Cost sharing debate blocks road work
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May 01, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Cost sharing debate blocks road work

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert

The recommended reconstruction of Matilda Street is getting off to a bumpy start.

Property owners who are being asked to share in the cost of the project, which includes installation of a storm sewer and construction of a new road with curb and gutter for the portion between Galt Road and the Roadhouse Drain, came out in full force to City Hall Wednesday to voice their displeasure. They say the road has fallen into disrepair over the last 25 years due to increased traffic as a result of nearby developments like St. Michael Catholic secondary school and particularly the Stratford Education and Recreation Centre (SERC).

"This land benefits the entire community. The entire community should (help pay for) that street," said Josee Glennie, who went on to suggest Matilda Street is a liability due to its condition.

"It's too dangerous for any family to come down that street," she added.

The city would like to carry out the road upgrades as a Local Improvement under the Ontario Municipal Act, which gives a municipality the authority to impose a charge on residents whose properties abut the road improvement work. In this instance, it's being proposed that 22 property owners share 60 per cent of the project cost - $171,998 - based on the latest estimates from the city's engineering staff. The city, meanwhile, would cover the remaining $168,789 as well any other related expenses.

Of the 22 property owners, 21 have written the city or signed a petition to object to the work going ahead as a Local Improvement. Many of them showed up at this week's public works subcommittee meeting where no sort of agreement was able to be reached between the two sides. In the end, the matter was referred back to staff to investigate the possibility of including other organizations like the school boards in the cost-sharing.

According to director of Infrastructure and Development Services, Ed Dujlovic, the existing road base on Matilda is too thin to accommodate today's traffic levels, and noted any quick fixes, such as laying asphalt, would only be temporary.

"Over time these problems are going to come up again unless we bring the road up to today's standards. It's an old road and roads do break down over time," he added.

As well, Dujlovic noted there once were some ditches along the road that have filled in over time. A storm sewer is needed to improve drainage away from the road.

According to the director, the city has undertaken approximately 50 Local Improvement projects over the last 20 years, most for similar types of road improvements.

Matilda Street resident Gerharda Wood said she and her husband have lived on the street for only five years, and noted there was never any disclosure at the time that they might be on the hook for such costs in the future. Coming to live in the city from the country they assumed such work would be covered by the general tax base, she added.

Iris Harper has lived on Matilda since the 1960s. She said the street was well looked after until around the time all the developments started going in north of her home.

"We never realized how much trouble we were going to have with SERC or ball fields," she noted.

Back then it was only neighbourhood traffic to contend with, but today city buses pass her home 32 times a day, she added.

The city attempted to reconstruct the street last in 1991, but like today, ran into opposition from residents who were being asked to share in the cost.

Rather than suffer the same fate all over again, Doug Glennie suggested part of the cost for the work be shared by the various community partners who helped develop the SERC site, including the two schools boards. The same goes for the people living in the Bell Court area, who use Matilda as the quickest route to their homes, he said.

Subcommittee chair, Coun. Kerry McManus, agreed with the residents that increased traffic and construction vehicles related to developments have had an impact on the road. But she said she struggles with the idea of residents not sharing in the cost when other homeowners in Stratford have done the same either when moving into a new subdivision or through a different Local Improvement project.

"I think everyone in the room wants to be fair, both to the residents of Matilda Street and the residents of Stratford. We don't have a money tree, we have to balance the books," she said.

Coun. George Brown echoed those comments and suggested what he called a compromise given the circumstances – reversing the 60-40 split of the project cost so that the affected residents would be on the hook for the lesser amount.

Asked by Coun. Keith Culliton if the residents would support that idea, Josee Glennie replied resoundingly, "Absolutely not."

"This is your responsibility. We want you to provide a safe gateway to your SERC project that everybody in the community enjoys," she added.

Two Matilda residents approached subcommittee to ask that the project be abandoned altogether. Arlene Best even argued the road is safer in its current state since it detracts from speeding. The ditch in front of her property also provides protection from the city buses "which we never asked for," she added.

In response to their presentations, McManus said traffic control and fixing the road are two separate issues, and noted, "we shouldn't be seeking potholes to slow people down."

Asked whether it was possible to forget the project, she replied, "To be fair, I would say anything is possible right now."

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