By John Francis
As has been quite common of late, Northern Bruce Peninsula’s May 13 Council Meeting was a marathon. It began with two Public Meetings, followed by three delegations, a 23-item Agenda, 14 letters and a Closed Session. Plus “Other Business”.
At the second of the Public Meetings, a presentation was made by Gerry Gregory of Lion’s Head. The subject was the Fees and Charges Bylaw for 2019 and Gregory made a plea for more public access to Lion’s Head Beach Park. The campground area includes harbour shoreline and other features which Gregory feels should be available to the public at large. He noted that a prime site at Miller Lake is $3,600 per year; he asked what the prime sites get at Lion’s Head Beach. $1,950 per year, he was told. “Then you’re undercutting the private sector,” he stated, and what’s more, some of the campsites are rented to locals so there isn’t even a net gain to the economy. Mayor McIver thanked him for his very thoughtful presentation.
After the Agenda and Letters had been covered, Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles read a prepared statement under Other Business:
“I campaigned and was elected by the people of this municipality with the promise that I would do everything I could to ensure this municipality is being run under the direction of Council. I get frustrated when the same old routine continues to happen. Here is just one example of what I have seen in the five months since being elected.
In December, council had a meeting and decided Short-Term Accommodation was one of the projects they wanted to address. Staff then started to compile a list. A couple of months later Councillor Golden suggested the April 15th special council meeting should be our next meeting to discuss this topic. When the agenda came out the meeting would consist of a presentation of the number of STA that staff found, a presentation on the municipal tourist tax, and presentations from two consultants.
On April 23, Council was asked in a staff report to choose a consultant. In the minutes of April 23rd meeting it states on page 7, “Mr Jones informed council that he will contact Skelton, Brummell and Associates and arrange a date and time for the consultant to appear before council to establish its approach to regulating short term accommodations.”
The date has been set for Tuesday May 28th at 10:00 am. I have asked if the public will be allowed to speak at this meeting, and I have not received an answer.
The issue I have is that Council has had no discussion that we needed to hire a consultant at this time, no discussion on our approach, we haven’t heard from the public, we haven’t discussed what we are hearing out in the public, we haven’t even discussed our own thoughts, but we are expected to tell the consultant what we want on May 28th.
I feel we are being pushed down a path and I think we need to take a couple of steps back and have our discussions, not discussions on topics that are put in front of us. We need to come together as a Council and take the lead.”
Mayor Milt McIver, Councillors Jamie Mielhausen and Megan Myles all reacted, pointing out that when Council approved a budget for the STA issue, that implied a consultant. Deputy Mayor Myles demanded there be public input first; Councillor Mielhausen replied “Not now, not yet, we need to talk about it first.” Councillor Megan Myles agreed, saying MNBP doesn’t have the capacity to handle this by itself; we need a process to manage public feedback, that’s what the consultant is for. Councillor Smokey Golden pointed out that there is an online group of accommodation operators; they are organizing and formalizing. She expects they will focus on issues and present a majority view. “It won’t be as bad as herding cats,” she finished.
Did CAO Bill Jones overstep when he chose the less expensive of the two consultant proposals and invited the proponent to attend the May 28 Meeting? Mayor McIver was clearly comfortable with this, as were Councillors Mielhausen and Myles. People will get their chance to speak in the public process, with structure to make sure everyone is heard, they said.
All five Council members agreed that they were elected to find a solution to the Short-Term Accommodations issue. “Enforcement is gonna be tough,” commented Councillor Mielhausen. No one disagreed.