture” and will continue the trend to make Collingwood into Whistler East.
That is what you voted for. This is the mandate the incoming Council proposed, and you accepted. This is what you wanted, and it is what you will get. Accept it and embrace your new Council.