Jeff Green | Jul 18, 2018
It might seem like an elaborate sleight of hand manoeuvre, but Frontenac County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Pender is asking members of Frontenac County Council to consider setting up a county roads system, on paper only.
And the payoff could be some heavy virtual paper money, as much as $5.7 million in grant money, every second year.
Over time, the Federal and Provincial governments have developed different funding programs aimed at helping cash strapped municipalities pay for expensive infrastructure maintenance and upgrades on roads, bridges and other assets. The source of funding that has been available for this for the last 10 years is the Federal Gas Tax program, which provides $840,000 each year that is split among the townships on the basis of the amount of property assessment they each have, with another $840,000 going to Frontenac County. Since all the roads and bridges in Frontenac County are owned by the local township, for the past 5 years the counties’ $840,000 has been transferred to the townships
“The County has been informed that, starting next year, the federal gas tax program will bring less money to Frontenac,” said Kelly Pender. “It will be tied to population and since population growth in Ontario is under the national average and rural Ontario population growth is lower still, we project a decrease in our funding.”
A new program, the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, (OCIF) is now on stream as well. It is split between upper tier (County Level) and Lower Tier (Township level) funding in a similar way as the gas tax is. However it differs in two significant ways. While the gas tax can be used for a more broad range of infrastructure purposes, including trails, the OCIF is more narrow. It can only be used for roads, bridges, water and wastewater projects. The second difference is that only jurisdictions which are in possession of these kinds of assets can apply for the funds.
That’s where the need for a Frontenac County virtual roads department comes in.
“In order for Frontenac County to be eligible for OCIF funding, we need to have ownership of eligible infrastructure assets,” said Pender.
The easiest way for Frontenac County to do this would be to assume arterial roads from the townships, and the contract back the maintenance on them to the township roads departments. That way nothing changes on the ground or in staffing at the roads departments, but extra money would come to the county to cover major repairs and upgrades to those roads every two years.
In order for this to happen, Pender is presenting a path forward to Frontenac County Council this week.
His proposal is to explore setting up a virtual roads system and report back in January to the new council, which takes office after the upcoming municipal election. The most likely scenario would be for the county to assume the former provincially owned roads that were downloaded in 1998 (Road 38, Perth Road, Road 506/509, Road 96 on Wolfe Island, and Road 22 on Howe Island) The Public Works Managers from all four townships meet with each other regularly to foster communication and co-operation and if the road plan goes through the managers group will take on a more decisive role.
Another part of the proposal would be for the townships to re-flow some of the federal gas tax money back to the county to help fund county-wide initiatives that gas tax money can be used for but OCIF money cannot be used for. These initiatives, including trails and investments in plugging gaps in cell coverage, are already in the county spending plans and will need to financed through direct taxation of borrowing otherwise, according to Pender.
The proposal provides for an option for each township to opt in or out of the virtual roads system, and can only go forward if at least two townships opt in. It also carries a guarantee that the benefit of OCIF funding to the local townships will be greater than any loss of gas tax funds.
(The meeting where this matter is being raised takes place on Wednesday, July 18 and council’s decision will be posted on Frontenacnews.ca)
OCIF, which is also based on federal and provincial funds, is a $100 million fund, and is slated to grow to $300 million, although that will need to be confirmed as the result of the recent change in government in Ontario.
If the fund remains at $100 million, Pender projects it will be worth about $950,000 per year to Frontenac County, and that figure would triple to $2.85 million per year if the new Ontario follows through with an increased commitment to bring the fund to $300 million per year after 3 years.