10:53:21 am on
Tuesday 23 Apr 2019

County Vitals
David Simmonds

Into the turbulence of the municipal election period, last fall, dropped the Wellington County Community Foundation 2018 Vital Signs Report, available online or at local library branches. It’s the second such report. The Foundation first issued a report in 2013, followed by a progress report in 2015.

The occasional Report is a state-of-the-community snapshot. It’s condensed in roughly a dozen packed pages. The information, in the report, should find its way to the top of the briefing pile for all of our newly elected to council.

• Some facts stick out.

Fact number one is the cost of housing. The median house price in Wellington County, $395,000, is more than $100,000 greater than the median price in Belleville, $291,000 or Quinte West, $293,000. That’s a thirty-five per cent premium, compared to a thirteen per cent premium with 2008.

House prices have been increasing at seven times the rate of increase in median household income. The County has a small rental stock to offer and there is a long list of families and individuals waiting for social housing. Demand for housing in the County, when compared with available supply, is obviously causing the boom in prices.

Fact number two is the age profile of the County. Notwithstanding the boom in house prices, our population remains stagnant, it stands at just under 25,000 and its median age is 54.5 years. That’s thirteen years above the provincial median. This means there are a significant number of people that live on fixed incomes. This, it seems, will continue to be the case for some time to come.

Fact number three is income. More than eighteen per cent of County households report after tax income of less than $30,000. For those people, whether on fixed incomes or earning minimum wages, housing, transportation and food costs mean there is little if any left over to cover essential monthly expenses, according to a Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health Unit study referenced in the Report. The Report zeroes in on shortcomings in access to food and transportation, but they are subsets of the larger whole; income is not sufficient to meet expenses. The percentage of housing units in need of major repairs increased, recently and now exceeds the provincial average. The prevalence of low-income households is not out of line with the provincial median.

• Jobs and job growth are crucial.

Fact number four is jobs. Job growth, in the County, over the past five years has been well above that of Ontario and Canada; over 1,000 new self-employed jobs added over the last four years, some eighty per cent of County businesses are growing and sixty per cent have plans to expand. The problem for workers is the seasonal, unstable nature of the work on offer and the low wages paid. The available of skilled workers is a problem for employers.

Fact number five is education. County students ranked below provincial averages on standardized test results in reading, writing and math, at all tested levels. Although high school graduation rates improved, slightly, the rate remains below provincial averages.

Fact number six is the not-so-bad news. Teen pregnancy rates are falling, although they are still above the provincial average, as are our obesity and smoking rates. The percentage of those without access to a family physician is lower than the provincial average, but the absolute number is still over 1,700 people.

Public safety is not a major concern. Mental Health and life satisfaction are within spitting distance of provincial averages. Self-reported life satisfaction and sense of belonging are slightly below provincial averages, but still high. Measures, on many fronts, are in place to address already identified problems.

The Report does not tell our municipal leaders where they should be spending or raising their money. Nor does it attempt to define what makes our economy tick. Moreover, it does leave a number of questions.

Should more of our transportation budget go to public transportation or road maintenance? Are roughly one-in-five of us doomed to a life of barely scrapping by; is this acceptable? Given how tourism drives our economy, are most of the new jobs going to be in the lower income sectors, such as hospitality?

What can we do to increase Country population and, therefore, the tax base, to spread the burden more widely? How can young families come here to live or even stay here, when the cost of housing may be beyond their reach and local schools closed? Can younger people find the training they need to secure better paying jobs without abandoning the County?

How do we address the cost of our municipal infrastructure when we are such a vast piece of real estate? Given the remoteness of the County, what realistic alternative is there to a tourism driven economy? How do we maintain the qualities of the County that bring tourists and potential residents here in the first place?

• Report is well done.

Some or all of these questions are perennial. The Report does a good job of bringing them into focus and up to date. Well done, I say

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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