After public backlash over the language used in the recently approved parks use bylaw, council asked staff to prepare a revised bylaw for council's consideration, and that bylaw with some minor revisions was approved at their November 19 meeting.
The revised bylaw states that municipal parks are not maintained over the winter months, as opposed to the original bylaw which stated that the parks were to be closed. Council is hoping that the minor revision will quash fears expressed by many residents that bylaw officers would be issuing trespassing tickets to those who make use of parks in the winter months.
Prior to council's debate on the revised bylaw, municipal treasurer Darcy Chapman provided council with some background to explain the need for some of the language used in the bylaw, and it comes down to mitigation of liability.
“Staff inquired with our insurance broker, Aon Reed Stenhouse, regarding the Parks Use By-law and subsequent Council motion (to revise the bylaw),” Chapman told council in a report presented on November 19. “Aon representatives then took the by-law and possible changes to the policy underwriters at Lloyds Amlin, Northbridge and AIG. Further to the conversations on the closure times/use of our recreational parks and open spaces, the insurer confirmed its position of “open” or “closed” parks and appropriate signage. They did however, request the Municipality refer to our legal counsel for verbiage on the signs. The insurer feels that posting of maintenance information relating to the parks might appear unclear to the public and some simple signage for the use of the parks is recommended.”
Though the language used in the bylaw has been revised, residents will likely notice some subtle changes in municipal parks this winter.
“After speaking with the solicitor, “particular danger” would include playground equipment that would ice up or not have the necessary concussion prevention on ground cover due cold/freezing conditions. Further, “especially dangerous factors” would include toboggan/sledding areas that are not approved for use by the municipality and have not been designed or engineered for such use, or Skate-park equipment that should not be used with snowboards, skis or sleds,” Chapman advised council in his report. “Given this, if parks and open space were not to be closed but left in an “unmaintained” state, at a minimum, all playground and equipment would need to be staked and fenced off. As well, due to the known use of the Beautiful Joe park as a tobogganing spot which has not been designed for such use, the hill would need to be fenced off so as not to allow this potentially dangerous activity.”
While some residents have pointed to other municipalities that don't state that their parks are closed in the winter months, Chapman told council that the municipality's insurer cautioned about such comparisons.
“Although neighbouring municipalities may have different approaches to similar spaces, depending on the times they implemented their bylaws and various other factors, they might not be as well protected against liability as they could (or should) otherwise be,” Chapman noted in his report to council.
Another consideration for council is insurance premiums, which Chapman warned could increase if the municipality doesn't continuously strive to limit its liability.
“Developing enhanced risk mitigation processes and following the advice of the insurance broker, underwriters and municipal solicitors will not reduce the current policy premiums of approximately $224,800. Mitigating risk and following the advice will help to prevent increases in the premiums over time. Prior to embarking on a risk management process in 2013 the Municipality’s premiums were in excess of $460,000 annually,” said Chapman in his report.
While council had requested the revised bylaw, they still wrestled with some of the items contained in the bylaw, but they resigned themselves to the realities of the litigious society in which we live.
“What saddens me is the day and age in which we live,” said Councillor Tony Bell, who had initiated the revisiting of the bylaw. “We're past the days of just living in the face of innocence and everybody just having fun doing whatever they want, wherever they want. But, the insurance carrier is basically telling us this is how our life is going to be because there are costs. And we have legal counsel which is telling us how things should be to keep ourselves protected. And along those lines, it is the responsibility of the sitting council to do the very best we can to protect the residents of our municipality.”