By John Swartz
Orillia Council meets at 2 p.m. Monday for what appears will be time spent together of length.
First Mayor Don McIsaac will present the 2023 Citizen of the Year Award. The award was a long-standing tradition of the Packet and Times, until its closing in November 2017. SUNonline/Orillia approached then Mayor Steve Clarke suggesting the City take it over temporarily until another news organization emerges from the dust and demonstrates it is capable of continuing the award.
In a report at a special meeting of council outlining changes staff want to see with all committees of council (on this agenda, but in a separate article), wording suggests the administration is quite happy to continue control of the award and has no intention of returning it to its former status to the community from which it came.
Next is a presentation by Linda Goodall and Glenn Wagner of The Lighthouse about their operations of late. The Lighthouse provides emergency shelter for adults and youth, food services, a medical clinic, a warming center, outreach and other services.
The warming centre has allowed 118 people to get out of the cold on 24 nights just during this winter, including January. They used the equivalent of 19,198 beds for emergency shelter in 2023.
The supportive housing part of their mission served 23 people and their hotel voucher program for families helped 37 people.
They served 84,832 meals.
The service the lighthouse provides is intended to help people not need their service and to that end they got other housing for 89 people.
Part of the presentation is to inform council of their next capital project. They would like to build a 3-floor, 20,000 sq. ft. supportive housing facility for youth, which would have 20 to 30 units and 10 emergency beds. They believe they have enough room on their Queen Street property for such a building and will be asking council for support in principal in order to advance their plan.
Next is the public forum and a break to go into closed session. Away from the public council has two items to discuss. One is a legal issue concerning the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation and the other a letter of intent from the Orillia Museum of Art and History involving personal, personnel and legal issues.
You Knew It Was Coming
When council returns a classic example of privatizing profits and socializing the costs of the ruling corporate kleptocracy is next on the agenda.
A report was requested in October by councillors Janet-Lynne Drunford and Jay Fallis for staff to report on:
“The establishment of a managed encampment site or sites within the City of Orillia, which include independent structures with 24-hour support for chronically homeless individuals, as defined by the County of Simcoe; AND THAT this report consider possible locations, infrastructure requirements, term of service, partners, operating and capital costs, mitigation of risks and safety considerations, management options for the site(s), and feasibility of the project(s); AND THAT staff be directed to consult with the County of Simcoe, and local agencies that provide services for the City’s most vulnerable.”
Tent Cities are what is being referred to. The neglect of higher levels of government to foresee the housing crisis by creating regulation taxation is fair across the spectrum and set conditions for building affordable housing has meant cities least able to deal with houseless people are now having to contemplate spending taxes on keeping ‘encampments’ from becoming magnets for trouble and to keep people safe.
Staff surveyed what is being done in London, Hamilton, Kelowna, Halifax, Kitchener and Barrie. What they found is each had a service system manager to oversee funding homeless operations and in Orillia’s case that is the County of Simcoe.
In the case of Barrie, this led to that City and the county becoming operators of a temporary shelter during the winter. Last year the program switched to find homes during warmer times and they helped 18 people find rental housing. Temporary housing, similar in appearance to school portables, was brought in, and the county developed a list of criteria for finding a site for it.
Staff recommend council choose one of Morningstar Park, Murray Street Park, or Frontier Street Park – all three are on the periphery of the City and far from the other services locations such people may need.
In the case of Morningstar Park, the tennis and basketball courts would be unusable and part of the park is controlled by MTO, which may not allow this use. The other two parks are in the middle of established residential areas and trees would have to be removed for this project (many in the case of Frontier). The skating rink at Murray Street would also be taken out of action.
The County will run the program, called Supportive Rapid Re-Housing Program, and there will be costs to the City (estimated to be $100,000). The City already pays $2.9 million to the County for housing services. There are some legalities the City will have to straighten out, those include:
- Providing land suitable for the proposed use at no cost to the County.
- Exempting the development from Site Plan Control By-law
- Funding all development fees (Building Permit costs, City and School Board Development Charges if applicable, etc.) from the Affordable Housing Reserve.
- Exempting the building from property taxes during the duration of the term of the partnership agreement.
The City will lease the land to the County. Staff say because of the urgency public consultation has not been done, and is “not planned to take place.”
This is a no win situation for everybody. The City will be in the doghouse when residents find out what is happening in their neighbourhoods. Those residents will look uncompassionate when objecting. The homeless already have enough stigma attached and it won’t get any better for them.
If council adopts the recommendation, any changes to the parks won’t happen until April or May. The plan expects to help 10 to 20 people in the first 6 months and eventually 20 to 40 within 12 months. Since users are not expected to be on board the whole time, staff estimate the project will help 100 to 200 people.
