County Council News

By Cecilia Nasmith

County agrees to financing for OAFVC purchase

The Ontario Agri Food Venture Centre in Colborne is a showplace for commercial agricultural ventures.

As of Aug. 23, Northumberland County has purchased the building that houses it from its owner. Financing arrangements were finalized at county council's September meeting.

The motion approved $1,776,375 from the Corporate General Reserve, with the Ontario Agri Food Venture Centre repaying that amount over a 20-year period with interest set at 3.47%. This will mean an annual payment of $111,748.

The building was owned by Real Flex Business Parks, with more than two-thirds of its floor space occupied by the centre. The original asking price was $1.8-million to $2-million.

There is the potential of an annual income of $31,025 from the unoccupied space, and the avoidance of $93,700 in rental for that space occupied by the centre.

“The facility will be classified as a corporate building with all associated costs, rental and solar-panel leaseback revenues attributed back to the OAFVC through an internal chargeback,” said the report prepared by director of economic development and tourism Dan Borowec.

“The combination of repaying the purchase cost back to the reserve with interest attributed based on current rates along with building costs, and associated revenues will result in capturing all operational/capital costs and revenues similar to if the OAFVC opertation was a stand-alone facility.”

“This is a model we have followed before on other capital projects in the past,” chief administrative officer Jennifer Moore said.

Moore described it as an internal type of transaction consistent with other examples of major capital projects. As a result, she added, funds previously paid as rent can be reallocated.

“The business case was developed when the sale opportunity arose. We had the opportunity to buy this, and we were aware of the owner's wish to sell. We found it would be cost-effective for us to own the building.”

County and Alderville join forces to bid on 2019 games

At its September meeting, Northumberland County council voted approval on working with Alderville First Nation to submit a bid to host the 2019 Ontario Indigenous Summer Games.

The event will welcome young Indigenous athletes from across the province to compete in four days of sport and culture, according to the report by director of economic development and tourism and director of communications Kate Campbell.

And such an event supports the county's strategic-plan pillar of fostering a thriving and inclusive community.

The report estimates attendance of 300 to 500, and lists such events as 3D archery, athletics, badminton, canoe and kayak, rifle shooting, golf, softball, swimming and wrestling.

The total cost is estimated at $250,000, it said. The provincial government provides about $100,000 to the host community, and a registration fee of $125 per athlete will further defray costs.

Bid submissions are due to the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario by Sept. 28, and an official announcement on the venue will be made in November.

EOWC hopes for progress on connectivity

Northumberland County chief administrative officer Jennifer Moore offered a verbal update of the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus meeting in September.

The number-one priority focus for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network for some time has been cellular-network improvement, Moore said.

Premier Doug Ford has said the province will contribute $71-million over three years to this vital initiative, and they are also working on getting Federal support.

“They need to finalize that commitment from the province, and get a firm commitment from the Federal government as well,” she said.

The group also discussed concerns with offload delays of ambulances arriving at hospitals that create the so-called Hallway Medicine that was an issue in the recent provincial election.

The issue has further ramifications, Moore pointed out, with delays to the patients' treatment and diagnosis, not to mention the risk to the community when ambulances are tied up in offloading situations and therefore unavailable for emergencies.

“They also expressed a desire to see changes in terms of long-term care, because that certainly has a direct link to the offloading issue,” she added. She expressed hope that recent boosts to provincial funding for long-term care might even alleviate the ALC problem so many hospitals struggle with – being mandated to provide an expensive alternative level of care in cases where a patient no longer requires acute care but cannot be discharged to a setting in which a certain alternative level of care can be provided (such as a long-term care facility).

Cramahe Township Mayor Marc Coombs expressed his relief that progress seems to be coming on the connectivity issue.

“I am hearing all the time in the rural area about lack of internet service,” Coombs said.

“We have people moving from Durham Region where they have received high-speed internet, which they cannot get when they move here.”

