Council approves long-awaited septic rehabilitation program

Council approves long-awaited septic rehabilitation program

Approved residents will be able to fix aging septic systems with help from new City program

Kawartha Lakes This Week

(KAWARTHA LAKES) Ward 1 Councillor John Macklem says council has “put our foot in it.” Ward 7 Coun. Brian Junkin says the City should be looking at its own properties instead of getting involved with private properties.

But, in a 14-3 vote (Ward 4 Coun. Glenn Campbell also voted against it) council gave the ‘green light’ to the long-awaited septic rehabilitation program on Tuesday (Feb. 11).

Councillors had nothing but praise for those who worked hard to develop the program; primarily staff and the agricultural community. Last year, council directed staff to create a program through which the City could assist property owners with aging septic systems to improve the environment.

The goal is to allow property owners who want to fix ailing septic systems but can’t afford the price tag to pay for the upgrades through a special charge imposed on their tax bill, allowing the money (plus interest) to be repaid over time. After the owner qualifies, an agreement would be set up with the property owner outlining the terms for the participating property.

Manager of Revenue and Taxation Christie Norris said the “starting point” of the fund is $150,000, which would be taken from the Economic Development Reserve. Her report outlines the creation of a reserve fund for the program, into which that money will be transferred for this year.

Staff estimate each septic system could require between $5,000 and $10,000. Consenting property owners would apply to the program and the applications would be reviewed by a committee made up of staff and members of the public.

Most councillors were vocal in their praise for the agricultural community and staff for working hard to develop an answer for aging systems. Ward 3 Coun. David Hodgson noted many of those who may need the program are cottagers who are second- and third-generation cottage owners who have homes elsewhere, but “don’t have money to throw around.” Rather, he said, they are trying to keep the family cottage and may not have the money to fix an old septic system.

Ward 2 Coun. Emmett Yeo’s primary concern was the program would not be a way for the City to conduct septic system inspections.

He said when he and Ward 8 Coun. Donna Villemaire discussed the issue a couple of years ago, his concern was the same.

“But, I’ve been assured that’s not going to happen, so I can support this,” he said.

Ward 15 Coun. Gerald McGregor, noting the threat bad septic systems present to source water, said there are “hundreds of people” in the City (whose systems aren’t working properly) that a rehabilitation program would help.

Councillors Macklem and Junkin did not think the City should be getting involved in private property owners’ problems. Coun. Junkin said the City has enough challenges with its own properties, including municipal drains.

Mayor Ric McGee said he hoped the two councillors’ concerns were unfounded, noting the agricultural community and staff had put a tremendous amount of work into setting up the program and that he was “very proud” of the effort. He said the program benefits the community, the environment, “and we’ll make some money, too.”

Ward 5 Coun. Steve Strangway, who sits on the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority, said the program has been successful in that municipality, assisting about 50 property owners each year.

Ms Norris said if the response is greater than staff anticipate for 2014, staff will come back to council with an update and seek further direction. The program is “first come, first served” she said, providing applicants meet the criteria.

The program will be included in the annual budget until it becomes self-sustaining or council decides the reserve is adequately funded. The staff report notes the program will also be presented to the Province for funding support, which would enable the City to help more property owners addressing environmental concerns.