Prices just keep going up and attracting urbanites to the country is no solution.
Prices on everything are rising … when you can find what you need to buy that is. House prices rise, food, energy, fuel, vehicles, clothes, entertainment, travel. Nothing is unaffected … except maybe farmgate prices paid to farmers.
Like everyone, municipalities are seeing their operating costs rise too and have for years. The cost of new equipment, maintenance, increased salaries for the administrative personnel and the expanding use of consultant services to advise on any and all decisions to name just a few, climbs higher by the year. The province helped five years ago by almost doubling the value of farmland, a commodity in which South Glengarry, like so many others, is very rich. Unlike other townships, ours has as yet, not enacted any anti-clear-cutting legislation so agriculture continues to expand here.
As costs increase, rural governments are searching for ways to increase their revenue without increasing property taxes and many, if they are within an hour or so of a big city, are encouraging housing developments in their jurisdiction.
Our Township, South Glengarry, is no different and for years and through several different councils and administrations, has aimed its official plan at encouraging new developments south of Highway 401. With both Montreal and Ottawa an easy drive, many former urbanites are being persuaded to move here, just as they are in other areas. The logic is more houses, more income. But is it really?
I have never understood promoting more development. More houses and more people moving into the area means the need for more services from the municipality. More road and right-of-way maintenance including snow clearance, grass and weed control, signage and surface repair has increased use and causes faster wear. It also means expanding schools, daycare spots, playgrounds, pools, arenas, rinks and libraries as well as organized recreational programs. The additional costs of garbage pick up in these developments as well as speeding up the future demise of existing landfills is particularly worrisome. Add in extra potable water availability and sewage handling, as well as the necessity of increasing administrative staff and first responders’ presence to deal with a higher population. The costs rise faster than the income from the new property taxes for sure.
A big concern should be that these developments are largely bedroom communities, meaning that while many residents work from home, tied to a computer most days, the rest commute to offices in the cities. Many times both spouses work away from their new home. Most also prefer to travel outside of the township for the bulk of their shopping, preferring the variety and price competition of large cities.
Local rural jobs do not usually pay a sufficient salary to buy these houses nor the new cars parked in the driveways, so finding a local job after moving is not an option.
The big question is, what happens to local organizations which rely on volunteers to operate? Not just service clubs but all the recreational groups and volunteer fire departments too? Will these new residents pick up the slack as existing members cut back on their involvement? How many are available during the day? Will they be available evenings and weekends after commuting 10 hours or more a week? Maybe not.
Probably the group to be hurt the most will be the volunteer fire departments which rely on members working locally, to be available 24/7 and be physically fit. Low pay for a dirty and sometimes dangerous job. What will happen if there is a fire and not enough turn up to contain it? Maybe the time has come for a base of paid firefighters in rural Ontario.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.