A section of a recently approved parks use bylaw has raised alarm bells for a number of Meaford residents, who have taken to social media to voice their opinions regarding Meaford's parks being closed during the winter months.
Section 3.2 of Bylaw 2018-68, approved by council at their September 24 meeting, states that “Parks shall be closed for the season from November 1st to April 20th annually”. That statement has caused concern for some residents, and the language used in the bylaw was also concerning for some members of council.
Also noted in the bylaw is that municipal parks are officially closed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“My concern is Section 3.1,” noted Councillor Shirley Keaveney. “So essentially if a fisherman is down at one of our parks at 6 a.m., he is trespassing, and to me that is a message we don't want to send to our fishing community. We know how popular fishing is here in Meaford, we are known as a prime area for this, and I know the best fish are caught in the early hours of the day.”
Darcy Chapman, treasurer of the municipality, told council that the majority of parks use bylaws that staff reviewed from other municipalities had even tighter time-lines regarding overnight park closures.
“I agree with Councillor Keaveney, that sending a message that you're not allowed to sit on that park bench before 7 a.m., is a rather negative connotation as far as use of parks,” offered Councillor Mike Poetker. “Maybe the sign could say we don't service the parks until 7 a.m. There are a lot of people that walk early with their dogs, and if they see a sign saying 'don't sit here', it's a rather unfriendly statement, so I would look for an alternate method of stating that.”
Councillor Steve Bartley saw things differently.
“The intent of this bylaw was to give us some teeth, and I very much doubt that somebody's going to get a ticket for sitting on a bench at 6 in the morning unless they are causing a disturbance, and then we have some teeth and a law to look after it. I have no issues with this, and I am a fisherman.”
While some residents have expressed frustration on social media that the bylaw was a surprise, municipal staff reminded council that the draft bylaw was first presented to council in July, and they sought public input on the bylaw during the month of August.
“Report FIM2018-40 was presented to Committee of the Whole on July 23, 2018. At that meeting, Council was advised that staff would be soliciting public feedback, during the August break in Council meetings, on the draft by-law to ensure changes could be made to a final draft presented in September,” noted a staff report presented to council. “The draft by-law was produced in hard copy and available at the Administration Office and Community Centre through the month of August. The website and social media was also used in an effort to obtain public feedback on the document. Lastly a dedicated email account was also set up to track responses.”
In spite of their efforts to seek public input, staff report that they only received two responses.
“Over the six week commenting period the municipality received correspondence from two individuals. One came through the new email address and a second via a council member from a resident,” noted the staff report to council. “Generally, the residents felt that the by-law was manageable with directives and rules that were easy to understand.”
Chapman defended the language used in the bylaw, and he told council that by not having such provisions in the municipal parks use bylaw, the municipality could be exposed to liability should an incident occur.
“Every other municipality that we reviewed that have parks use bylaws close down their parks in the wintertime,” Chapman told council. “There is a liability with regard to not saying that our parks are closed. Common sense does not dictate rule anymore in society, and if somebody was to get hurt in one of our parks and we hadn't posted that they were closed, a lawyer could get very wealthy off of that.”
Chapman noted that the parks in the municipality aren't maintained during the winter months. Public washrooms are closed and there is no collection of trash, there is no clearing of snow, and no other maintenance performed in the parks during the winter.
“This is just putting pen to paper of what the reality is anyway,” said Chapman.
In spite of their concerns about the language used in the bylaw, council voted in favour of adopting the bylaw at the September 24 meeting.