County’s growth is ahead of expectations

By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Haliburton County has already exceeded what was forecasted to be its housing needs by 2036.

The thing is, it’s only 2023.

And, as of the 2021 census, the county is at about 80 per cent of what it was thought the population count would be by 2036.

That was the situation described by Jamie Cook, a managing partner with Watson and Associates Economists Ltd., when county council met Jan. 25. He outlined the parameters of what would be considered in a comprehensive review of the county demographics done by Watson and Associates.

County council awarded the firm a $60,000 contract to launch a development charges study.

“We’re far ahead of what the anticipated numbers were, which is going to require us to do a bit of additional work,” said Warden Liz Danielsen, who is the mayor of Algonquin Highlands.

Since the release of its 2017 Official Plan, Haliburton County has been experiencing significantly stronger growth pressure than previously anticipated.

The 2021 census results indicate that the county is at about 80 per cent of its 2036 population forecast. And the county has exceeded that housing forecast.

“As a result of these recent growth pressures, there’s a need to update the county’s long-term population, housing, and employment forecast,” Cook said.

The results of the comprehensive review growth forecast will form a foundational document that will inform the update to the county’s Development Charges Background Study [DCBS] currently underway, and the county’s Official Plan [OP] update which is anticipated to commence in the near term. 

The county is an attractive destination for retirees and people who wish to be seasonal residents at cottage properties.

“This also has an impact on how the county is growing, both with respect to its permanent population and its seasonal population base,” Cook said.

The Watson and Associations population model will forecast both the seasonal and permanent population growth by age, he said. And that will paint a picture of Haliburton’s housing needs by type and density, affordability, and tenure.

Cook said the information will ultimately be a foundation for future studies such as the county’s long-term affordable housing needs.

Key tasks the firm would probe in its comprehensive review include a community structure analysis; a demographic, economic and socio-economic profile with an assessment of growth drivers; forecasts for long-term population, household and employment; and the allocation of population, housing and employment.

Cook envisions a five-month process with a study start-up this month. Then, in February, they’ll get into a county-wide population, household, and employment forecast to 2051. Growth allocations by urban and rural area will be considered by March.

He said a draft report of would be done by April with the final report of the first phase or foundational phase done in June.

“We would endeavour to wrap up the study by late June or sometime in July at the latest,” Cook said.

A development charges study for the county and its municipalities will be tied into the review, said Peter Simicisko, who is also a managing partner at Watson and Associates.

He described how the provincial government’s Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, will affect development charges and capital costs.

“We will be addressing these [legislative changes] in detail as we proceed through the development charges background study process and we will have an opportunity to discuss these in more detail once we come back to present the draft findings later in the year,” Simicisko said.

Councillor Cecil Ryall, Highlands East’s deputy mayor, said the people once dubbed seasonal residents have taken to staying for longer periods. He wasn’t sure if they would have an impact on the study, but they’re use of services has increased. Indication of that increase is seen at landfills.

Ryall wondered if that population segment could be included in the review.

Simicisko said they will consider a number of data sources in compiling the growth review.

Coun. Bob Carter, the mayor of Minden Hills, said he’s highly supportive of the county and its lower tier municipalities adopting development charges.

“As we expand, the demands on the infrastructure are such that we are going to have to make some very large purchases over the next while,” he said.

But Carter is skeptical the demographic information gleaned through the study will be even close to reflective of the county’s residential reality. He said many of the people who spend most of the year in the county list their main address in Toronto or other locales.

“This is partially because we have limited medical services here,” Carter said. “Nobody wants to give up their doctor. So they tell OHIP that they’re still living in Toronto so they keep their doctor in Toronto.”

That means Toronto is getting all the funding for those people.

“We’ve got countless number of people across the county that are like that,” Carter said.

And, he said, such realities will skew growth studies.

“If we don’t get some housing, we’re not going to get a population growth of people who are workers,” he said. “Most of the people who are moving here are retirees. And they’re retirees moving into a dwelling they already have.”