Lisa Gervais: Councils must appear to be fair
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | February 2, 2017
Our front and page three stories in today’s Highlander show how local councils can expose themselves to complaints of favouritsm.
The first is about how a local business, Living Libations, has been able to run its operation on Calico Road, just outside of Haliburton, despite the property being zoned residential and not commercial.
The second is about how some in Minden Hills believe some contractors are getting favourable treatment, after council last week changed the way they charge for compactor bin loads.
Let’s look at the first issue.
Calico Road resident Bruce Macleod had had enough when he called The Highlander last week. He expressed his and other residents’ frustration with the ongoing situation: why were an auto shop and concert venue forced to close while Living Libations continues to operate on their residential street? We were sent pictures of large trucks driving up and down the road.
Macleod said residents were not anti-business, not even anti-Living Libations, but how could Dysart council allow a business to operate in a residential area for four years?
We put the question to Reeve Murray Fearrey and were a little surprised when he said he wasn’t aware they’d been there for four years. The reeve confirmed they are violating existing bylaws, adding that Living Libations is moving to Harburn Road; the town is just giving them time to move.
You don’t have to be anti-business to see something is wrong here. The fact two businesses got kicked out while one has been allowed to remain appears unfair on its face, and sends a message that some businesses in this county can get preferential treatment. It also sends the message that zoning bylaws can be broken without consequences.
We understand why council is doing it: they want to help a business that supports 25 jobs locally. But at what cost to public confidence?
Over in Minden Hills, there is grumbling that contractors got a break when council approved a new flat rate for contaminated loads of $35 per cubic yard. It used to be $50 under the bylaw, making the reduction appear to some as if the township and its ratepayers are subsidizing some contractors to the tune of $15 per load.
Former Minden Hills Councillor Brigitte Gall spoke out about that decision in our page 3 story.
She told us she takes exception to the resolution to subsidize commercial haulers.
Councils must not only be fair to all parties when it comes to creating and enforcing their bylaws, but appear to be fair to all as well.
On Calico Road, Dysart needs to engage local residents and communicate why the current situation exists and how long they expect it to last.
In Minden Hills, council might have another look at its recent decision to alter commercial tipping fees.
We can hardly fault either Living Libations or Minden Hills contractors if they are indeed getting a break. But we’re all equal under the law. Predictability and consistency in the rules are factors important to businesses anywhere. When councils selectively enforce bylaws or offer sweetheart deals, whatever good intentions they may have, public faith in the system is undermined. That’s not an environment likely to attract and retain the businesses we all need to support our economy.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.