By Kirk Winter

Trent Lakes Mayor Janet Clarkson is very happy with the direction in which the Municipality is heading on many key issues, some of which dominated last fall’s election. She believes that progress is being made on the road depot building issue, garbage bag limits and landfill protocol/customer service, the expansion and improvement to broadband and cell phone service and the formation of a Citizens Advisory Committee to assist Council in identifying issues and potential solutions. Clarkson also shared her views on roads, housing, policing costs and potential action to be taken on the Airbnb issue.

The possibility of only one roads depot building, likely between Buckhorn and Bobcaygeon, angered most of the township residents. Many feared that road service would decline precipitously and that dangerous driving conditions would become more commonplace. Clarkson said “the idea of the one depot has now been put to rest, and that plans are moving forward to repair and refurbish the Galway Depot.” Clarkson said “the refurbishment of the Depot should be completed by next fall.” The Mayor wants senior staff to meet with the Roads staff to discuss needs before refurbishment begins. This she says is so the improved facility is neither too large nor too small. Clarkson said that “Galway residents complained this winter about the level of service they received from plows coming from the other depots, some as far as 45 minutes away.” Clarkson said there is no plan for demolition of the Galway Depot, as some suggested during the election campaign. She says that next winter the Galway Depot will hopefully be fully refurbished and being used as a full-time Public Works facility.

On the issue of garbage, Clarkson said that nothing has really changed regarding the one-bag-a-week at area transfer stations. Clarkson said that talks are still ongoing with the County that provides a 104-bag limit per year, so the Mayor is “hopeful some kind of compromise can be reached before the summer residents return.” The Municipality has approved the hiring of a full-time supervisor to assist summer weekend staff at the transfer stations beginning this tourism season. Clarkson stresses “that customer service at the transfer stations has to improve, and that discretion needs to be exercised by staff when long-time residents arrive with a load but have forgotten their dump card.” Clarkson shared that too many cottagers are simply taking their garbage home at the end of their stay, and that is unacceptable. Clarkson is hopeful a new policy will be in forthcoming sooner than later.

Clarkson is very hopeful that work on broadband and cell phone expansion will begin this spring. Trent Lakes is expecting announcements in late April from both the provincial and federal governments about money available for this long overdue expansion. Clarkson said “this has become the number one item that potential new residents ask about before they consider buying in Trent Lakes.” Once upon a time access to the medical centre and the availability of the public school were selling points, but no longer. High-speed internet access has now become a necessity. Clarkson said that “parts of the Municipality have world-class fibre optic access, but fibre optics do not go down the side roads.” Clarkson shared a story of a filmmaker who moved to the area after being assured by his realtor that high-speed was available where he was looking to buy. Unfortunately, after the purchase was made, he discovered that fibre optics did not service his new home, complicating his livelihood considerably. That individual is now looking at leaving Trent Lakes because of his inability to work from home.

There is also talk long-term of putting more satellites up to cover the “dead zones” that exist all over rural Canada, as that is more cost efficient than laying line or building towers for a mere handful of users. The Mayor also said “that this expansion needs to be closely coordinated with the County so that services are not duplicated.”

Clarkson is very excited about the possibility of the formation of a Citizens Advisory Committee this June. The Mayor “would like to see approximately 60 local residents, representing all walks of life, to become involved in moderated round table discussions. The information collected at these meetings could be used to help write the Municipality Official Plan.” Clarkson believes that the best kinds of decisions are made with community input and she hopes that this group being formed is the start of that process.

On the issue of roads, Clarkson is quite concerned, fearing that after the harsh winter and spring thaw, the roads situation could become a real problem. Road responsibilities in Trent Lakes are split between Peterborough County and the Municipality. Clarkson says “local crews have already been out trying to fill pot holes and repair road shoulders damaged by plowing and runoff.” The more significant roads in Trent Lakes are the responsibility of Peterborough County “and currently the County road budget is $52 million in debt.” Clarkson shared that “there are important roads that have been on the County repair list for more than a decade, and may spend another decade waiting for any kind of significant attention.” The Mayor expects the County will take a “massive hit” this spring when they finally realize how much work needs to be done.

Mayor Clarkson has been asked to sit on a County housing and homeless committee. Clarkson wants to see “before a report is brought forward that people directly involved in the housing and homeless crisis are directly consulted.” Clarkson feels that without polling those “who actually live the life”, the report will ring hollow. Clarkson hopes that within six month the County will likely have a far better handle on what this issue truly is and what Peterborough County can do to alleviate this situation.

Policing costs in Trent Lakes were also a much discussed subject during the fall election campaign, and Clarkson says that the conversations with the Province are continuing. Since Christmas, Clarkson and Deputy Mayor Windover have met with MPP Dave Smith and the Deputy Minister responsible for the Attorney General’s portfolio. While Smith has been helpful, the meeting with the Deputy Minister bore no fruit for Trent Lakes on the issue of skyrocketing OPP costs. She said the Deputy Minister “was well briefed but not forthcoming with a solution on the issue of seasonal trailer owners in Trent Lakes being counted as full time residents for the purposes of billing.” Clarkson said Trent Lakes is billed like they are full time residents, yet they are taxed as seasonal residents only. Clarkson is hoping that another meeting later this month might push this issue forward. The Mayor is frustrated that decisions “made by MPAC and the Attorney General’s office create a billing situation that is difficult to fathom for Trent Lakes, and even more difficult to overturn.”

Clarkson says another issue being looked at before the cottagers return is what Trent Lakes is going to do about short-term rentals. The Mayor says their plan needs to be “simple and have teeth.” First, the Township needs to have a strong noise by-law in place. Second, the Health Department “needs to be brought onside to shut down those Airbnb establishments that are being rented to more people than the property’s septic bed or holding tank has capacity for.” There needs to be a person or people hired to enforce these by-laws, and “this new staff needs to be available on weekends to deal with the bulk of the complaints that occur between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.” Clarkson said “that there are many older and established cottagers in the Trent Lakes area who are threatening to sell their properties if nothing is done” to return peace and quiet to their lakes sooner than later. Clarkson hopes with the cooperation of neighbouring townships that more effective enforcement can begin this tourist season.