| Jan 31, 2008

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Editorial - January 31, 2008 Frontenac County Council keeps transportation hopes alive Editorial by Jeff Green

A year ago, South Frontenac Mayor Gary Davison and Frontenac Islands Mayor Jim Vanden Hoek agreed, reluctantly, to put a $36,000 grant to the Rural Routes Transprtation Service in the 2007 Frontenac County budget. They insisted, however, that the money be given as a one-time grant, to help the service survive until more stable funding could be found.

So, it is not surprising that Gary Davison, in particular, was not supportive of a $40,000 funding request from Rural Routes in 2008. That request was rejected by County Council on a 2-2 vote, with Janet Gutowski from Central Frontenac, and Ron Maguire from North Frontenac, supportig the motion.

Gary Davison has two major concerns about Rural Routes. One objection has to do with the fact that Rural Routes serves people in North and Central Frontenac and in Bedford District of South Frontenac, and he argues that county funding, of which South Frontenac residents supply 58%, should not be going to programs that aren't available throughout the county.

Davison's second concern, which he has expressed every time this issue has been raised, is that if the county gets involved in transportation, the cost will inevitably go up and up as demand increases.

In order to address these concerns a transportation study was undertaken last year by county staff.

The study found that there is indeed a need for transportation services for the “at risk” population in Frontenac County. There are many poor and elderly people who no longer have the kinds of family supports that were traditionally available in the past, and in order to access essential services, such as medical appointments, a number of people need help.

These results mirror the results that were found by Northern Frontenac Community Services when they undertook a community needs study four years ago, and Rural Routes was developed for that reason.

Northern Frontenac Community Services has been providing transportation to both children and adults on an ad hoc basis for years, but with limited administrative funding, agency staff had difficulty keeping up with the demand for transportation. Rural Routes was set up as a dispatch service.

Rural Routes, which opened its doors three years ago. is a user-pay service, charging 42 cents per kilometre for drives. This 42 cents is used to pay mileage to volunteer drivers, at the less than market rate of 35 cents per kilometre, leaving 7 cents per kilometre for administration, dispatching, driver training, etc.

Rural Routes has not been able to maintain itself on this money, and thus they approached the County of Frontenac for support.

Municipal support for transportation is common in urban settings, and rural counties in various parts of the province also fund transportation. There is also a provincial incentive for this, as every dollar a municipality spends on transportation can be supplemented with 75 cent grant from the province to be spent on transportation.

Because of this, the mayors of North and Central Frontenac have been pushing for a commitment from the county to support Rural Routes. In response, the mayors of South Frontenac and Frontenac Islands have wondered aloud why, if it is such a priority, North and Central Frontenac townships have not taken this on themselves.

The impasse over transportaion at the county has not been resolved, but there will be a meeting this week that might establish the groundwork for a transportation program that serves North, South and Central Frontenac.

Although Rural Routes operates the only fully constituted dispatch service in the County, it is by no means the only provider of transportation. Rural Visions, South Frontenac’s community services agency, provides transportation for seniors and children, and the Canadian Cancer Society as well as the Kidney Foundation arranges transportation for the people they serve.

A meeting will be held in Harrowsmith to bring all of these agencies together to see if there is an opening to work co-operatively towards a county-wide solution. This might satisfy one of South Frontenac Mayor Davison's concerns.

As far as his fear that transportation will be a bottomless pit which sucks up so much money that there will be none left to maintain roads for everyone to drive on, it will be up to transportation proponents and county staff to come up with controls over spending, which Mayor Davison and South Frontenac Council, can accept.

It would be folly for the county to proceed with transportation funding without the support of South Frontenac Township, which is its largest component.

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