Council must invest in social capital, too

First published:
Jan 28, 2004

When Cobourg Councillor Gil Brocanier called for a halt on condominium projects until an impact study was completed, finally he was sounding a wake up call to all politicians in Northumberland County, possibly beyond.

The newest member of Cobourg council even went so far as to suggest a surcharge on this kind of development in the future.

The move came out of a request by Phoenix Genesis Investments Inc. owner John Lee who wants to convert Thomas Gillbard Public School on George Street into a 21-unit seniors condominium, with an extra 36 units in a new five-story addition.

It is too easy to dismiss Mr. Brocanier by arguing his motivation is simply to throw up roadblocks to Mr. Lee’s proposal after the bitter battle over the school.

Mr. Brocanier chaired a town committee looking to create a culture centre using Thomas Gillbard. The initiative came within a hare’s breath of making it work after months of Herculean effort, when the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board suddenly announced it had an offer to purchase the building.

If Mr. Brocanier is trying to undermine Mr. Lee, the public may never know. Nor is it important that proposal for a study is based on the purest intent. That is not the point.

Besides, talks are going on between the two sides in an effort to strike a compromise for the development of a culture centre and a senior’s complex, according to a letter presented to Cobourg council last week.

what is far more significant is the realization by politicians that development is more than bricks, mortar, roads and sewers. It is not only the physical infrastructure needed to sustain development, there must be the social infrastructure, too.

This means Northumberland County needs to make sure there are enough doctors, dentists, long-term and critical care beds, mental health services and day care spaces. It means there are social services in place to sustain our community.

No sooner had Brocanier made is comments when taxpayers watched greedy politicians plying their old methods. Hamilton Township Mayor Forrest Rowden is up to the game, teasing Cobourg with talk of big-box stores on the border. Just to turn up the heat, he is off playing foosties with Port Hope Mayor Rick Austin as the two of them snuggle up to each other and fantasize about industrial development along their common border.

Yes, there were wedding bells in the air. Let’s strike a deal, the two of them mused out loud for anyone interested. Port Hope will provide the sewers and water, and Hamilton Township will give them land.

And all for the tax dollars generated by bringing industry to the area. That’s right, it is all for the assessment to keep property taxes down.

But who would blame them, after eight years of downloading and a Liberal government, both federal and provincial, on the verge of abandoning them one more time. Property taxes are going through the roof (just ask anyone who owns a trailer). There appears to be few alternatives but to approve every developer who comes along.

And industrial development will bring jobs, or so the argument goes. There is always a need for more employers. But as Cobourg recently learned from Coca Cola, those jobs can disappear as fast as they arrive. Corporations are as fickle as finance ministers. Promise anything up front, but when it comes to the crunch…poof. Gone.

Adding to Brocanier’s credibility is the appeal for $100,000 to fund a recruitment program for doctors. That’s right, our area is considered under-serviced and needs doctors, according to the provincial government. Cobourg is being asked to pay $34,500 and Port Hope about $31,250 to a community-based initiative. The townships of Hamilton, Alnwick-Haldimand and Cramahe, along with Alderville First Nations will kick in the balance.

But if that is not enough proof, just ask all the people in Northumberland County who don’t have a local doctor or no doctor at all. Then go and talk to those people sitting in the emergency room at Northumberland Hills Hospital and ask how long they have to wait. Or go and talk to those who can’t find a dentist. When that’s done, talk to a family who has a loved one waiting for a long-term bed. And what about those who need mental health services, or housing or are waiting on a list for a day care space for their children that is affordable. Those people don’t usually come out to public planning meetings.

Municipalities already charge a development fee when any new building is constructed. It goes into a reserve fund and pays for roads, sewers, future expansion of the water treatment plant, streetlights, among other physical improvements. The philosophy is straightforward: it should not be up to existing taxpayers to foot the bill.

Mr. Brocanier is right. A reserve should be set up to help pay for doctor recruitment or construction of municipally funded health clinics. It could also support day care spaces and whatever other social infrastructure is needed.

It is time Northumberland County politicians remove the dollar signs from their eyes and the lust for tax assessment from their hearts. Instead let make sure we look at people and the community’s needs in a balanced, holistic approach. And we should watch for Mr. Brocanier to lead this crusade. It will be the best way for him shush the critics who question his motives.

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