Monthly Archives: July 2015

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks

Councillor Jim Bertram’s recent efforts to give rural communities in North Grenville a chance to voice their ideas and concerns in the form of a rural summit, should be recognized as a very important opportunity. During his campaign, councillor Bertram talked about bringing more transparency and better communication to council and also to give residents more of a voice in what happens in their municipality. Though other candidates talked about it as well, kudos to Jim for trying to deliver on what he spoke about in his campaign.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who live in different areas around North Grenville and they all think that the rural summit is a great idea. Most of these people also have ideas and concerns that they say are important and need to be heard. However, when asked if they’re going to speak about their ideas and concerns personally, the response almost always is a definite ‘no’. So I ask, how are you going to share your concerns and ideas if you won’t speak about them? The most popular response has been that they’ll email a member of council or municipal staff. To me, this doesn’t sound like the most effective way to have your voice heard.

I believe that in order to be most effective, you should try to gather other people together who share your concerns or support your ideas. Strength in numbers for an event like the rural summit would probably have the most impact. A large group of people working together co-operatively to bring forward ideas or concerns would help to send a clear message to council and the municipality.

One way to bring together a large group of people for this purpose would be to use an already existing group that’s already active in the rural communities. That group is your local community association. Burritts Rapids, Bishops Mills and Oxford Mills for example, already have strong community associations. These associations organize activities, cultural events and fundraisers (among other things) to enhance life in those communities for the local residents. What better way to continue to enhance life for those residents than by representing their ideas and concerns at the rural summit? Local community associations are usually well organized, democratic and have significant support from their communities. Community associations also have credibility because they are well established and some have been operating for decades.

The rural summit itself will be organized by municipal staff and it won’t be happening until next year, so people have some time to get together and prepare for it. It would be great to hear that a community association is having a meeting this fall and inviting all residents of their community to sit down together and discuss matters of mutual concern and possible solutions to those concerns. Collectively creating a short list of prioritized concerns with solutions, would go a long way to supporting their case for that list. Also, to hear rural residents discuss new ideas to help make our municipality overall a better place to live for all of us would be absolutely ideal.

Keep in mind, the rural summit won’t be as successful as it could be, if people just bring their concerns without bringing viable, practical solutions to those concerns. I’m sure no one wants to sit and listen to someone reading off their ‘whine list’. This is why the idea of having community associations representing the concerns and ideas of their residents could be so effective. If your community doesn’t currently have an association, what better reason than this to get organized, create one and work together for your community? Community associations do a lot of great work and here’s an opportunity to do even more. Knock, knock, knock……

A Fine Sunday Afternoon

A Fine Sunday Afternoon

With the recent talk about the municipality holding a rural summit in 2016 and a local food charter being considered at an upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting, it seems like a logical time to check in on the Kemptville Farmers’ Market and see how things are going in the B&H parking lot.

After talking with several vendors and local food lovers, it appears things are going quite well for the market this season. Just last week they had 48 vendors at the market which is the most they’ve ever had. It appears their goal of 50+ vendors this season is closer than originally thought. The great news about that is, the majority of summer produce is not even available yet. This season, the market would like to start applying for different resources that are available through Farmers’ Markets Ontario. FMO has many tools and information that could help the market not just grow, but operate more efficiently, do more effective marketing and improve in many other areas.

There’s a big variety of vendors at the market this season. Some of the returning prepared food vendors have expanded their offerings to include foods that are hot and ready to eat. For example, you’ve got several options for lunch now, so you can eat while you browse. There’s also four regular protein producers who come to the market with a variety of meats. Local Oxford Mills farmer Luke Swale of Earth’s Harvest Farms has chickens that are always in high demand by foodies. However, produce vendors drive farmers’ markets, so hopefully once the summer produce starts getting harvested, there will be a few more produce vendors like long time participant Rideau Pines Farm joining the market.

The market couldn’t happen each week without the efforts of dedicated volunteers. Rob Harsh is one of those volunteers. Rob is both a member of the farmers’ market executive and is also the market manager. He volunteers many hours each week communicating with vendors, doing social media, creating the site plan so the vendors know where to set up and physically setting up and taking down the tents, picnic tables, chairs, tables and other equipment that’s necessary so the market can happen every Sunday. He and his little band of setup volunteers are out there working rain or shine.

