By Mike Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Dysart et al council continued to kick the can on its service delivery review process last week, with township CAO Tamara Wilbee providing a thorough breakdown of seven key initiatives outlined by the consultancy firm hired to evaluate the municipality’s operations.
Toronto-based firm StrategyCorp was enlisted last year to complete the review. They recently finished an extensive 215 page report, noting that some work and attention to the high-priority initiatives outlined within could represent, at minimum, around $700,000 in direct operating savings and new revenues for the township.
The seven initiatives outlined by StrategyCorp centre around strategic planning and performance management; customer service; landfill strategy; recreation facilities; short-term rentals; the municipal sewage treatment plant; and bringing more digital infrastructure to Dysart’s public works department.
Mayor Andrea Roberts was particularly excited about the potential for an overarching multi-year strategic plan. Council has already earmarked $25,000 this year to help with its development.
“I want to get the plan finalized. It’s going to be beneficial for all staff, all councillors and Dysart council. Even going beyond this term, the next council will know what the priorities are,” Roberts said.
Roberts noted she’d like to see a plan finalized by May 2022.
Ward 4 Coun. John Smith said that while he is a “big believer” in the importance of establishing a strategic plan, he worried about the possible implications of this council essentially directing the township’s next council on several potential projects and initiatives.
“It would be unfair of this council to harness next council in terms of restricting them in some fashion,” Smith said.
Wilbee confirmed the document would be open to change, and suggested the municipality consider adopting recurring four-year planning cycles moving forward.
While council were happy to hold off an any real discussion surrounding recreational facilities, Wilbee noted there are some big-ticket items on the horizon. The A.J. LaRue Arena is going to need significant capital investment within the next 10 years, the CAO explained.
One area that drew significant discussion last week was short-term rentals.
Wilbee noted that implementation of regulations could address community concerns and increase municipal revenues, which in turn would support costs involved with additional enforcement, education and tourism promotion.
One of the suggestions outlined by StrategyCorp is to create a licensing fee for anyone who wishes to rent out their property.
Roberts noted the regulation of short-term rentals has been a long standing issue across Haliburton County. She feels Dysart has the opportunity to be a leader on this front.
Ward 3 Coun. Tammy Donaldson asked what benefits would come with the introduction of licensing fees. Roberts noted it could establish clear rules for operators regarding septic requirements, insurance, parking and fire safety.
Donaldson said she has been researching this issue for close to four years, dating back to when she was chair of the municipality’s economic development committee, and feels the introduction of a license would be a mistake.
“Short-term rentals bring more people to the area to experience what our area is all about,” Donaldson said. “In my opinion, licensing is not the answer to get homeowners educated to comply to different rules, as the majority do a good job of being respectful already.”
While the majority of renters may be operating respectfully at present, Ward 2 Coun. Larry Clarke feels a small minority may be ruining it for the rest.
“I get complaints about short-term rentals more than anything else. A lot of what I’m getting is about [these rentals] changing the nature of neighbourhoods. These people bought a lakefront home or cottage, and want to be a part of a community, but when they’ve got a transient community coming and going, many of them partiers, it creates a lot of dissatisfaction,” Clarke said. “A short-term rental property primarily [being used] for that purpose is a business. It’s not a residence, so it has to be looked at differently.”
Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy suggested the municipality could adopt a two-tier system, separating regular cottagers who rent out their property a couple of times a year from those who own simply to operate as a full-time rental.
It was decided that council would invite iHost, an online platform, to discuss the merits of establishing an online licencing system for short-term rentals in Dysart. Wilbee said a special council meeting will be scheduled over the coming weeks to further debate the issue.