Monday, January 18, 2016

Encouraging Provincial Quality-of-Life Investments

On Monday, the Pelham Chief Administrative Officer, Darren Ottaway, and I presented to the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs “Pre-Budget Consultation” in Hamilton.

We provided two main messages: First, be sure to partner with municipalities to help invest in future quality of life investments – like a potential Pelham Community Centre. Second, don’t penalize municipalities that have exercised financial discipline and made wise infrastructure investments or with high property values, by excluding them from grant opportunities.

As you know, over the last number of years Pelham Council and I have worked to invest heavily in traditional infrastructure – like roads and bridges and pipes. Major projects like the reconstruction of Haist Street, Port Robinson Road, and Effingham Road, and (with the Region) Regional Road 20, Rice Road and O”Reilly’s Bridge come to mind.

At the same time, we have also worked to improve the quality of life by investing in other types of community infrastructure. The revitalization of both Downtown Fonthill and Fenwick, the construction of two new Fire Stations, the development of nine fully-accessible playgrounds, restoring Old Pelham Town Hall and the Pool House, and the development of the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark and of the Centre Street Dog Park are examples. In addition, we’ve added walking and cycling infrastructure like the 13 km of sidewalks, 9 km of bike lanes, 7 km of trails, and 5 crosswalks.

But, after applying last summer for a Provincial grant to reconstruct Station Street to help support development/new community investment, we received a rejection letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs in October 2015. The letter explained that “Your project proposal was not selected to move forward primarily because other applicants with highly critical projects had more challenging economic conditions and fiscal situations.

At first blush, that sounded ok. The Province essentially said it wanted to support projects to improve critical infrastructure – leaky pipes and deteriorating roads and bridges – in poorer communities and those municipalities in poor fiscal shape.

However, doesn’t that essentially penalize Cities / Towns (like Pelham) that have demonstrated disciplined financial management through wise infrastructure investments, maintaining affordable tax rates and providing quality services? Further, doesn’t it preclude funding for projects in communities with high and increasing property values – thereby supporting communities in decline?

Shouldn’t Provincial grants also encourage quality of life projects that lead to increasing the overall wealth and well-being of the City or Town (and, therefore, the Province, too)?

We asked the Standing Committee’s MPPs to consider these types of policy questions when providing advice about the 2016/17 Provincial budget.