The music at the market this year has been excellent. There have been a wide variety of different music styles performed already this year including country, rock, folk, blues, roots and Celtic. Local favourites like Bella Borealis, Fiddlehead Soup and George Buys have already made appearances and will hopefully be returning to the market stage soon. Tia has done a great job of scheduling performers so far this season and hopefully will grace the stage soon again herself. Sitting on a picnic table in the shade, sipping on a citrus flavoured soda from ‘When Life Hands You Lemons’ and listening to George play one of his harmonicas is a great way to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon.

One To Remember

One To Remember

Canada Day in Oxford Mills this past week was one to remember. Despite the weather forecast and other last minute obstacles, the organizing committee would not be denied the opportunity to show off their village, Maplewood Park and the hospitality of the great people of Oxford Mills.

All week long the Canada Day weather forecast called for rain with thunderstorms. This didn’t deter organizers and volunteers for one second. The ‘rain or shine’ message rang out and people showed up en masse. The day had a couple of brief showers, but the weather overall was cool and very comfortable.

The guides & scouts started things off by leading everyone to the flag pole by the town hall for the traditional flag raising and singing of ‘Oh Canada’.

As with every Canada Day, the music didn’t disappoint. Fans of bluegrass music were in heaven with County Road 44 and Grenville Grass performing on the ‘North Grenville Business Builders’ stage. Local favourites Fiddlehead Soup were putting their best ‘folk’ foot forward and seemed to energize the crowd. K-Towne Trio and their music brought everyone some nostalgic moments and Gail & Jerry Osbourne kicked the day off right. Special thanks to the sound crew of Phil Morotti and Colin Gerhardt for keeping everyone sounding their best. Thanks also to the Kemptville Farmers’ Market for supplying the tent that kept our musicians both shaded and dry.

Throughout the day there were lots of activities to do and things to see. The English Teachers Federation of Ontario kindly sponsored the ‘Kids Zone’ with Marc Nadeau, Marc Meyer and volunteers keeping the kids busy with several games and even a monster school bus. There were also double the number of vendors compared to last year’s festivities where you could get, among other things: a hot dog, sausage or burger from the Lions Club, crepes from Eric L. of Dial-a-Chef fame and citrus flavoured sodas from Dave Melville. Both Dave and Eric generously donated $1 from each sale to the Oxford Mills Community Association. Inside Maplewood Hall, there was a silent auction with some great prizes (donated by local residents and businesses) which ended up raising over $600 for the community association.

The other entertainment that people look forward to on Canada Day in Oxford Mills is the traditional tug-of-war contests. There were three key contests throughout the day. The first one was between the scouts and the guides, which the guides won easily, thereby retaining bragging rights for a whole year over the scouts. The second was a male versus female battle which the girls/women team won easily. The third and final contest was the one that most people had been waiting for, the annual contest pitting the residents of Oxford Mills against the residents of Bishops Mills. The series between them was tied and this was one going to decide who the superior village was. Both teams filled up with competitors and eventually when everyone got settled, the starter signalled them to begin. It was clearly going to be a very tough match with everyone digging in and anticipating a long difficult. Things were getting very tense for the competitors and the people watching. Then suddenly with the crowd cheering wildly and everyone straining for every inch of ground……the rope broke! Everyone on both sides tumbled backwards like dominoes! After a few minutes of checking on the competitors, thankfully no one was seriously injured except for some painful bumps, bruises and sprains.

The Oxford Mills Community Association was thrilled with the event. They estimate that they were able to raise approximately $1100 to use in their campaign to buy Maplewood Hall from the muncipality of North Grenville. More community events like Canada Day could be possible with a great venue like Maplewood Hall in the hands of the community association, just like the community halls in Burritts Rapids and Bishops Mills.

Thank you to the organizing committee, the vendors, the volunteers, the sponsors and especially the 250 hardy folk who came to Oxford Mills to join in the Canada Day celebrations. All of you (and a rope), in one way or another, made this Canada Day one to remember!

A Plan For Old Town Kemptville

A Plan for Old Town Kemptville

The Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area held a special two-hour consultation session in a boardroom at the North Grenville Municipal Centre on Wednesday June 19th at 9:30am. The purpose of the session was to get input on the Old Town Kemptville BIA Business, Marketing and Programming Plan from those who were invited to attend. Eric McSweeney of McSweeney and Associates was the facilitator for the event. McSweeney and Associates was the principal consultant chosen by the BIA to create the plan. They have done a number of local projects including the plan for the Kemptville Centre for Rural Advancement for the municipality of North Grenville.

