Billings trailer bylaw proposal annoys some township ratepayers

Billings’ proposed trailer fees bylaw has drawn criticism from some councillors and ratepayers who worry the legislation may result in too many restrictions for property owners in the township. Shutterstock

KAGAWONG – Despite concerns from several residents and even council members themselves, Billings Township council has given approval to the first reading of a by-law to regulate the use of recreational trailers/vehicles outside of tent and trailer parks. At issue with the trailer by-law was whether hunters should require a permit and pay a fee to locate their trailer on a property during hunt season. Perhaps more contentious was the requirement of a permit and fee for property owners with a habitable/principle/seasonal residence who use a trailer on that property for personal guests staying longer than 14 days and up to 30 days.

Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack said, “I have a few concerns with two of the permits, both Class C and E. Class C refers to the period of time someone can be a guest on my permanent property as 14 days, and for up to 30 consecutive days they have to obtain a permit and pay a $250 fee.”

“I don’t feel comfortable mandating the number of days someone on my property, who is staying in a trailer, has to stay,” stated Councillor Sharon Jackson. “It discourages people from coming and visiting. If someone’s a guest and wants to stay 14 days in my trailer, I do not feel they should have to pay a fee. And I’m not comfortable with hunters having to pay a permit fee of $125. If someone is using a trailer for accommodations, it’s because their hunt camp can only accommodate one or two people.”

“My only concern is the Class C permit should be lowered,” said Councillor Michael Hunt. “I am referring to the 14 days as well as the $250 fee. I suggest we put the permit fee lower.” He suggested $200, which Councillor Alkenbrack agreed with.

“I don’t like that permit at all,” stated Councillor Jackson.

Under the proposed trailer by-law, a Class C permit refers to a recreational trailer/vehicle at a permanent residence or habitable seasonal residence. The permit fee is $250, valid only for the issued address for one recreational trailer/vehicle from May 1 to October 31. 

A Class E permit is for a recreational trailer/vehicle for the fall season only. It is valid from October 31 through December 31 in the year issued. The permit fee is $125 and a maximum of 3 trailers per property is allowed. 

Councillor Bryan Barker opposed any permit if the property is owned just for the hunt (Class E permit). He suggested a compromise of $150 total for October through December, or another option that would allow 14 days for guests or just going back to having no permit at all.

He touched on four emails submitted by local residents who opposed the amendments. “This is similar to the by-law from 2017 that was amended in 2019,” he noted. “The wording is very similar and in some cases, identical. There is an existing $500 fine for violating the by-law by having a trailer on a property for more than 14 days. Under the existing by-law, there is no provision to allow a trailer on a property for an extended period of time.”

The emails raised concerns over things that are already in place, Councillor Barker pointed out. “The proposed by-law is, in many cases, less prohibitive. We are not looking at having this by-law in place as a tax grab. It makes it fair and equitable for everyone. Council decided the amended by-law discussion be given two readings. Since June 1, we have received numerous emails and calls in favour of the by-law and some against. The use and misuse of trailers has always been an issue. This new by-law is to help resolve this.”

Enforcement and education were major issues in the emails received, he said, adding this first reading “is open to more input from the community.”

Meredith Chandler submitted one of the emails opposing the trailer by-law. She wrote, “In his summary, Mr. Moran submitted an information list of reasons to support proposed revisions to the current trailer by-law. I note with interest that nowhere in this list does it indicate a need to restrict trailer use on properties where residents own and live full-time in a habitable residence and pay taxes at the current assessed township rate. This omission makes sense to me, as use of a trailer on this type of property shouldn’t be of concern to anyone other than the private property owners themselves. For this reason, I question the need to include the provisions of ‘Trailer Permit Class C’ for a fee of $250, for temporary lodging of guests for non-commercial purposes for a period of 14 days and up to a maximum of 30 consecutive days. Please clarify why anyone other than the individual property owners themselves would be concerned with the length of time their guests visit?”

“In regards to the concern for potential stress to our environment, including increased use of our municipal dump, perhaps attention would be better directed at Airbnb trailers/sheds operating within our township,” she suggested. 

Ms. Chandler also referred to the lower permit fee for hunters. “I personally have no opposition to the use of trailers on such properties during hunting season and do not begrudge any concessions allowed to them. I am, however, disheartened that while there was an obvious resistance to charging a $200 fee for hunters, there was almost no hesitation to impose a $250 fee on permanent residents for use of a trailer to lodge guests for a period of more than 14 days, on properties that are already being taxed at full rate). Please clarify the discrepancy,” she wrote. “It is a blatant double standard.”

Brad Mack is another resident opposed to the by-law amendment. Earlier this summer he spoke to three councillors about this and suggested a committee should be formed to assist in the creation of by-laws. “To my knowledge, there have been no steps taken or no movement towards using this form of community consultation or community collaboration to make by-laws that are fair for the residents of the township,” he wrote. 

“I understood that we have had an ongoing issue with trailers on vacant lots and recognize this as a problem for the township and a loss of tax base if not addressed,” Mr. Mack wrote. “The proposed trailer by-law goes way beyond dealing with trailers on vacant land and now we will tell taxpayers what they can do on their existing land, with a residence already constructed and paying full taxes. I question why this is necessary and what we’re hoping to accomplish.” 

“During the special meeting discussion, it was asked how we came up with the 14-day permit. Who decided that it would be okay for the first 14 days. The response or rationale to this was alarming. Councillor Barker indicated that nobody has company, or people don’t stay places, beyond 14 days. I would think that is his opinion and, in many cases, not actually true during the summer months.”

A motion to decrease the Class C permit fee from $250 to $200 was put forward by Councillor Hunt and seconded by Councillor Alkenbrack. Councillor Jackson opposed the amended fee. The motion to amend the fee will be brought forward at the next council meeting.

Council passed a motion for first reading of the by-law and to take the amended fee motion back for second reading at the next council meeting.