… Part 2
In our last blog, Tracey Morrow and I discussed the fun aspects of our conversation with Guelph Eramosa Township (GET) Mayor Chris White such as parks, retail developments, Rockwood Conservation Area and childcare. This edition will focus on housing and what affects residents’ pocketbooks, such as taxes, water bills and garbage.
Set side by side, residents of GET pay some of the highest taxes in the area. But in comparison to the surrounding rural areas, we are comparable. We wanted to get some insight as to why this is and the mayor gave us some pretty good answers. Mayor White explained “there are about 5000 households, 13,000 population paying taxes. With 34 bridges, 220 km of road divided by 5000 paying taxes, the rates aren’t bad. And keep in mind that taxes are shared with education and county. It is a bit of a premium residents pay for these services because we are rural and the numbers are smaller. It’s just straight math.” Mayor White stressed that he has kept taxes in line with inflation so that tax increases are done in small increments, as opposed to cities who keep them low and then have to have large increases to help pay for infrastructure updates. “Because 90% of GET is considered rural and we are spread out over a large area with a small population, taxes have to be higher to pay for everything. GET still has many dirt roads and it is estimated that to fully pave and service all roads would come at a price tag of 35-40 million dollars,” says White. Basically, if you want to live away from the congested urban areas, you have a higher tax rate because of the smaller population.
We also discussed the cost of water. Many rural residents, like myself, have their own well and don’t get a bill (we pay big $ when we have to fix or put in a well) but Tracey and the 1,680 residences that are on the water system may feel it’s high when they see their charge. Again, the Mayor stressed that when we compare ourselves to large urban cities, we may seem high, but when compared to our surrounding rural municipalities, we fall somewhere in the middle. Mayor White stated that “water is not billed for profit. Not only do we have to cover the cost of the water itself, but we also have to have a 25-year plan to replace all of the infrastructures. Ever since the water crisis in Walkerton in 2000, it has been mandated to ensure water needs are taken care of. So life cycle costing comes into place. There are 1900 houses on water divided by this cost and unfortunately, it can seem expensive, especially in comparison to larger cities with a higher population to share the cost.”
We also chatted a bit about Solid Waste collection. This is managed at a county level. They are constantly reviewing their services throughout the seven municipalities. Currently, a “fee for use” system is in-place where residents buy special garbage bags. The idea is that the fee may help to reduce the amount of solid waste that is produced. If you would like more information you can contact the Chair of Solid Waste Committee (Don McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org). Mayor White also let us know that the county will be looking at urban organics pick-up in the next term.
Housing and Growth
There is some capacity left to build in Rockwood, but not much. Currently, a development of 214 houses is being built in the north end called Rockwell Estates. Aside from that, there may be some opportunity for infill, but essentially there is no more room to grow. And while affordable housing is a hot topic issue right now, this won’t be coming to Rockwood. “Affordable housing is driven by the province and managed by the county. There is affordable housing and there is social housing. Social housing goes where there is easy access to shopping, transportation and jobs” says Mayor White. Due to geography, Rockwood does not fit the bill to have social housing. And because housing in Rockwood is market driven, large single-family homes are what is desired here and builders build what people demand.
Another reason we can’t grow is sewage capacity. We have access to lots of water but have hit our max for handling sewage. While rural residences are on septic, those in Rockwood are on a system that goes to Guelph. “The biggest issue for growth is sewage capacity. Our sewage goes to Guelph through a gravity fed sewage system. Guelph’s going to top out at approx 190,000 people unless they get a pipeline from the lake. They have capacity issues as well. They don’t want to give us any more sewage capacity and why would they? They need to meet their own numbers. The only way to get around this is to build a $30 million sewage plant. Based on where we sit today, that will not be happening,” said Mayor White.
Farmland and Severances
GET is mainly surrounded by Prime farmland. Prime land is considered finite, scarce and non-renewable. The 2014 Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act requires municipalities to identify prime agricultural land so that they can be protected for long-term agricultural use. Mayor White explained “the old days of severing a lot for retirement, children or profit are gone. All you can do today is sever the house because it’s not integral to the farm but this farmland will then have a caveat on it saying you can never build a house. Its frozen as farmland. If you look at Rockwood, we are surrounded by prime farmland, we also have a frozen border because of Places to Grow legislation, and thirdly there is a good chance the area will become part of the Greenbelt.” After the approved developments are complete, there won’t be any new builds in the future. That, of course, excludes infill in existing residential lands, such as tearing down a house and building a duplex.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Mayor White and discuss these topics. As residents, we are just as curious as anyone about the workings and plans of our local government and why decisions are made. You can contact GET directly if you need further information by visiting their website www.get.on.ca. If you want to discuss moving and living in GET Tracey and I are here to help!