A second attempt to deal with enforcing an updated swimming pool bylaw ended with the same results as last week — although councillors expect homeowners with pools to comply to the new rules, there are no Town resources to dedicate to compliance.
After a week to reflect on the committee of the whole decision not to hire more enforcement staff, Coun. Allan Bisback thought he’d come up with a way to balance the cost of hiring.
The update approved last month to replace the existing 1977 swimming pool bylaw includes hot tubs, with more stringent regulations for fencing and gates to prevent unsupervised access. It calls for self-latching gates, as well as doors and windows on any house wall used as one side of the pool enclosure. It also sets out a six-month compliance deadline, as requested by councillors, to ensure the safety of existing pools and hot tubs.
But when Town staff recommended hiring three contract bylaw officers in a report to councillors last week, in a municipality already struggling with bylaw enforcement due to a lack of resources, council was divided on the will to spend money, estimated at about $150,000.
Last week’s staff report said there are about 1,000 properties with pools, but since permits were not previously needed for hot tubs, there is no way of estimating that number.
While most Town bylaw enforcement is driven by complaints, councillors were asking staff to reach out to the known pool owners to educate them about the new regulations and check on compliance.
But if homeowners called the Town asking for an inspection to ensure their properties comply with the new bylaw, there is no bylaw officer to send, planning director Craig Larmour told councillors last week.
Staff had recommended three enforcement officers be hired on contract to achieve full compliance with the new bylaw. They also suggested the officers be provided with vehicles and other resources necessary to do their job.
Instead of bringing in bylaw officers just to enforce the swimming pool bylaw, as last week’s report recommended, Bisback suggested Monday they be used wherever needed, to be determined by staff.
He also asked that new equipment only be purchased after ensuring it is not currently available in-house, and called for monthly reports with compliance updates.
Coun. Clare Cameron said she couldn’t support new hirings without a much more comprehensive discussion about bylaw enforcement and staffing levels. “It’s not possible to legislate 100 per cent safety,” she said, and hiring just to actively enforce one bylaw “isn’t sitting right with me.”
She suggested the Town continue to use a complaints-based approach with the swimming pool bylaw, “and play it by ear as we go,” with an opportunity to revisit staff levels after council has completed its strategic plan.
Coun. Gary Burroughs agreed. “A lot of work has gone into the bylaw and it should be moving forward, he said, calling for a more “holistic approach” to bylaw enforcement. After council has completed its strategic plan, “we’ll have a better idea of what this council is looking for.”
Coun. Stuart McCormack also suggested the time for hiring would be after the strategic plan is completed, and when there is statistical information available on which to base a decision. “We need more information to know what the problem is before we figure out the solution, as opposed to throwing more bodies at it.”
Coun. Erwin Wiens mentioned the “non-stop complaints” about bylaws not being enforced by bylaw officers already overburdened. He said he would support Bisback’s motion to bring in new staff to enforce bylaws wherever needed, not just for the pool issue. Although he’s been a staunch supporter of keeping costs down, he said, he supports giving staff the tools they need to do their job.
“We do have an issue now,” said Coun. Norm Arsenault. Although he agreed there needs to be a long-term, holistic solution, “we need to deal with this now.”
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said during last week’s discussion, she felt “very uncomfortable about forcing residents into six-months for full compliance,” and sending staff out to ensure compliance within that time limit.
“I don’t believe it’s fair to say to staff now, ‘sorry, you’re not getting any more resources.’”
The tree bylaw is also causing some stress on bylaw enforcement, she added.
She clarified Bisback’s motion was not about hiring three full-time employees, but about “hiring three contract employees to take us through the summer.”
Council can have the necessary long-term discussion, but staff, without extra resources, “cannot cope” even with the other day-to-day issues, she said. “They need that help.”
Coun. Wendy Cheropita said she would support outreach and education instead of bylaw enforcement, and suggested that might be enough for “honourable residents to change latches. I think we should trust residents to go ahead and make the changes within the timeframe,” rather than hiring bylaw officers, which should be a discussion for down the road.
As last week, the motion was defeated by a five to four vote. Disero, Bisback, Arsenault and Erwin Wiens voted to bring in new contract bylaw officers, saying a fuller discussion about staffing levels could occur during budget discussions for 2020. Cameron, Burroughs, McCormack, Cheropita and John Wiens voted against Bisback’s motion.