Editorial: Bylaw do-over needed

The ongoing overhaul of the Municipality of South Dundas’ property standards bylaw is overdue with the existing bylaws covering only Morrisburg and Iroquois dating back to 1979 and 1986 respectively. The update will cover all South Dundas with one bylaw, which is the best practice to follow. That said, there are many issues with both the proposed changes and the method used by municipal staff to consult with citizens.

By the mayor’s own admission the bylaw is too fussy, and estimated that 95 per cent of properties in South Dundas are not fully in compliance with what is being proposed. One may wonder if in the midst of a global pandemic, while sectors of the local population are struggling with so many uncertainties – be it health, housing, schooling, business and employment uncertainties – if such a bylaw is a fair priority at this point.

The proposed bylaw sets unclear standards of cleanliness, maintenance, garbage and material storage, and general upkeep. It relies on references to the Ontario Building Code, a two volume – 12 section document, and the discretion of municipal officials. The draft bylaw states municipal staff or a health inspector determines if a complaint has merit. Either way, it means the government will tell you.

Most bylaw complaints are citizen driven and based on a person losing the enjoyment or use of their property by the actions of others. The revised bylaw gives too much leeway to the government in determining what the standard is and who it is applied to. This bylaw seems to have been rewritten to deal with a few specific bad apples in South Dundas. Implementing the bylaw, as is, leaves it open to abuse by anyone with an axe to grind.

The method of consultation by administration with citizens of South Dundas has also left this bylaw open to abuse before it is even passed. Staff placed a free, open, survey online to garner feedback, citing the pandemic as the reason for doing so. There are far better, and more secure, methods for gauging citizen feedback while still being mindful of staff’s pandemic concerns. A paper survey, or a code to a secure survey mailed to property owners are but two options that would work. Allowing people who are not South Dundas citizens to openly and freely comment on South Dundas bylaws is the height of irresponsibility.

It is clear that the original bylaws need replacing. But there are significant flaws and government overreach with what is proposed. The bylaw, and the consultation involved, need a do-over.

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