DON’S DIALOGUE – PORT CARLING LOCK FEES FOR 2016
The economies of Muskoka and the Township of Muskoka Lakes depend heavily on our transportation infrastructure for the movement and delivery of people, goods and services.
Our primary transportation modes consist of our road & bridge networks plus air and water transport. The District of Muskoka plays a significant role in constructing and maintaining a large portion of our road networks. They own and operate the only municipal airport in the District. They also own and pay to operate the Port Carling Locks, an asset that is essential to our recreational and commercial water commerce on the 3 big lakes in Muskoka. Huntsville owns and operates the Brunel Lock, which now has no toll charges and the Government of Canada owns and operates the locks on the Severn River.
The road and bridge network that is owned by the District, is the most valuable District asset and the most costly to repair and plow. However, we charge no fees or tolls to any vehicle for the use of this valuable infrastructure.
The District also owns and operates the local public airport. District Council approved and spent $6 million in 2015 for the rehabilitation of the main runway. In addition council approved the expenditure of $2 million of taxpayers’ money via grants and the levy to expand the airport. The net back to the taxpayer on the sale of this land, which was not consummated, would have left taxpayers $1.5 million out of pocket.
The airport has a series of user fees, but exempts the vast majority of smaller general aviation traffic from landing fees or tolls. The annual airport operating deficit has continued to climb, since the District took over ownership in 1997 from the Federal Government. This year it will approach one million dollars.
I have supported this use of taxpayer dollars to sustain the airport, because it is important to the District’s economy, for tourism, providing aviation services, employment of local people and for the rapid movement of commercial goods. Most progressive municipalities have municipal airports. Muskoka needs one and needs to expand its usage as an economic driver.
The locks in Port Carling are the Hub of the three big lakes, construction companies, tour boat operators and pleasure boat owners depend on this infrastructure for their livelihoods and enjoyment. One of the main reasons people buy cottages on these lakes is the ability to access all three lakes via boat.
The cost of a one way passage for a pleasure boat next year will be $9. This cost acts as a deterrent to transiting the locks and supporting businesses on the other side, or making a trip to Bala, Bracebridge or Gravenhurst. Furthermore, the small locks were out of service for most of this summer depriving people of the usual extended hours of lock usage.
The locks like our airport operate at an annual deficit. However, the lock deficit is only 40% of what is required to fund the airport
At the Dec 14, 2015 District Council Meeting, I proposed an amendment to the main motion of setting User Fees for 2015. However, my amendment, which was to eliminate all lockage fees for recreational and pleasure craft using the Port Carling Locks, was defeated by a vote of 9 to 10, with Township of Muskoka Lakes Councillors Harding and Nishikawa voting against the amendment and Councillor Edwards fully in support. I did not propose the elimination of fees for commercial traffic or for normal boat parking/dockage.
Many of the property owners on Muskoka, Rosseau and Joe pay the highest property taxes in the District and receive some of the smallest benefits. My idea was three fold.
- Provide a small perk to primarily pleasure boaters and cottagers on these lakes . The annual cost of lost revenue was $35,000 to 40,000 or about an additional 40 cents of annual tax on a property valued at $200,000
- Reduce the hassle, distraction and inefficiencies of collecting money, and selling seasonal passes and tickets and concentrate on moving boats through the locks safely.
- Help encourage people to use the locks and visit other places in Muskoka thus growing the dollar spend with local businesses.
There were also additional advantages, such as reducing car traffic in Port Carling and increasing the affinity for the Muskoka Boating Experience, especially for younger people.
In my opinion, the defeat of my motion certainly perpetuates discriminatory pricing practices by the District of Muskoka, such as those against recreational boaters, verses the free ride given to general aviation recreational pilots for the use of capital infrastructure.
It is my intention to reintroduce this motion again for the 2017 Budget.