There were many ideas and wishes discussed by the participants. Part of the session was to discuss issues and ideas from the past that still seem to re-surface when it comes to discussions about the success and the future of Old Town Kemptville. For example, parking in Old Town Kemptville was brought forward as a concern on the part of local residents and business owners that the amount of parking downtown is inadequate. There is also concern that the location of parking, aside from Prescott Street, is still not convenient for people. A lack of proper signage directing people to secondary parking areas like Riverside Park was also mentioned.

Discussion also took place on how to make effective use the South Branch of the Rideau River (Kemptville Creek) as a way of driving traffic to Old Town Kemptville. Top of mind was the proposed Waterfront Trail that the municipality plans to get started on this year. The trail would start at County Road 43 and mostly run along the edge of the South Branch and end beside the water behind Salamanders restaurant. This trail would help to direct both foot and bicycle traffic down to Clothier and Prescott Streets. There was also discussion about attempting to increase canoe and kayak traffic, as well as beautifying the shoreline to make it more scenic and enticing. This will require discussions with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority who oversees the water and the shoreline.

One of the most interesting topics discussed was that of which type of businesses would be most beneficial to attract people to Old Town Kemptville. Rob Thompson made a point of saying that more restaurants are needed on Prescott Street. Rob said that since Clothier Street already has three options for restaurants, it would be wise to try and develop some on Prescott Street as well, in order to bring more people to that area. Without detracting from the restaurants already operating on Prescott Street, having a couple more restaurants might also help other businesses in Old Town Kemptville who could benefit from the walk-in traffic. In addition, it might help to encourage businesses to extend their hours, which is a concern of people who can’t make it downtown before 5:00pm during the week. Going to the Geronimo Coffee House for a cappuccino or dropping into Old Town Treats for an ice cream cone would be logical after dinner activities.

McSweeney and Associates has a very good reputation for producing quality work. Hopefully, this plan will give the current Old Town Kemptville BIA Board of Management the ideas and information it needs to work towards the revitalization of downtown and to continue the work of those that came before them.

The Future Of Community Grants

The Future Of Community Grants

In the municipal budget for 2015, there was a big property tax increase, but the money made available for community grants dropped significantly. This doesn’t really make sense, if you’ve got more money, logically, you should have more money to grant out. That was not the case this year.

There is a solution to this unfortunate situation and that is to create a pool of money that can be invested and then the interest that’s earned on that investment can be granted out without the principal amount ever getting touched. This type of investing and granting is called endowment funds or community funds.

The North Grenville Community Fund is a local community non-profit organization that is presently part of the Community Foundation Of Ottawa. The NGCF is trying to grow and raise money so that it could become a community foundation on its own. According to the national governing body ‘Community Foundations of Canada’ there are a fair number of conditions that need to be met before the NGCF could become its own stand alone foundation. Some of these conditions are: the foundation must be registered as a charity by Revenue Canada, it must have a business number that reflects its charitable status, it must be run by volunteers and it must conduct its grant making and charitable services in a well defined geographic area.

Anyone can start an endowment or community fund. If you set one up, you can also determine where or to whom the money gets granted to. For example, someone could set up an endowment fund that would generate grant money every year for a local theatre group. Or maybe a community organization wanted to set up an endowment fund to be able to grant out money each year in the form of a scholarship for a high school student to help them pay for college or university. Or if a group of parents wanted to set up an endowment fund so that the grant money each year paid for the operation and maintenance of a community splash pad, this might help to encourage the municipality to keep their promise of building a community splash pad. However, all endowment funds must reach a minimum of $5 000 within the first five years of creation before it can start granting money out. Of course, in the initial growth stages after reaching $5 000, the people looking after the endowment fund have the option of re-investing the interest earned to help it grow faster.

