This is the fifth in a 2018 series of commentaries from municipal politicians which allows them to tell you, in their own words, what is important to them, what bugs them and what makes them tick. Each week will feature a member of either the Huntsville or Lake of Bays Council. As we enter an election year, this is your opportunity to get a better picture of your elected politicians. This week: Lake of Bays councillor Shane Baker.
In Lake of Bays (LOB) we can be proud of several infrastructure projects being tackled that were long overdue. To name a few, they include a township office expansion, reconstruction of two Public Works facilities (one in 2018), new docks and public washrooms in Dwight and Baysville, and of course the Health Hub in Dorset. Along with these projects our roads are also being improved, particularly gravel roads that were in the past simply graded year after year. Our Economic Development Officer is a newer position, and the work accomplished in the role has been well received by the business community and has prepared us for future business expansion.
At the District Municipality of Muskoka (DMM), millions are spent annually on roads, sewer and water plants, affordable housing and solid waste management. Most Muskokans won’t ever be touched by our many Community Service programs. This of course includes the operation of long-term care at The Pines and possibly a future role in Fairvern. The Rosewarne landfill is another major infrastructure project that will handle solid waste at one site for the next twenty years, and hopefully much longer.
As elected officials, our main staff contacts are supervisors, commissioners, CAOs, treasurers etc. I can say staff have been just an excellent group of people to work with at LOB and DMM, and while some requests take time, others have literally been dealt with overnight. I feel we are very fortunate with the quality of staff groups that serve us.
Concerns for the future
As a member of the Muskoka Watershed Council, I have been made well aware that climate change is real and must not be ignored; every community in Muskoka has had to deal with the costly aftermath of flooding, windstorms and, in the future, possibly forest fires. We must commit resources to dealing with these new circumstances.
It’s no secret that sewer and water plants in Muskoka require a significant cost to keep them operating safely to provincial standards. One Huntsville sewage plant alone has a potential cost of $60 million, and this expansion is needed now. What disappoints me is that we have an asset management plan recommending charging more to the end users, but the DMM Council is unwilling to charge more. Therefore more debt is created, and debt repayment becomes a larger part of people’s sewer and water bills. One way to help reduce sewer and water costs is to add more connections to the system. There were plans to connect more people in Huntsville and Bracebridge recently, but the political will to do so was blocked by a majority of district councillors. In general, the same councillors who reject getting more people connected also reject increased billings.
OPP-cost sharing is a problem that is still unresolved. It has caused a rift between the Towns and Townships because we have clear evidence of the OPP costs by community, but these costs are shared across the levy instead of being paid by the municipality in which they are incurred. I look forward to the day one or two town councillors support the Townships in correcting this injustice.
Finally, I will comment on solid waste management, as I have for the past seven years. We talk a lot at the DMM about diverting garbage from our landfills to increase the lifetime of these sites. Currently we divert about 47 per cent of the garbage collected through recycling, but other municipalities are diverting as much as 60 per cent of their garbage. Everyone on council knows the problem is the 95 unmanned bins and depots we operate, where anyone from Muskoka, or outside Muskoka, can drop off unlimited amounts of garbage. Staff have been wanting to address this situation for years, but like sewer and water issues it is a majority of councillors who are blocking change.
In an election year I hope you will be asking your representatives where they stand of these issues. I think I’ll be retiring in December, but I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to be a member of the Lake of Bays and District of Muskoka councils.
To read more in this 2018 series of commentaries from municipal politicians, click here.
Shane Baker has been a seasonal visitor to Lake of Bays/Huntsville since 1963, and a full time resident for 28 years. Shane is married, with three adult children and two grandchildren. Prior to his political role he was founder of his own outdoor store in Waterloo, called Adventure Guide. Shane has been involved in Lake of Bays (LOB) politics since 2003, and has served as a District of Muskoka (DMM) Councillor since 2010.
“It’s important to know that in politics, individuals can have great ideas, but a majority of council must support those ideas for them to move forward. I’m pleased with what has been accomplished in LOB and at the DMM, but often the process can be slower than I was used to in directing my own company.” ~ Lake of Bays councillor Shane Baker
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.