Meanwhile MPs, MPPs and the captains of industry who created this mess continue to show they don’t care.
Despite denials of financial contribution by the Township of Severn to operate a transit route to Orillia Square Mall, staff are reporting they have negotiated a 10-year agreement for funding.
Beginning in 2000, Orillia Square Mall was providing $45,329 annually to get shoppers and employees to the mall. In 2017, the mall withdrew their financial support. The new owners of the mall, Canadian Tire Real Estate Investment Trust’s and property managers, Bentall Green Oak, offered and paid $15,000 from 2018 to 2020 and the Township contributed $15,000 in 2019 and 2020.
Since 2021 both Bentall and the Township declined to make contributions.. The Orillia Square Mall stop is the 11th most used in the system, with 5,400 passengers in 2023 counted by those using electronic payment (cash fare riders are not included). The City estimates 11,000 people got on the bus at that stop annually, and staff assumes the same number got off for a total of 22,000 users.
Curiously, staff do not indicated the value of the agreement, but do say if council adopts the recommendation there will no loss of revenue. If council does not adopt, service to the mall will end February 29, and there will be a loss of $6,000 from Gas Tax Grant revenue and $66,000 of fare revenue lost.
Council has the committee report from two weeks ago to confirm fireworks, previously not allowed in the City, will be permitted on the usual holidays (which will include Lunar New Year, Gurpurab, and the three days of Diwali) – with rain dates on the days following those events.
The noise by-law was the mechanism used to control the use of fireworks 365 days of the year, which was routinely ignored, and virtually unenforceable because of not planning during predictable times people would be setting off fireworks to deploy police and by-law officers strategically.
While noise was the concern addressed by complaints, many people were also concerned about the fire hazard. With the by-law changing as presented to council, there will be a new $200 fee to cover the costs of investigating transgressions, along with more investigative powers.
Three pieces of correspondence were pulled from last meeting’s consent agenda for council to direct responses. One is from Georgian College wanting the federal government to change its recent policy change regarding foreign students. Georgian says 6,300 of their 16,000 students are foreign and the restrictions could cut foreign students attending by 50% and will cause many problems for the college and the communities they have campuses in. The new direction is to send a letter of support from council to the feds, and MPP Jill Dunlop requesting a lifting of the moratorium.
The Town of Orangeville wrote to Ontario municipalities for the province to review how it supports provincial programs municipalities ultimately pay for with property taxes. Orangeville council says municipalities spend a third of their budgets for services which are provincial responsibility. The province does cover some of the costs of housing, mental health, supporting asylum seekers, and etc., and is falling behind by $4 billion collectively, which municipalities are ending up paying. Orillia council is asked to join the chorus demanding change.
Councillor Tim Lauer pulled a memo from the council information package of February 2 in which staff reported the engineering department removed 10 trees through the course of its work in 2023, but planted 100. Things were not so lopsided with environment and infrastructure where 264 trees were removed and only 40 trees planted; the high number of removals was because the Emerald Ash Borer – accounting for 98% of the trees removed. Both departments spent a total of $65,000 for removals, and $105,00 for plantings. Lauer would like the allocation for tree planting increased for 2025.
At the last council meeting Councillor Fallis gave notice he was introducing a motion to reconsider council’s March 2023 decision concerning the Orillia Rowing Club plan to build a boat/clubhouse in Kitchener Park.
Since council’s original motion, the club learned of an estimated $140,000 of additional costs for studies, fees and permits the City would require.
“When this initial motion was brought forward, the Orillia Rowing Club had not been made aware that a variety of studies and reports would be required toundertake this capital project. The group thought that they would have theresources available to pursue the project without support from the city.
Once learning of these additional costs, it was determined that the Orillia Rowing Club’s original intention of undertaking the project at ‘no cost to the city’ would not be feasible,” Fallis said in his report.
If Fallis gets 6 voters in favour of reconsideration he will introduce e a motion to strike the ‘at no cost,’ paragraph and replace it with:
“AND THAT the Orillia Rowing Club receive a one-time grant allocation of $75,000 to be provided through internal transfer(s) to offset some of the costs of building the proposed clubhouse/boathouse facility in Kitchener Park with funding appropriated from the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve.”
Essentially this is revenue neutral on the City’s part. They aren’t really spending the money, just not charging for fees and permits. If the project does not go ahead, the City gets no money anyway.
Councillors Fallis and Jeff Czetwerzuk have an enquiry motion for staff to report on long term solutions “for traffic calming, pedestrian use, and speed compliance along University Avenue between Stone Ridge Boulevard and Vanessa Drive,” for inclusion in future budgets. They also want a report about installing speed indicator signs.
Council meetings are open to the public or can be watched on the City’s Youtube channel.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)