Warden Mark Lovshin expressed tentative hope that more progress might be made with a Federal election on the horizon.

County hears progress on affordable housing strategy

Better housing for all is the eventual goal of the Northumberland Affordable Housing Strategy.

At its September meeting, county council got a look at how far along that road they might have come from Christine Pacini of SHS Consulting.

Their primary goal, Pacini explained, was to develop affordable housing strategies for the county, as well as its member municipalities, with a focus on developing a range of tools and incentives. Their research to date has uncovered a number of housing gaps.

A key one is the lack of affordable rental options for low-income households. Their most recent research indicates that 22.2% of Northumberland households spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs – 30% being the ceiling of the definition of affordable housing.

Pacini termed “shocking” the news that 8.7% of households spend at least half their income on this item. Though the figures are higher for Ontario as a whole (27% and 11.4% respectively), it's still cause for concern.

If a household does not have access to adequate housing, suitable housing and/or affordable housing, she said, it is deemed to be in core need. In Northumberland, 11.9% of households meet one or more of these criteria (usually affordability, Pacini noted).

She also pointed out that between 2006 and 2016, the county's centralized waiting list of households in line for affordable housing grew by 220% to 736 households

Another gap is a shortage of accessible and supportive housing, an important consideration in a county where 13.6% of households include someone with a physical disability (compared to the Ontario statistic of 11.4%).

While there are 318 supportive-housing units, at least 1,200 households are on the waiting list.

Lack of purpose-built rental housing is another gap she said – a term for housing specifically built to be a rental unit, as opposed to (for example) a conversion for a basement apartment.

A vacancy rate of 3% is considered a sign of a balanced market, Pacini said, but the county's vacancy rate has been below that since 2010. Right now it sits at 1.2%, and the results are far-reaching. For example, employers may find themselves unable to attract good employees to the community, and it is more difficult for young people to move out of their family homes. As well, since 1.6% of home owners are spending 50% or more on their housing costs, these people might prefer an option to rent.

And as a community where 79.4% of Northumberland's dwellings are single detached homes (compared to 54.3% across Ontario), it must work toward a wider diversity of supply to serve young people, seniors and smaller households of no more than two people.

Northumberland's average monthly market rate of $1,019 for rental, as well as its average $316,190 price for ownership, are not accessible to low-income households, Pacini stated.

She outlined a broad range of actions that will be examined in addressing the gap, including programs and funding, education and awareness, collaborations and partnerships, as well as the Official Plan and zoning by-law policies and regulations now in place.

“The framework is dependent on collaborative relationships,” Pacini said.

“This issue cannot be solved by the county on its own, or even by the member municipalities.”

“Truthfully, I think it has been understated, simply because of the number of people I get calls from saying the low vacancy rate has driven the market rates up,” Cobourg Mayor Gil Brocanier ventured.

“It may be even more unaffordable than it was several months ago.”

County gets behind child-abuse prevention

At its September meeting, county council proclaimed October as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Northumberland County,

The move followed a presentation by two Highland Shores Children's Aid Society representatives, volunteer co-ordinator Melanie Morris and children's foundation executive co-ordinator Lisa Parker.

“We cannot stress enough that it takes a comunity to care for kids,” commented Morris, whose agency covers Hastings and Prince Edward counties as well as Northumberland.

Last year, they assessed 1,358 families as a result of concerns about their children. Of that number, 637 were provided with on-going services and support.

These families often struggle with issues that can make parenting more difficult than it already is, Morris said, such as mental-health problems, addictions, social isolation, trauma and extreme financial stress.

There are 38,000 children aged 15 or under in the Highland Shores area, and about 5.7% of them come to the agency's attention. Within that populaton, she said, fewer than 1% of them are placed in out-of-home care each year.

They have recruited a number of partners for October who will wear purple as a sign of support and awareness, including school boards, Ontario Early Years centres and emergency-services personnel.