Imagine if the municipality started an endowment fund under the North Grenville Community Fund umbrella. If they invested $25 000 each year for 10 years in their endowment fund, they would have at least $250 000 at the end of that ten years. If this money were invested and returned an average interest rate of 7% after service fees, the fund would be able to grant out $17 500 each year without losing any of the $250 000 that was initially invested. Every year the municipality could grant out $17 500 to the local community organizations and charities of its choice without using tax money for community grants like they do now. And, they could even allow the volunteer board of the North Grenville Community Fund to decide who would get the money based on an approval process that would call for applications from interested community organizations. This way, a member of council could sit on the board of the community fund for oversight and there would be no additional cost to residents because no municipal staff would be required to be part of the decision making process unlike the municipality’s current process of deciding community grants. To go a step further, this endowment fund could also accept donations from both residents and the business community as well.

This sounds like a winning formula for the future of community grants to me. What do you think?

Unaffordable

Unaffordable

Over the last six months or so, there’s been a lot of discussion about the unaffordable price of electricity. There’s absolutely no arguing the impact of the high cost of electricity. Some politicians claim that the high cost of electricity in Ontario is forcing people from their homes and is causing businesses to move or close. For those who are forced by their landlords to heat their homes with electricity, this has been an especially difficult winter that seemed to last forever. There are still too many rental units in North Grenville that use electricity to heat. One person mentioned that their monthly hydro bill from February was over $300. Thankfully, most of us don’t have this problem, but still too many in North Grenville do. Something needs to be done about the cost of electricity. But something that these politicians never seem to mention is the lack of affordable housing (that’s a topic for another time), the rising costs of municipal water & sewer and the increasing cost of natural gas. Why don’t the politicians talk about these things? The reason is that they’re trying to score political points instead of having a real discussion about ALL of the reasons why running a business and keeping a home are now becoming unaffordable. For today, let’s look at both natural gas and municipal water & sewer for the home.

First off, let’s talk about our own bi-monthly municipal water & sewer bill. For those of you on wells and septic systems, you’ve got your own expenses in relation to these utilities but keep reading for amusement. The minimum bi-monthly charge for water & sewer service currently for a single dwelling unit in Kemptville is $113.06 which includes 5 cubic metres of water. If a home exceeds their bi-monthly allotment of five cubic metres, then they are charged an additional $3.04 per cubic metre. However, were you aware that not only is the minimum bi-monthly charge for water & sewer going up by approximately 5.2% each year over the next two years, but the charge for each cubic metre is also going up by approximately 4% each of those years as well? The previous council approved a by-law that will have increased the minimum bi-monthly charge for water & sewer a whopping 26% from October 2012 to October 2016. The charge for each additional cubic metre of water will also have gone up 20% over that same period. That’s right, the current mayor and two councillors saw no problem voting for this increase in their last term.

The other utility we need to consider is natural gas. Some residents that use natural gas to heat their homes have Enbridge as their natural gas supplier. In the coldest month of the winter, which was February, the average temperature was -16.8 which was a record low. When I looked at the natural gas bill for February, the gas supply rate was 18.316 cents per cubic metre compared to the rate for March which was 14.45 cents per cubic metre. So when we didn’t heat as much, the price dropped 27%. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. Here’s what the Ontario Energy Board has to say about rate changes for natural gas “Natural gas is a commodity that is traded on North American markets. Market prices fluctuate daily, rising and falling based on supply and demand (how much is available and how many people/businesses need it)”. This doesn’t seem to be the case because everyone needed it in February, but the price was still very high. As soon as demand went down in March, the price went down. Further, the Ontario Energy Board says this “Every three months, each utility asks the energy board to adjust its rates to cover the ‘future costs’ and ‘past costs’. Future costs means that “the utility estimates the market price for the next twelve months and this is to help calculate the rate to charge customers.” The past costs are “the difference between what was forecast to be paid the last time and what was actually paid.” Then the gas rate is adjusted up or down depending on whether the previous rate was too high or too low compared to the actual market price during that time. The problem is, you don’t get any money back from Enbridge for them overcharging you, instead, you just get a lower rate (for the warmer months) when you don’t use even close to the same amount.

So the next time a politician starts talking about the high cost of electricity, stop them and ask them what they’re also going to do about Enbridge who charged you 27% more for your natural gas this winter when you needed it most? Maybe also ask them what they’re going to do about the 26% increase to your municipal water & sewer rates? The basic necessities involved in keeping a home (and running a business) are becoming unaffordable for too many residents of North Grenville and I have feeling that those politicians don’t have an answer.