By Chet Greason
St. Marys Town Council has effectively passed the proposed Development Charges recommended to them by the Watson and Associates consulting firm, with the noted observance that Council will revisit the fee hike for the development of lots in the town in 2015 following more up-to-date information regarding the wastewater treatment plant.
The decision was a roundabout one. The Watson and Associates proposal suggested rates for new residential building should climb from $2,600 to $5,000 in 2013, and eventually to $7,180 in 2015. This was based on a Master Servicing Plan from engineering consultancy firm Burnside which said that if the town were to expand at the rate they suggested it would, a second water tower and a wastewater treatment plant expansion would be required.
But some on Council, including Mayor Steve Grose and Councillor Stephen McCotter, had a problem with Burnside’s growth projections.
“I have a tremendous problem with the report,” said McCotter at a Special Council Meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4. The councillor noted St. Marys has only gained 30 new residents in the last year. Burnside, meanwhile, projects that the town will expand by 800 new residents per year.
“We’re not going to grow by that rate. I know that because I live here,” said McCotter. He also noted that elderly people passing away and young people moving would also affect growth rates.
Mayor Grose agreed. “When I was a kid in the ‘50s, St. Marys had 4,500 people. Now we’ve got around 6,500. That’s 2,000 people in 60 years…I don’t see how, in the next three years, we’re going to hit several hundred.” Grose added that, unless the town were to see a new major industry move to town, it was more likely the town would continue to grow by about 50-60 people per year.
However, growth projections aside, questions remained about the wastewater treatment plant’s long-term capacity. Dave Blake, the town’s Environmental Coordinator, said it was far too soon into their preliminary studies on infiltration in order to give an estimate, although some areas of infiltration had been discovered. IT Manager Jed Kelly, who’s been standing in as interim Senior Manager of Operations, clarified. “We don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes. There’s been nothing done on this since 2003.”
Councillors Lynn Hainer and Bill Osborne stated they were in favour of the hike due to revenue and debt issues, while Councillor Carey Pope was not, saying builders are easy targets. McCotter said he wouldn’t vote for the current proposed hike, but was willing to compromise, as were Grose and Councillor Don Van Galen. Councillor Tony Winter abstained due to conflict of interest.
“It’s yea or nay, folks,” said the mayor. “Someone needs to throw something out there.”
“I will,” offered McCotter. He pitched that the town take the difference between Watson and Associates’ most recent proposal and one made by the same firm a year ago — prior to the release of the Burnside report. This would result in an eventual phased-in Development Charge of $6,155 for detached single-family homes. McCotter further suggested that semi-detached and other smaller dwellings be hiked to $5,232 (85 per cent of the cost of a detached home). After an initial hike to $5,000 in March 2013, the final fee would be adopted in 2015.
However, this proposal was met by a split vote, with Pope, Osborne and Hainer voting against.
A new proposal was then drawn up. In it, Development Charges will go up to $5,000 in March, 2013, but Council will revisit the issue in June, 2014 before the final hike to $7,180 takes effect in January, 2015. “Hopefully, two years from now, Council will have better numbers (regarding wastewater management and growth),” explained Van Galen. “Then they can sit down and decide if the final number is justified.”
This bylaw was passed 4-2 in a recorded vote, with Pope and McCotter voting against and Winter abstaining.