Parker, whose organization is the charitable arm of Highland Shores, outlined a number of intiatives through which members of the public can also show their support (such as purple T-shirt and tie sales).

As well, their support is welcome at the different events that have been planned, including the Oct. 4 Grape Crush for the Kids event at Victoria Hall, the Oct. 14 trail ride in the Hoard's Station area (a BYOH – bring-your-own-horse - event), and special observances at local hockey games – Oct. 22 for the Cobourg Cougars and a tentative date of Oct. 14 for the Port Hope Panthers.

And on Oct. 24, it's Dress Purple Day. Parker invites everyone to dress in purple for the day and send photos to their Facebook page.

“We ask you to speak up for children, and use your voice to keep them safe and well cared-for,” she said.

She also announced that each county councillor would be receiving a purple tie. Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson asked how much the ties cost.

“The ties are a gift from us to you,” Parker insisted.

Sanderson replied that he'd be happy to donate $20 for his.

County declares Hunger Action Month

Working at a food bank affords a first-hand look at hunger in the community, Northumberland County council heard at its September meeting.

Following a report from food security services manager Rob O'Neil, councillors declard September Hunger Action Month

O'Neil noted that this is the first time they've supported an intiative this big. There was previously a Hunger Awarenes Week in 2017, he said, during which council recognized the county's 13 food banks for their efforts in helping alleviate food insecurity.

This year, they've prepared a comprehensive report that includes initiatives the county's Food 4 All warehouse and other food banks will be undertaking.

Statistics show that, in 2017, 6,534 individuals (of whom 33% were children) were served by county food banks – this includes Community Works in Bewdley, Alderville Community Food Bank, Hastings and Roseneath Ministerial Food Bank, 7 Hills Community Pantry, Prospect Church in Colborne, Brighton Fare Share, two food banks in Campbellford (Salvation Army and Fare Share), three in Port Hope (Salvation Army, Fare Share and Community Health Centre) and two in Cobourg (Salvation Army and Fare Share), in addition to Food 4 All.

In all, 275 volunteers worked 29,138 hours to distribute 1,400,740 lb. of food.

During the 2017-2018 school year, they helped 39 school nutrition programs feed more than 6,100 students. Each month, these programs provided 75,000 meals and snacks.

“Thank you for the information – it's both good and bad to see it,” Warden Mark Lovshin said.

The report included a 30 Ways In 30 Days calendar, offering 30 ways throughout September to attack hunger. Mac-and-cheese Monday (Sept. 3) suggests donating these boxed dinners, much as Tuna Tuesday (Sept. 11) suggests the donation of canned tuna or boxed tuna-helper mixes and Fresh Friday (Sept. 28) suggests donating ripe produce. Or, on Sept. 24, brown-bag it and donate what you would have spent on lunch to your local food bank. Perhaps, on Sept. 23, you might set an empty place at your table to remember those at risk of being hungry.

Council declares Hispanic Heritage Month

In recognition of Northumberland's Hispanic community, county council declared October Hispanic Heritage Month at its September meeting.

“Northumberland County is a community that thrives on diversity and 
inclusion,” Warden Mark Lovshin said.

“As Hispanic Heritage Month approaches, we recognize the contributions of our Hispanic community - and indeed our newcomer community as a whole - to sustaining and grow­ing a strong and vibrant Northumberland.”

Ontario is home to more than 400,000 first-, second- and third-generation Hispanic Canadians. This community is one of the fastest-growing in the province and, in Northumberland, Spanish is the second-most-spoken unofficial language.

Lovshin recognized the many members of the Northumberland Hispanic Cultural Club in the gallery, and invited a representative to the microphone to discuss their plans for celebrating and sharing their culture and their stories. These include an art show, a heritage exhibition and a film festival that spotlights issues of cultural interest. As well, Mucho Burrito, Home Plate and Craft House are setting aside a day to offer a special Hispanic menu (with Craft House also screening a film).

The club representative noted that this kind of celebration has the potential to bring tourism and commerce to the area.

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