Douglas W. Judson
Three Items of Council Business You Need to Know About
On Monday, December 13, 2021 Council will consider 3 items of business that you need to be aware of:
Best for Kitty Request for Pound Access
Best for Kitty is volunteer organization in our community that finds "furever" homes for cats and kittens in our community. They presented to Council on November 22 and indicated that, since the start of the pandemic, they have successfully found homes for over 90 felines using donations, volunteers, and foster homes.
Best for Kitty has requested that the Town allow it to use the municipal pound as overflow space when they are short on foster homes. As we are now in the cold months of the year, they have urgently requested Council action.
Unfortunately, at the Planning & Development Executive Committee on December 6, administration recommended that Council reject this request on the basis that (1) the Town has a license to operate a pound and this could compromise that license; and (2) on the advice of our insurer, the Town could face liability if anything were to happen to a volunteer in our facility.
At committee, I disagreed with this recommendation. I will be opposing it at Council, for the following reasons:
I reviewed the legislation which provides the Town's license to operate the pound. I have been unable to locate nor have I been directed to any section of the legislation which prevents the Town from sharing space with another organization or user group. In fact, the definition of “pound” in the Animals for Research Act says that it means “premises that are used for the detention, maintenance or disposal of dogs or cats that have been impounded pursuant to a by-law of a municipality or the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, but does not include any premises, or part thereof, that are not used by any person or body of persons for the detention, maintenance or disposal of dogs or cats so impounded”. That last part clearly suggests that a part of the premises could be used by another group or for another purpose without any impact on our license.
The Town is fully capable of entering into an agreement with Best for Kitty which indemnifies and holds harmless the Town from any liability resulting from their use of our facilities. We routinely use language like this in in our agreements related to animal control bylaws. In fact, we have done so in an agreement being considered at Monday’s meeting to provide the Township of Alberton with dog by-law enforcement services.
We ought to be encouraging community groups like Best for Kitty to help us keep animals safe. Our own shelter is effectively a “kill shelter”. Best for Kitty is keeping animals alive and finding them good homes. Why aren’t we doing what we can to support these volunteer efforts?
I simply do not find the insurance rationale we were provided with to be compelling or credible. We allow volunteers to use multiple other municipal facilities without issue (i.e., the Memorial Sports Centre, the Seniors' Centre, the museum, the library, the Rainy Lake Square, and the Townshend Theatre).
In short: I will be proposing an alternate resolution that respects our volunteers, and I will not be joining with my colleagues to vote in favour of a resolution which leaves animals to freeze on the streets this winter.
You can read the report Council will be considering on Monday here.
Single-Use Plastics By-Law Postponement Request
The Town has received a request from 3 restaurant operators in the community to delay the start date of monetary penalties under the Single-Use Plastics By-Law. At committee on December 6, it was recommended that this date be delayed by 6 months. The current in-force date for the monetary fines is January 1, 2022 (the by-law itself came into force, without penalties, on January 1, 2021).
I will also be opposing the Committee's recommendation at Council on Monday, for the following reasons:
The by-law has been on the books for over 2 years. We delayed the monetary penalties to January 1, 2022 to give everyone more than enough time to adapt. Every other business and consumers have adapted without issue and have found ways to procure the necessary supplies and make changes to business practices. It is unfair to now change the rules after some have incurred costs and taken action to be part of this positive change.
Our staff have invested significant time and resource into educating the community on the by-law and its requirements, as well as the effective dates. It is going to introduce confusion to change course now.
I routinely hear from members of council that we set policy – we do not make one-off decisions (such as changing a racist street name, evidently). It seems that is only true sometimes, as in this situation we have a policy that was set by this Council, and it has been in place for a long time.
Our by-law staff have been very clear that their enforcement is compliance-based. They are not going around ticketing people for single-use plastics offences. Other than traffic by-laws, all of our by-laws are enforced through a lengthy notice period of warnings, education, reminders, and provide significant lead times for people to meet the requirements. There is no need to change the dates on the by-law when we have flexibility in enforcement. Having the by-law in full force - with its penalties - serves as deterrence and encourages people to make any remaining changes now.
The businesses in question have indicated that the supplies at issue that they cannot find are paper bags. Respectfully, I have confirmed with local suppliers and other businesses and simply do not think that is the case.
I will be opposing this recommendation and asking Council to respect the policy we have set, to be fair to those who have made efforts to meet its requirements, and to have confidence in the fairness of our staff when it comes to enforcement.
You can read the report Council will be considering on this issue here.
Splash Pad Water Park Proposal
Council is considering a proposal to create a splash pad water park in the community, which was triggered by a community petition that I tabled earlier in the Fall. While no funds have been committed or plans put in place as of yet, the two committees that have considered this proposal have preliminarily suggested that the splash pad be placed in either the Shevlin Green development or the Legion Park area. Legion Park appears to be the preferred choice.
I am generally supportive of the recommendation that is coming to Council out of the Operations and Facilities Executive Committee. Where I part ways with the Committee's recommendation is on this sentence: “5.That council put out a public call for a group to spearhead the development of a splash pad in Fort Frances with the assistance of Town Administration.” I will be asking that this sentence be amended or struck.
In my view, this part of the recommendation is offensive and inappropriate. Our citizens pay taxes for a reason and should see those funds invested in the community. Parks are not “nice to haves” – they are part of the essential and basic amenities that make a community livable, especially for those who do not have cabins, boats, and other outdoor recreation property.
The suggestion that a group of volunteers ought to be expected to drive a complex project that involves zoning, costing, utilities hookups, and other technical considerations is an attempt by those opposed to having any new amenities for young families in our community to kill the project at the outset.
The initial stages of this project – including its feasibility and costing – should be led by the municipality and the professional staff in our administration. If it is determined that a reasonable portion of the cost (that cannot come from federal or provincial grants or municipal reserves) should be funded through donations, that is when a community group should be engaged. Not before.
Suggesting that this project can only proceed if it is driven by free labour is unacceptable and wrongheaded - especially when the primary demographic who will benefit are the young families and parents who are already stretched for time and resources.
As the only voice for younger citizens on Council, I will be strongly opposing this suggestion and demanding better from Council and administration. As I have said repeatedly at Council: we are competing for citizens. We are going to lose that competition if we are not showing leadership as a municipality on investing in recreational amenities for our citizens.
You can read the report that Council will be considering on this issue here.
You can attend Council's meeting online or by telephone. Connection information is printed on our agenda, which is available here.