What's the plan for roads and bridges?
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | October 26 2017|
We’ve heard a lot about mandatory septic inspections and where all of that septage might go in the future. One municipal councillor, Dysart et al’s Dennis Casey, said recently he thinks it will be an election issue.
And, while we’ve been focused on feces, another very large problem continues to plague our lower-tier municipalities.
The cost of simply maintaining our roads and bridges is starting to cripple Minden Hills, Dysart, Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East.
The story is pretty simple. As our communities have grown, so has our road network. However, as is the case in most of rural and regional Ontario, old travel routes were simply made into roads long before the days of engineered roads. A lot of our roads are sitting not far off the Canadian Shield. With our climate, and a growing number of cars and trucks, they are getting badly beaten up. So, municipalities are struggling just to do the bare minimum, let alone any enhancements.
This is what people are talking about when you hear them mention the infrastructure gap in Ontario.
It means we would need about $5 billion in this province every year for the next 10 years to get our roads and bridges up to the state of where they should be.
Minden Hills roads superintendent Travis Wilson gave us a glimpse into that world at the last committee of the whole meeting.
In short, Minden Hills needs millions of dollars – yes, millions of dollars – to get its roads and bridges into the shape they should be in.
Where is that money going to come from? How can ratepayers fund millions upon millions of dollars of road and bridge work?
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) thought they had the solution.
They reckoned that if Ontarians paid an extra percentage point on the HST, it would raise $2.5 billion a year for local roads and bridges, arenas and other infrastructure.
To us, it seemed like a fairly reasonable, and simple, plan. Not to mention, better than seeing our property taxes raised by eight per cent a year to cover the shortfall.
AMO, which lobbies on behalf of hundreds of local governments, called on Premier Kathleen Wynne to increase the sales tax to 14 per cent from 13 per cent and launched a campaign. They said that based on their polling, they had the support of three-quarters of Ontarians.
But, Wynne’s Liberals didn’t bite. With an election less than a year away, they were likely afraid to raise taxes.
The plan was shot down almost as quickly as it was raised at the AMO conference in Ottawa this summer.
The Wynne government response? They already give municipalities $4 billion a year, up from $1.1 billion in 2003. Besides, they said, they’re doubling gas tax revenues to municipalities beginning in 2019 and have embarked on a $190 billion, 13-year infrastructure program to build new public transit, hospitals, schools and more.
Hmm … We’d hope more money has come to municipalities since they have been hammered with downloaded provincial government services. And, we haven’t heard about any new public transit, hospitals or schools slated for Haliburton County.
Once again, it looks like the provincial government’s so-called solution to an Ontario-wide problem is city-centric.
Up here, when the roads are broken, we don’t have the option of taking public transit. And, quite frankly, you know things are really broken when a rail trail has to be used for a vehicular traffic detour because a bridge is out on Ritchie Falls Road.
It would appear our premier is more worried about her party and the fate of her cabinet ministers seeking re-election next June than municipal leaders and the ratepayers they represent. Since dismissing AMO’s one per cent solution out-of-hand in August, we’re still waiting for her government’s plan.
We'd like to hear it before returning to the polls in June.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.