| Jul 21, 2005


Feature article, July 21, 2005

Feature article July 21, 2005

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The new face of Cottage Associationsby Jeff Green

New style cottage road:For those familiar with single-lane glorified cart tracks into their cottages, this new road into theBadour Estates waterfront development on Bobs andCrow Lake might not look like a cottage road. It will be paved next year.

Once upon a time cottage associations were mainly recreational bodies, devoted to running annual regattas, fishing derbies and the like. A change took place about 20 years ago when gypsy moths became a concern and cottage associations became active in informing their members of what was going on.

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In recent years two fundamental changes have taken place that have brought on new roles. With concerns over water quality, the invasive species in the lakes, and the state of shorelines, some cottage associations have become environmental watchdogs, developing stewardship capacity. In some cases, lake plans are being put together, a slow and involved process, and one that requires cooperation with conservation authorities. Conservations authorities love this; it provides them with data that would be extremely expensive to gather otherwise.

For property owners on these lakes, lake studies, lake plans, and stewardship initiatives are invaluable in protecting their beloved properties. Probably the best example of these kinds of initiatives in our region has been the Greater Bobs and Crow Lake Association. They are well into their lake plan process, produce a newsletter that is extremely informative about watershed issues, and this year will be combining their Annual General Meeting with displays about many topics of interest to waterfront dwellers and others.

At the same time, cottage associations are becoming waterfront property owners associations. As lots start to sell for over $100,000, and homes on lots start hitting the $500,000 mark, two related things happen. One thing that happens is that properties become major assets for the people who own them, and concerns about environmental issues are also concerns about protecting investments. If cottagers cant swim in the water or eat the fish from the lake, those property values are sure to drop.

The other thing that has happened is that property taxes, which are based on property values, are going through the roof. In the past couple of years associations such as the Sharbot Lake Property Owners Association in Central Frontenac, and the Mazinaw and Gull Lake Associations in North Frontenac, have started to look at municipal budgets, the workings of MMPAC (the agency that determines property values) and, increasingly, at provincial downloading of costs to the municipal level. At the recent public meeting concerning the North Frontenac budget, three of the five members of the public who attended were members of the Mazinaw Property Owners Association. The Sharbot Lake Property Owners Association formed a tax committee two years ago, and since that time has been studying various proposals, and communicating with other associations, specifically in the Muskokas, where million dollar properties are not uncommon, that would radically alter the way rural properties are taxed.

As Rem Westland, newly elected President of the Sharbot Lake Property Owners Association put it last week, It goes against the grain for us to be downplaying the value of our properties because we are afraid of MPAC. We are used to showing off to people, not saying, this property isnt worth very much.

Generally, the new interest in municipal and provincial affairs among cottagers has led to a better relationship between municipal councils and cottage associations. Both Central and North Frontenac councils have made overtures to the associations in the last two years, and these have been well received. I think its fair to say that relations, which were downright frosty a couple of years ago, have improved considerably.

The councils and the associations seem to understand their respective roles in moving politics forward, and they know that there is nothing inherent in their makeup that should lead them into dispute.

However, as noted earlier, next year assessments could increase, and the 30 or 40 per cent annual increases in property taxes on waterfront properties that were the norm in the 2001 2004 will be returning in 2006. Even if municipal councils are extremely careful in their budgeting, if a propertys assessment rises $150,000, it will translate into $2,000 more in municipal taxes.

Those kinds of increases will be a real test of the newly developed good will that has developed between cottage associations and municipal councils.

(Note: a meeting between cottage associations in Central Frontenac Council on the issue of taxation has been tentatively scheduled for September 3. Look for details in August)

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