Yet again council has sunk to new lows. While we were not surprised that all three off-site levy bylaws were approved as presented, the appalling process for the public hearing was beyond expectations.
The June 9th council meeting included five public hearings in addition to the combined hearing for the three off-site levy bylaws. In the other public hearings, every email received in place of in-person presentations was either displayed or read into the record by the Municipal Clerk. As Reeve Boehlke noted during one of the morning hearings, by doing this “they get officially on the record.”
In contrast, during the off-site levies public hearing, the one email received in support was displayed. However, the 18 emails received in opposition were neither displayed nor read into the record. Instead, council took a 20-minute break to read them privately while those watching the live-stream saw only an “on break” screen.
When council returned from their “reading” break, Reeve Boehlke commented that “there is a misconception that we’re giving something away.” Since the levies approved on June 9th will not collect as much revenue as their supporting calculations determined is necessary, it is hard not to reach that conclusion. However, the Reeve may be technically correct – they aren’t giving something away, they are just going to have to collect it from different people – all ratepayers rather than the landowners and developers who benefit from the infrastructure needed because of their activities. The Reeve was also offended by comments insinuating that the proposed levies indicate that “we [council] are too dumb or on the take”.
Councillor Wright responded by pointing out that council’s direction was to draft the bylaws with rates much lower than had been recommended by Administration and that Council “needs to wear that”. Councillor Hanson tried to address some of the shortfall in the Transportation Off-site Levy by proposing a somewhat higher urban base levy rate. Not surprisingly, this was soundly defeated with only Councillor Wright supporting his efforts.
Council’s decisions on June 9th indicate that there are risks to the revenue to be collected from even the inadequate levies. Until now, only council had the authority to waive or defer levies. The bylaws now delegate that authority to the Municipal Planning Commission. Council has frequently deferred the Transportation Off-site Levy on the “parent” parcel when a subdivision retained an existing house. The logic was that this exemption was coming as part of the now-passed TOL bylaw. That was questionable since it gave preference to people who “knew enough” to ask rather than to everyone who met the criteria. However, far worse was Council’s confirmation of an MPC recommendation to defer indefinitely 100% of both the Transportation and Stormwater levies on a property in Division 4 with no apparent reason other than the current owner is trying to be a good neighbour.
It is also clear that council is further targeting the Transportation Off-Site Levy. Deputy Reeve Schule made a motion to direct Administration to bring back a report on the TOL's special area levies by the end of October. While Schule’s motion was poorly worded, it was clear from the discussion that there is dissatisfaction with the County collecting special area levies to help pay for targeted provincial infrastructure that is needed because of specific large-scale developments.
To end on what is hopefully a brighter note, the final, long-delayed session for the judicial ruling on the sanctions imposed on Councillor Hanson, Kissel and Wright also took place on June 9th. With any luck, the judge will come down with his decision soon.
As you may recall, at the January judicial review hearing their lawyer asked to enter the official minutes documenting the disproportionately light sanction imposed on Councillor Gautreau for similar “offences” as late evidence. Both lawyers agreed to provide written submissions on this late evidence within a couple of weeks. Subsequently, the County’s lawyer successfully argued that she needed to make an oral submission. Due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, scheduling a session for verbal presentations became a drawn-out process.
To refresh peoples’ memories, Gautreau was found to have violated the code of conduct for participating in sharing the confidential document with the independent lawyer all four councillors had hired and for using defamatory language to attack a number of residents in multiple Facebook posts. His punishment was to give a simple verbal apology. Gautreau’s apology focused on his “bad judgement” in having associated with Hanson, Kissel and Wright and brushed away his use of defamatory language as merely being something worthy of a minor penalty in a hockey game. In contrast, in June 2019 when Councillor Kissel provided a heartfelt apology for using inappropriate language in what she thought was a private voice mail message to the Deputy Reeve, her apology made absolutely no difference to the sanctions imposed on her.