It was a tale of two provincial government grant programs last week, as municipalities across Ontario learned how much money they’ll receive for 2015 through the Liberal government’s share of the federally-mandated Gas Tax program, as well as through a completely revamped municipal infrastructure support initiative.
The Ontario Gas Tax Program, explained a government news release, “helps municipalities increase accessibility, buy more transit vehicles, add more routes and extend hours of service, making it easier for people to use public transit. It will also help ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution.”
Here in St. Marys, the allocation was predictable because it was based on numbers for ridership on St. Marys and Area Mobility Services from 2013. And, compared to other municipalities of a similar size, it was large — at $130,490. That’s because it also represents a part of the share (or, in some cases, all) of the Gas Tax allocation for Perth South, Thames Centre and Zorra.
Mobility Services vehicles also serve residents of those municipalities, and Perth South even has representation on the agency’s board of directors.
As for the announcement of funding through what’s being called the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF), “predictable” certainly isn’t a word being used by recipient municipalities. OCIF is, after all, the newly-reelected Wynne government’s stab at replacing the Ontario Municipal Infrastructure Fund, and municipalities have been waiting until now to see what exactly would unfold.
Also in contrast to the Gas Tax funding, “large” is another word that can’t be used to describe the share for the Town of St. Marys. The $70,700 for St. Marys included in last week’s OCIF announcement may look great if you compare it to the paltry $35,000 allocated to Perth South — which is currently undertaking an environmental assessment into the possible replacement and/or removal of both the Trafalgar and Avonfoot bridges, and could certainly use some financial leeway for one or both of those projects — it still hardly pushes open the doorway for a town that is facing down the prospect of repairing and re-opening the aging Water Street Bridge to appease an angry (and mayor-defeating) citizenry.
To be fair, the $70,700 is only phase one of the Wynne government’s OCIF plan. It comes from half of this year’s $100-million fund, allocated through an established formula to 426 municipalities across the province (a much greater number than the 96 municipalities with some sort of public transit affected by the Gas Tax allocation formula). The second phase is an additional $50 million to be allocated through a process whereby municipalities send in applications for specific projects. It’s a not-insignificant replacement for previous funding from a cash-strapped source.
Stewart Skinner, spokesperson for the Perth Wellington Provincial Liberal Association, expressed in a message to the media early this week the association's satisfaction with the government's move. “In the recent election campaign, the Liberal party made a clear commitment to tackle infrastructure head on and this announcement shows that our party is serious about investing in rural infrastructure."
Let’s hope the application process is at least somewhat like the Gas Tax — based on identifiable criteria, rewarding high-quality applications that propose to use resources efficiently, and with a high level of predictability from year to year.