| Jan 25, 2007

Feature Article - February 1, 2007

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February 1,, 2007

Open Letter to Frontenac County Mayors (editorial)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------It is time for the four of you to do something very simple and direct, and in doing so release millions of dollars to its intended use. Since there are only four members of the Council of Frontenac County, it will only take a vote from thre of you to release the money that FrontenacCounty is holding from a federal gas tax rebate - money that is intended for the use of municipalities to help with infrastructure costs.


As you all know, in FrontenacCounty half of this money has been allocated directly to the four municipalities, but the other half has been allocated to the county. You also know that, unlike many other counties in Ontario, FrontenacCounty does not have its own infrastructure. All of the roads, bridges, waste sites, and the only water treatment plant, are owned and maintained by the lower tier municipalities. One of you simply has to make a motion at the next county meeting that the money be transferred to the townships; two others have to vote yes, and it will be a done deal.

HastingsCounty, which is similar to FrontenacCounty in that it also has no county roads system, did just that, passing all the gas tax money from the county to the lower tier townships.

A year ago, just such a motion was on the point of being proposed when county staff asked that it be deferred until such time as staff could look at the complicated set of requirements that make up the federal gas tax agreement.

A year has gone by, and the money still rests with the county.

It is true that gas tax money cannot simply be applied to any road and bridge construction project that a municipality decides to undertake, because it is earmarked for so-called “sustainable infrastructure”, but according to an official at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, who are administering the program, there is considerable flexibility in the definition of “sustainability”, and a wide variety of projects can be funded with this money.

The money can also be used for so-called “capacity building”. It is to this use that the county portion of the money will most certainly be put if the money is not transferred to the townships.

For example, the county staff has proposed a $50,000 Business Continuity Project under their Emergency Management budget. If approved, it will lead to the hiring of a consultant to help the county plan for certain eventualities. It is hoped that this will be used by the townships as well. As Mayor Vanden Hoek himself pointed out, the project seems “pretty grey”.

I am sure there is no end to the amount of capacity building projects that can be developed. FrontenacCounty will have received $475,000 in gas tax money by the end of this year. In 2008, $317,000 is coming; in 2009, $396,000; and in 2010, $793,989.

County staff has proposed that a decision over allocation of this money be deferred until after the 2007 budget is completed.

Why? It has been a year since the decision was deferred, and $80,000 from the county portion of the gas tax has been expended thus far. Thirty thousand dollars have been spent on a GIS project, and $50,000 for county-wide inventory assessment. (To be fair, the inventory assessment is something that is being mandated by the province, so it must be completed one way or another)

If the townships can get their hands on the money from the county it would increase their ability to do something meaningful with the gas tax money they have already received.

This is a significant amount of money, especially in the case of South Frontenac, where between the county portion and the township portion, about a million dollars will accumulate by the end of next year.

According to South Frontenac Clerk-Administrator Gord Burns, township staff is looking at using gas tax money this year to replace aging in-ground fuel tanks at township work sites with above-ground tanks, improve salt storage facilities, and improve township landfill sites. While Burns said he sees merit in spending money on long term planning at the county level, he also offered that South Frontenac would not have any difficulty finding applicable projects if the county money were passed their way.

Should FrontenacCounty’s money be spent on the physical infrastructural needs of the townships or on long term planning at the county? It’s up to you Mayors to decide, and you should do so immediately.

Remember, the federal gas tax money is a rebate of taxpayers’ money. It was designed to address an infrastructure deficit that has been identified very clearly by the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus and others. Much political work was done by the Eastern Ontario Wardens and other rural politicians to make rural roads and bridges eligible for this money, with the argument being made that city bus or light rail service are not viable in rural Ontario, but roads and bridges are crumbling.

After all of that effort, it would be a mistake not to spend that money on tangible municipal assets, assets that otherwise will have to be replaced through increases in municipal taxes down the line.

-Jeff Green

Articles from January 18

Third time lucky for South, North Frontenac:The 3rd and final intake of submissions to the Canada Ontario Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund (COMRIF) resulted in funding support for relatively small initiatives in South and North Frontenac.

Flinton Habitat build: Executive members from the Prince Edward Hastings Affiliate of Habitat for Humanity met with the newly formed Flinton Build committee and the public at the Flinton Rec. Hall on Jan. 16

Biosphere, Committees, and the bridge: South Frontenac Council meetingThree strikes at Comrif for Addington Highlands: Addington Highlands Council meeting of January 15.Frontenac Heritage FestivalIt's Election Year, again: EditorialLetters

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