Since the onset of COVID-19, growth has become a recurring theme in Haliburton County.
As the 2021 Census has pointed out, we have about 14 per cent more people calling the Highlands home when compared to 2016.
For the most part, these are mature aged people. We know this because we are not seeing more students at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, but in fact, fewer.
These are people who are ending their careers and preparing by working from the cottage as they renovate it for four-season use. And, naturally, we are seeing new retirees.
No wonder our EMS department is seeing increased call volumes. The demographics are driving those numbers up. They’ve increased by close to 15 per cent in the first half of 2022, which has been deemed “significant” by the County’s EMS chief. April, usually a quiet month for the service, saw a 64 per cent jump in calls.
The County has hired a contractor to do a paramedic service master plan to help prepare for some of this growth, which is anticipated to continue into the future. It will also be used to assist fire departments.
What we are hearing is now that a Tory Hill station is being staffed 24/7, there is a need for similar coverage in the northwest of the County. Some say the best place for a bay would be in the area of the Frost Centre. The master plan will help the service identify future needs and begin brainstorming for them. Part of that planning is how to pay for it.
Another story in today’s Highlander speaks to growth. Traffic control signals are now needed along the busy County Road 21 corridor, where it bisects Industrial Park Road just outside of Haliburton village. People trying to access Industrial Park Road businesses or Haliburton School of Art + Design know what a nightmare that intersection can be.
It’s expected the signals will be put in for 2023. They’ll also extend the existing pathway from Industrial Park Road, west along the north side of the road, to the traffic signals at the Independent Grocer. While they have received a $200,00 grant for the work, the County will still be looking to spend $150,000.
Dysart et al mayor Andrea Roberts noted the intersection is already busy and will only get busier when the college builds its new student residences in a few years’ time. There is also talk of expanding the business park.
A third County story this week talks about a development charges study. Implementing these charges is a must for the Highlands as local government will need help paying for all of the infrastructure that accompanies the growth that we are seeing. It’s hoped the County’s four lower-tier municipalities can start collecting development charges next year.
Someone has to pay for extra ambulances, staff and buildings. Someone has to pay for new traffic lights and sidewalks. Someone has to pay if we need to expand water treatment plants. We can reasonably assume federal and provincial governments will stop handing out grants as they did during COVID. They’ve broken the bank and have to start finding ways to recoup costs. It can’t all come on the backs of taxpayers. It is time for County councillors to consider new ways to raise money and that includes development charges, more fines for bylaw infractions, and licencing short-term rentals as businesses.