Early funding announcements irk municipalities

Duane Hicks

District representatives had a jam-packed agenda for the annual general meeting and conference of the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s board on Saturday in Atikokan, including passing two resolutions and hearing a myriad of speakers.
The board passed a resolution from the Town of Rainy River to petition the provincial and federal governments to discontinue the practice of announcing funding amounts for specific projects until municipalities have completed the tendering process.
This stems from the problem municipalities face when they receive funding from the government, put the job out for tender, and the bidders know exactly what they received—limiting the municipalities’ ability to operate within a truly competitive marketplace.
The RRDMA also passed a resolution from the Township of Dawson regarding the ever-increasing cost to pay for provincial programs.
It is requesting the province of Ontario assume paying 100 percent of the cost of several programs, including the Farm Tax Rebate Program, the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program, and the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program.
The RRDMA also is asking that section 61, subsection 5 of the Municipal Drainage Act be amended to ensure that drainage assessments for a municipal drain on conservation land be paid by either the property owner or the province, and further that the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund be adjusted on an annual basis to ensure the true cost of these provincial programs be paid for by the province.
“This is coming from the Township of Dawson because there are a number of these properties in the Rainy River District, but there are a huge amount of them in the municipality of Dawson; they have the lion’s share of them,” noted La Vallee Reeve Emily Watson, who was elected to her third-consecutive term as president on Saturday.
Fort Frances Con. Sharon Tibbs was re-elected as vice-president.
The first resolution will be circulated to the provincial and federal governments while the latter one will be circulated specifically to the ministers of Finance, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Revenue, as well as the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association and Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
Speakers galore
Delegates also heard from several speakers on Saturday, starting with Dianne Faragher and Shelley Shute of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, who gave an update on activities.
That was followed by a presentation by local MPP Howard Hampton, who spoke on the continuing negative impact of hydro rates on the forest industry in Ontario as well as the impending sale of AbitibiBowater’s hydro-generating assets.
Grace Silander, of Safe Communities Rainy River District, took time to honour four district individuals. They included Dr. Jason Shack of Fort Frances, John Beaton of the Rainy River District Emergency Medical Services, Donna Kroocmo of the Atikokan Crisis Centre, and Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown (who was the only one present Saturday).
“I am always impressed with Safe Communities Rainy River District and the number of programs they are able to put together by partnerships with so many organizations,” noted Reeve Watson.
“They look after safety programs from newborns, with their car seat safety programs, to seniors’ programs,” she added. “They are looking at all age ranges and providing all of these safety programs throughout the district for everyone.
“I am amazed by the number of programs they are able to offer,” she enthused. “They’re a really worthwhile organization and I am certainly glad so many municipalities support it.”
Cherie Russell (Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing) then talked about meeting investigations and the requirements for Ontario municipalities to have open and accountable meetings, and either have agreements with independent meeting investigators or the ombudsman to look into public complaints.
Northwestern Health Unit board chair John Albanese and CAO Mark Perrault introduced delegates to the new acting medical officer of health, Dr. James Arthurs, who provided some background on himself and said he would target metabolic health issues like obesity, unhealthy eating, smoking, drinking, and exercise.
Chantelle Bryson, with the Thunder Bay law firm Buset & Partners, spoke on the meaningful enforcement of bylaws while Darlene Morgan of the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. made a presentation on how property assessment is calculated and what a municipality does if there are changes to assessment.
One delegate questioned when there are property reassessments on major properties and the assessment goes down, why that isn’t “phased in” as opposed to changing drastically from one year to the next, noted Reeve Watson.
“She [Morgan] said that’s not how it is in the law—the law says any reassessment will be done when it’s found,” related Reeve Watson. “It’s not something that can be phased in over a number of years. So municipalities are having to take it on the chin over those—not good.”
Thunder-Rainy River MP John Rafferty spoke on the federal budget, noting, among other things, that one of the NDP’s sub-amendments to the budget was to allow women to appeal issues of pay equity in court.
But this sub-amendment, which also was a vote of confidence, was not accepted. If it had been accepted, another election would have to be called.
“As far as I can see, that is a step backwards for the women of Canada, considering President Obama just signed back into legislation in the U.S. their pay equity program,” noted Reeve Watson.
Gary McKinnon of the Atikokan Economic Development Corp. then gave a talk on AEDC activities and how it is planning to expand and sustain employment there, followed by brief remarks from Reeve Watson following her re-election as president.
Looking to the year ahead, Reeve Watson said she wants to work on RRDMA partnerships and, in fact, will be travelling to the Kenora District Municipal Association’s annual meeting this weekend.
“They’re the other large municipal association in the northwest,” she noted. “It’s good to network with them and represent our area. A lot of the concerns in our area are the same as theirs and it’s really good to work together with them.
“I am always happy to represent our district and work with the other districts in the northwest,” Reeve Watson stressed.