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Editor,

At the recent Woodford meeting organized by the Chamber of Commerce (very well done), some candidates railed against the new Park By-Law as being ‘unnecessary’ to ‘fascist’. Core issues were ‘parks closed for six months’ and ‘trespassers could be prosecuted’.

I don’t think we should be worried about this by-law, as there is effectively no change from the way things have been, save for clarifications and specifics. It is also similar to that of municipalities adjacent to us. It does outline abuses that the Municipality of Meaford cannot entertain. Most Meafordites would agree to banning illegal activities and public urination (I believe for the first time here), and fish guts in receptacles and not on picnic tables.

Parks Closed:

From a taxpayer’s viewpoint, ‘closed’ means less overall expenditure for the Municipality and less liability risk to the Municipality (i.e., taxpayers thus benefit). If a park is ‘open’ in winter, certain upkeep is required, like regular snow clearing on sidewalks, entranceways, parking lots, and playgrounds, making our parks safer for families to use. Garbage collection and winterized and heated washrooms increase operating costs and need large capital expenditures to upgrade summer-only infrastructure.

Most provincial parks are deemed ‘open’ from April-May to September-October, and ‘closed’ for the winter; Meaford follows this and for good reason. Year-round parks restrict use in the winter months, like backpacking for Algonquin Park, and where only the highway visitor’s centre is open after November 1 each year. Basically, when ‘closed’, expect a more basic experience.

While provincial parks charge good money for daily fees, Meaford does not charge at all, and operating costs of parks are borne entirely by Meaford taxpayers.

Just a guess, but a doubling of the parks budget could be expected to keep our parks open in the winter, as two new mayoral candidates appear to want. An increase in operating and capital budgets conflicts directly with the campaign promises of ‘cutting of Staff and budgets’ by the same mayoral candidates.

To assess the added risk of year-round parks, just imagine a lawyer asking our Council and Staff about not clearing ice and snow from the entrance-way to ‘Dead Dog Hollow’, as we used to call Beautiful Joe Park. “You say the parks are 'open', and yet you do not maintain them. My client is claiming millions in damages because you are responsible for her fall when she tried to access these open parks.” Avoiding litigious claims by continuing to close the parks in winter helps keep our taxes down.

So, being ‘closed’ effectively means ‘not maintained by Staff’ and it is more ‘don’t expect so much and use at your own risk’. Being ‘open’ suggests ‘maintained to certain safety and accessibility standards’, and the Municipality therefore takes on more risk and cost.

Public Lands:

Some consider public parks like the open seas, with unrestricted access and use as a right. I personally have heard “This is public property and I can do what I want”, including, in this case, shouting constantly at 5 – 7 a.m., urinating on the cannon, etc., etc. They do, in fact, seem to believe this, and is a good reason for a code of conduct.

The ‘Corporation of the Municipality of Meaford’ is a public corporation and thus an ‘entity’, similar to private corporations and individual persons. You know who to go to with questions, or who to sue, etc. Meaford’s public parks are private property owned by our public corporation, like you and I own our house. Access may be open to Meaford’s lands, but they are still ‘privately owned public lands’, and are still subject to the trespass act as they have been all along.

You and I are responsible for what happens on our property, and we could be held responsible if we allow illegal activities. Similarly, Meaford must be on top of which activities are allowable on their properties, so that the risk and cost to taxpayers of illegal activities is minimized. This by-law helps clarify both allowable and repugnant behaviour, and is thereby responsive to Meaford taxpayers’ needs.

Trespass:

How can we be charged for walking on public lands! Trespass legislation is provincial responsibility, and already applies to Meaford’s properties; this new by-law does not introduce trespass to Meaford. A visitor can legitimately come to your door on your private property, but if you ask him to leave, he must leave or he will be trespassing, and could be charged. There are stricter rules for nighttime trespass, normally taken as 9 p.m. Same goes for lands owned by private and public corporations like Meaford.

The trespass act actually allows you and me, or the Municipality, to prohibit an unwanted person from future use of our property. This is the province speaking, though, and not the new by-law.

Walking in a park in winter is reasonable, is what the people of Meaford want, and is what we do already. As always, we are subject to the trespass act. When asked to leave by an Officer, we have to leave because that designated person acts on the owner’s behalf. I trust that this would be because we are selling drugs, blocking access, creating an unbearable nuisance, lighting unsafe bonfires, and the like. This is nothing new, however.

The Municipality has to be considerate when installing trespass signs, as people may associate this with unfriendliness, and could be more along the lines of “Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily from May to October. Use at Own Risk”, or equivalent after Staff and legal council. We don’t want to scare away tourists and law-abiding citizens from using our Great Outdoors (and hopefully spending money in the Municipality and building a nice house here and raising kids for our schools).

Mayoral Readiness:

You would expect that a candidate declaring himself for the very responsible position of Mayor would keep in touch with activities of the Council and Staff under normal times, and certainly during an election campaign. Since the campaign for Mayor started in July, Council and Staff have discussed the by-law, sent it out for public comment, received comments from the public, polished it up, and passed it in September.

Mayoral candidate Jim McPherson says he hates the by-law, threatens to fight it, and will rescind it if he could. By claiming in Woodford an understanding of municipal affairs and love of work, both good qualities for candidacy, he conveys the image of a viable candidate. But then, if he were so against the by-law, why did he not stand up and say something before now, when saying something would have mattered, and not now, just to make political hay.

Either he knew about the by-law and did nothing, giving tacit approval for the by-law, or he knew nothing about it and shows disinterest in our municipal affairs. If Mr. McPherson really is for ‘cutting of Staff and operating costs’, he shouldn’t also promise to keep Meaford’s parks ‘open year round’. That would cost much more in risk, in capital expenditures, and in operating expenditures to Meaford’s taxpayers.

Conclusion:

When you see a rowdy party of hooligan boys (and I was one of them in the day) while walking in Meaford’s parks, you know you have recourse to stop this behaviour (or not, if you let teens be teens). If you are planning a ball game in November or later, be prepared for the diamonds not being groomed, the parking lot not plowed, and with no snack bar, garbage removal, or washrooms. Same for tennis courts and skateboard parks; snow won't be cleared. However, they will open again in the Spring and be maintained as usual.

Support the Council and Staff for bringing in needed clarification for our Parks, in a timely fashion, and with the intent of reducing costs and risks to the taxpayers.

Thanks for the opportunity,

Craig Jowett, Meaford


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