Editorials - Jan. 20, 2023
A community’s centre
Just last week, this editorial board wrote about the rising cost facing life in Huron County, specifically from the perspective of Huron East and Huron County Council. Later that week, many Blyth residents were gutted by the news from North Huron Council’s Jan. 12 budget meeting - first that township staff was proposing a property tax rate increase in excess of 20 per cent and that the closure of the Blyth and District Community Centre, temporary or otherwise, depending on who you ask, was being floated as a potential cost-saving measure.
Officially, North Huron Chief Administrative Officer Dwayne Evans proposed the closure of the centre, annually, from April 1 to Aug. 31 when the centre sees less usage than it does in the winter. Reeve Paul Heffer, however, posed a “question he’s been asking for a while” and requested a report on the township’s ability to support two community centres and artificial ice surfaces that has many Blyth user groups, residents and even the ward’s councillors concerned for the future of the Blyth centre. At that meeting and Monday night’s meeting council has urged patience and calm, assuring residents that no decisions have been made, but Blyth residents are rightfully worried.
Is this a decision in the name of fiscal responsibility to close the centre during months when it’s seldom used, or is this the first step towards a community losing one of its most valued assets? Where will residents and service clubs turn to host events during the summer? And, if council were to take that devastating step, what, if anything, could the members of the community do to save their centre?
The financial impact facing the township is very real. A tax rate increase of over 20 per cent would be unacceptable by just about any standard. But, a community must offer services to residents both young and old to ensure its viability, sustainability and appeal to potential new residents - especially small families with young children - in order to grow. When Blyth, Brussels and Belgrave lost their elementary schools all those years ago, many feared those losses would spell devastation for our communities. However, innovation and creativity have seen those buildings take on new lives in some cases, while making way for homes in others. And with those schools gone, residents’ attention then turned to the community centres. We may have lost our school, they’d say, but we still have our community centre.
The fear now is that Blyth may be facing the very real scenario of losing its centre as the township faces a tough year. At the Jan. 12 meeting, staff suggested that brighter skies may be ahead with reassessment of homes and a curb in inflation in 2024. The closure of a small village’s community centre, however, would have an impact that would last for generations.
In coverage from Monday night’s meeting, councillors said in the same breath that they need a tax increase that doesn’t bankrupt residents, while realizing the “devastating” impact that community centre closures would have on residents. Both are true, but the fear is that they are mutually exclusive for some councillors who will, feeling they are out of options, take such a drastic measure.
Council and staff will have to get creative in order to hand in a budget that will be palatable to both our elected representatives as well as residents who are already feeling the pinch on their tax bills, grocery bills and any other type of bill you care to name. Having said that, a community is nothing without its people and people are nothing without each other and a sense of belonging. A reasonable tax increase (by North Huron standards) is a daunting request this year and councillors have their work cut out for them, but a reasonable tax increase is irrelevant if we have nothing to show for it. – SL
A study in Finland has shown that going for a walk in a park, along a lake or in a tree-lined space, may reduce the need for medication for anxiety, asthma, depression, high blood pressure or insomnia. Visiting nature three or four times per week led to 36 per cent lower odds of using blood pressure medication, 33 per cent lower for mental health medications and 26 per cent lower for asthma medications.
While the study couldn’t rule out that perhaps healthier people were more likely to get outdoors in the first place, the results are in line with previous research that showed that people living near green space reap significant health benefits. A 2016 study of 100,000 women showed having access to the most green space reduced the death rate by 12 per cent and a 2019 study found a similar trend when studying green spaces around the world.
Fortunately for residents of Huron County, we not only have an abundance of green space surrounding us, we also have many well-maintained walking trails for every level of fitness. In addition to parks and conservation areas, the County of Huron has been promoting its managed forests as an excellent way for folks to get out and enjoy nature.
Since our rural way of life relies so heavily on car travel, we have to make time for exercise so why not take a walk in the woods? – DS