December 25, 2013

Town committees need new citizen members

As published in The Erin Advocate

If one of your resolutions for the New Year is to get more involved in community activities, the Town of Erin has committees with interesting mandates, and some are actively looking for new volunteer members.

If you want to promote quick or dramatic changes to Town policies, then committee work will not be your cup of tea. Municipal business usually proceeds slowly and cautiously. You would be better off joining a more activist group, writing Letters to the Editor or picking up a nomination kit for next October’s election.

But if you are the type of person who would enjoy getting together with people of similar interests to work on projects of value to the Town, building a base of expertise that helps keep politicians and staff in touch with taxpayers, then the effort could be quite satisfying.

“It’s better when they are given projects by council to target and work towards,” said Chief Administrative Officer Kathryn Ironmonger.

Details about the guiding principles and operations of the 14 groups is available on the Town website,, with contact persons who can provide more information.

There is the Recreation and Culture Committee, which organizes an annual sign-up fair for local sports and cultural groups, helped develop the skateboard park and is committed to enhancing the quality of life for all residents.

The Trails Committee is developing a network of formal trails and greenspaces, in addition to the many informal ones, linking urban areas to nearby natural features.

The Heritage Committee advises council on properties affected by the Ontario Heritage Act, promotes conservation of local heritage, maintains a list of sites of interest, provides advice to property owners and comments on new development or demolitions.

Fence-Viewers arbitrate fence disagreements between neighbours, while Livestock Evaluators, investigate claims for compensation for losses due to attacks by wolves, coyotes or dogs.

There is the Property Standards Committee, the Committee of Adjustment (a paid position), Let’s Get Hillsburgh Growing, Community-Oriented Policing and the Accessibility Committee.

“Pick your interest and go for it – you have a chance to influence council,” said Bob Wilson, Chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee, which is dedicated to sustainability, and the protection and enjoyment of Erin’s natural heritage.

“There is lots of latitude. We make a work plan and are open to ideas. We need someone to champion them and do some research.”

The committee has been involved in the Idling Control Bylaw for vehicles, efforts to improve the efficiency of Town buildings, a potential bylaw to avoid excessive outdoor lighting, submitting articles to The Advocate and organizing the annual Clean-Up Day on the first weekend of May.

Committee work is somewhat structured, including minutes being recorded, but is overall quite informal. Membership is normally for a three-year term. There is a chairperson, as well as a member of Town Council on each committee.

Unlike in some municipalities, Erin’s committees are advisory only. They have no authority in the actual decision-making process. They are sometimes allocated funding for specific purposes.

Economic Development is perhaps the committee with the most challenging mandate, since it involves issues of how the community attracts, and most importantly, retains businesses. This affects residential taxes, shopping habits, opportunities for local jobs and Erin’s small-town charm.

The committee is not operating right now. It was temporarily disbanded in 2012 after members felt they were not getting clear directions from Town Council.

There is some support for hiring an Economic Development Officer to organize the Town’s efforts in this area, but that decision has not been made. In any case, there are new terms of reference and the committee will soon be reformed, so now is a good time to investigate the possibility of volunteering.

Some members of the previous committee have been active on an offshoot project, the Erin Equine Task Force, which has just delivered a report to council on the opportunities for expanding the local horse-related economy.