| May 12, 2005


Feature article,May 12, 2005

Feature article May 12, 2005

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A profitable opportunity -- or an unplanned future?

by Gray Merriam

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will add about four million people to its population by 2025. Ottawa and Kingston also will increase.

These added people will spill out into our area to find recreational properties. At the same time as the urban populations are increasing, more older job-holders will retire and many will seek retirement homes either at their cottage or elsewhere in the Land o Lakes.

This is a business opportunity for our lake-rich municipalities. We are in a region of unmeasurable natural wealth. Catering to the recreational needs and the retirement needs of urbanites is a legitimate and preferred business opportunity. We have the resource that they need and they have the money that we need. Retirees moving into our communities and bringing their life savings with them is the foundation for a legitimate business with a long-term cash flow into our municipal treasuries. Taxes!

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What is the risk? The obvious risk is that we could reduce the desirability of our lake environments by putting inappropriately planned developments around them. The lake-rich, highly desired environment that we live in is not a resource to be used up. It is equivalent to the capital structure and production facilities of an industry. It is infrastructure. Any smart business manager would make sure that the infrastructure of the business was used in ways that made the most profit for the business over the mid- to long-term. Certainly it would be bad business to let the infrastructure or production facilities be used in ways that will lead to lower capacity for continued production.

Our lake-rich environment is our production facility. Our plant. We need to make sure that we use that facility so that our business will continue to produce over the mid- to long-term. We need to ensure that cottagers and retirees continue to find this area attractive enough that they will continue to bring their earnings and their life savings and put them into our tax coffers while also supporting local small business. That does not mean just increasing the number of severed lots or increasing the annual value of building permits. Instead it means using our high value facility in ways that will protect its high value into the future. Guarantee the continuing high flow of tax dollars, not just a short-term blip in building permits.

Are we doing what is needed to stay in this business? Are we prepared to ensure that our facilities our lake lands and rivers will continue to be attractive as the wave of people from the GTA flood into the Land o Lakes? No, we are not ready. It is not clear that we are even thinking about it. The planning for how to maintain the quality of our high value sites along lake and river shorelines is barely started; and the municipalities seem either uninterested or uninformed. Certainly it is not a high municipal priority.

Provincial agencies are unable to do local planning and are also unable, due to budget cuts, to even monitor existing conditions. To defer to their mandated responsibilities is simply to ignore the reality. Conservation Authorities and the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment all need the help of partners to even partially fulfill their mandates. The municipalities and volunteer citizens groups must partner with the cash-strapped agencies. There is a difference between legislated responsibility and capability. Municipalities cannot ignore that. They must cooperate with all who can help in the planning that is vital and is needed ASAP.

Do municipalities recognize that the flow of life savings brought here by retirees is their business opportunity? Lets face it; our tax base is not going to be swelled by heavy industry, or even light industry, flooding into this region. We would be unwise to encourage or allow any development industrial or residential that will bring costs that exceed the tax increment or that reduce the value of the landscape infrastructure. The lessons are everywhere: dense developments that demand services in excess of their tax contributions; industries that bring unpredictable and unavoidable costs both environmental and in real dollars; plastic factories that burn; paper and steel mills that must be cleaned up later.

Many municipalities are trying to get a clean, dependable base for their economy. We have the basis for such a business. But we are not planning our business into the future. Without definitive and sensitive planning, we risk allowing our valuable infrastructure to be degraded by poorly planned use that can make the Land o Lakes less than desirable.

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