By John Francis
One Saturday morning every month, there is a Men’s Breakfast in Tobermory. The guest speaker on January 18 was our municipal CAO Bill Jones. Nine days later, he gave his notice to the municipality; he has accepted a new job as CAO of Arran-Elderslie as of March 2, 2020.
So when he spoke to us, he knew he was leaving but we didn’t know. As I re-read my notes, I find some of the meanings have shifted.
Affable as always, he began by telling us that the average tenure for a municipal CAO is 3.2 years, which puts his nearly ten years at MNBP as something of an outlier.
He said the toughest part of the job in Northern Bruce Peninsula is public consultation. Cottagers are only available in the summer; business owners are too busy in summer and only available in winter. It makes it hard to spend less than a full year on any public consultation process.
He said he was delighted that the Municipality had created a position of Community Services Manager and hired Ryan Deska to fill it. “In future,” he told us, “you will see a lot more of Ryan and a lot less of me at public meetings.”
Will it be possible to have meaningful regulation of Short-Term Accommodations? Yes, he said. It can be done. Set up the bylaws so that violations put STAs out of compliance with zoning. “That has teeth.” He said a proposed new zoning system for STAs is at a draft stage but he has confidence that we can have a workable system.
He said there were 70 new homes built in MNBP in 2019. That is the more than any other municipality in the county, probably Grey as well.
He was asked what our municipality can do to promote affordable housing. Allowing smaller houses would be a good start, he replied. The provincial code allows single family homes as small as 400 square feet. Municipalities make it more restrictive than that but they don’t have to. (The Draft Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw which the last council failed to pass would have dropped the square foot minimum to 760, but there’s nothing to stop the municipality from approving proposals down to 400 square feet.)
Some complaints about paid parking in Tobermory received a stiff response. “Spending is verbatim what we promised,” he began. Parking revenues are not leaving Tobermory; they are being used to offset the costs of dealing with tourism. A proper washroom building will cost about half a million; we now have $300,000 in reserves earmarked for that project. We can expect some movement on that this year.
Other municipalities are calling MNBP, he said, to find out how we made paid parking work so well.
He let that sink in for a moment.
He was asked about the timing for a new Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw. The County is currently working on an update of the County Official Plan, he explained. We will start our process after they finish theirs. MNBP will probably make piecemeal changes rather than a massive sweeping document.
Jack Schenk pointed out that Bruce County is spending $14 million for low income housing in Kincardine, at a very high cost per unit. Why is there nothing in Tobermory? Jones explained that there is a housing committee in Tobermory who are doing some good work. They made two applications for subsidized housing in Tobermory in the last few years but were turned down. Indirect feedback indicates that Bruce County doesn’t want to fund projects that don’t have town sewers and town water. The Bradley Davis apartment building in Tobermory has its own well, he continued. The water for that building is very expensive. A further complication is that — believe it or not — our waiting list is smaller than other parts of Bruce County.
Ivan Smith wondered about long-awaited improvements to the kitchen in the Tobermory Community Centre (where the Men’s Breakfast is held). Jones replied that there is $60,000 authorized in this year’s budget.
Then everybody gave him a round of applause, shook hands and left. We were all assuming that he’d come back and talk to us again next winter.
Maybe not. But thanks for all the Saturday and Sunday appearances over the years, Bill. Best of luck in Arran-Elderslie.