By Dan Rankin
Back for their first meeting in almost a month, Perth South council’s Aug. 11 meeting ran the gamut, with topics ranging from fire to water to wi-fi.
Council heard a presentation from fire protection adviser Nelly Green of the province’s Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) about her analysis of Perth South’s service agreements with fire departments in Perth East, St. Marys and Lucan Biddulph.
“In working with the CAO we have identified that with current agreements, residents of Perth South are not receiving fire prevention public education in a consistent manner across the municipality,” Green said. “You’re counting on neighbouring municipalities. You can as a council set that level of service.”
Perth South CAO Tim Ivanyshyn said he invited Green to speak to council about how they could improve the wording of their agreements with those other municipalities to better comply with regulations. “They looked at our agreements and they thought there were areas of improvement or better wording we could negotiate with the fire departments to bring Perth South in compliance,” he said. The analysis did not examine the emergency response the municipality was receiving.
Understanding that fire department response times in rural departments aren’t the same as those one might see on TV, Green said, “the fact is, once a fire occurs, your best defence is working smoke alarms, and home escape plan to get out.” It’s in the public education about those crucial fire defence items that Perth South is lacking, she said.
“If you have delayed responses from fire departments that you do have agreements with, the best defence is increasing public education programs, increasing fire safety inspections, and enhancing your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm programs,” she said. “There are many ways of doing that, beefing up these lines of defence.”
One way, which has been done in Lambton and Elgin counties, is contracting an individual as a fire prevention officer, she said. Perth South could also reach out to the departments with which it currently has agreements about changing “existing fire protection agreements, defining that level of service and stating specifically public education programs and fire safety inspections,” she said. Or else they could reach out to a fulltime fire department such as Stratford’s.
Regarding water, the Perth South Economic Development Committee heard a request from Lucid Musings Photography owner and River Rock Music Festival organizer Sean Camp, asking for funding to secure a potable water truck for his Aug. 15 festival. His proposal was part of what he called an “eco-conscious mandate” he’s been trying to promote among all aspects of the fest. “All the food is being sourced locally to promote local agriculture going on in the area,” he said. “I’ve hired Murphy Bus Lines in St. Marys to provide shuttle service from the town of St. Marys to eliminate traffic; I have gone and purchased branded reusable mugs so there is no garbage like Dixie cups thrown all over the place.”
But a big part of that plan is emulating the Hillside Music Festival in Guelph by having a potable water source on site, he said, because “everybody hates water bottles.” His research into such a service found that having a truck and driver on site would cost at least $700 for the day.
Some committee members questioned subsidizing a private function, but Mayor Robert Wilhelm said he was open to the idea due to the strong connection Camp has drawn between his festival and businesses in the municipality. “If we are going to promote economic development, and we are wanting to enhance the image of Perth South, how else are we going to do it unless we get off our wallet?” the Mayor asked.
Treasurer Rebecca Clothier advised the committee that there is annually $1,000 placed in the budget allowing council to provide grant donations and that those funds had been used to date. The committee and, later, council approved the request. “We have over 32 vendors out there now, seven paid bands and an open mic to start the day,” Camp said, noting the positive press he’s received in Stratford and London-based media. “It’s been a massive, massive project for me. It’s been a fulltime job. To my knowledge, there has never been anything like this in Perth South. I’m hoping to have a success that carries over to future years as a larger event that can draw people from other communities.”
Moving onto wi-fi, council heard a delegation on behalf of the Independent Telecommunications Providers Association (ITPA) seeking support for their plans for the future of rural broadband in Ontario, as opposed to the provincially approved Southwest Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) plan.
The delegation, which included Quadro Communications General Manager John DeHeer, called the ITPA plan “more realistic” than the SWIFT plan, which they characterized as expensive, superfluous and less capable of connecting rural Ontario with high-speed internet. A delegation featuring representatives from Wightman Telecom, Bruce Telecom and HuronTel made a similar presentation to Bruce County council in March, urging them not to support SWIFT.
Meanwhile, SWIFT supporters have recently made presentations to Perth County council seeking funds and support.
According to the ITPA spokesperson, SWIFT’s main flaws are that it will duplicate existing services and doesn’t focus adequately on distribution networks (also known as “to-the-doorstep connections” or “last mile fibre”) “Our focus is really on, how can we cooperate with you folks in coming up with ways to develop last mile fibre connections to the people of your area,” he said. “Our proposal is a concrete proposal to do that and SWIFT doesn’t really have concrete plans to do that… The governance model we’re proposing is a lot more simple and streamlined, I think, than SWIFT is proposing.”
Deputy Mayor Jim Aitcheson noted that the federal funding announcement SWIFT proponents were hoping would take place before the writ was dropped never materialized. “So I’m assuming it’s all but dead in the water,” he said before moving that council pass a resolution to let county council know Perth South supports working with independent providers going forward. That motion carried.