A productive term for councils

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It’s been a wild, four-year ride for Haliburton County’s current crop of elected officials. With this term coming to an end, I looked at some of the key decisions that have been made across the four lower-tier townships and at the County level. 

I was surprised by how much has been accomplished, especially when you factor in the pandemic and all the implications that had on municipal operations. 

Still fresh in people’s minds, the new shoreline preservation bylaw adopted by County council in August was years in the making. 

The process began during the previous term, and while discussions were delayed during the early stages of the pandemic, council was largely united in ensuring legislation protecting lands abutting our 600-plus lakes was pushed through. The final document isn’t perfect but will serve as a benchmark for future councils to improve on moving forward. 

They’re also starting to ask questions about short-term rentals, a long-term problem in the Highlands. It will be interesting to see where things land; it’s expected a new bylaw regulating their use will come forward next term. The County also made moves to protect the natural environment, adopting a new climate change action plan and hiring someone to look after the file full-time. 

Progress has been slow in Minden Hills, though the township did celebrate the unveiling of the new S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena. Staffing issues have plagued the municipality for years, though under new CAO Trisha McKibbin, things seem to be turning around. While there was excitement in 2020 following the announcement of a new $6.8 million affordable housing development on Hwy. 35, that project is still yet to break ground. Once completed, it will bring multiple new rental units to the community.

Development has been a key focus in Dysart et al. Council agreed to donate land on Wallings Road to local non-profit Places for People for the creation of a new affordable housing complex, while also approving a 21-unit build on the corner of Victoria Street and Maple Avenue in Haliburton village. 

The municipality also voiced its support for a proposed 88-unit development on Peninsula Road, overlooking Grass Lake. 

There was a heartwarming moment this term, too – following excellent work from a group of students from J.D. Hodgson Elementary School, council agreed to immortalize athletes Taly Williams and Lesley Tashlin with murals on the community’s sports wall of fame. The siblings lived in Haliburton in the 1980s and attended HHSS. Algonquin Highlands was able to maintain its zero-debt policy even throughout the pandemic, which is to be commended. 

The municipality also completed its septic reinspection program and agreed to draft a new bylaw allowing green burials at St. Stephen’s Cemetery. Work on that file is still ongoing. In Highlands East, a big community win has been the redevelopment of Herlihey Park. Council also resisted calls to centralize its library and fire services into one location, which, for a community of its size, is probably a shrewd decision. 

No council ever accomplishes everything it sets out to, but I think each one brought about reasonable improvements to their community over the past four years. There’s still much to be done, and the region’s next councils will have their work cut out for them finding solutions to long-standing problems surrounding housing, transportation and labour. We’ll be watching.