Rickford announces ‘flexible’ funding

Sam Odrowski

Over $6 million was recently allocated to townships across the Kenora-Rainy River riding as a one-time investment that go will towards modernizing municipalities.

Local MPP Greg Rickford visited Fort Frances, Stratton, and Rainy River on Friday to make the announcement.

“We recognized an opportunity as this fiscal year closes out to bring some relief to . . . our municipalities–ensuring they’re supported, particularly out here in Northwestern Ontario,” he said on Friday at the Civic Centre here.

“Hardworking families rely on municipalities to deliver those essential services, water/waste water services, parks and recreation, transit, and they expect and deserve modern, efficient service delivery that puts people first and shows respect for their hard earned money.

“That’s why I’m delighted to announce in particular that Fort Frances will receive $689,030 of immediate dollars in funding for this modernization plan, independent of anything else that comes through agreements with the province,” Rickford added.

Mayor June Caul said she’s very grateful to receive the boost in funding for the Town of Fort Frances.

“Not only for the mention of getting money but just the fact that people in rural Ontario and our entire district have felt so left out for so many years–I can’t count them all,” she remarked.

“It’s nice to know that the government actually does recognize rural communities and especially us up here in the northwest, so thank you for that,” added Mayor Caul.

The funding doesn’t have a specific designation as to where it must be spent so long as it’s on modernization, which gives municipalities the ability to allocate the money where they best see fit.

“That’s what I think the strength of it is–it’s unconditional,” said La Vallee reeve Ken McKinnon.

“We can use it for what we want, or what we deem the most important,” he added,

“Every municipality’s needs are probably different but with this funding there is flexibility so that it can address the needs of whatever community you live in.”

La Vallee received $229,400 and McKinnon said the money will go a long way toward their capital projects and improvements.

He also noted that the funding couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Everybody’s in the budget process and everything we’ve heard up until now has been doom and gloom, so it’s nice to get some good news,” McKinnon lauded.

Morely reeve George Heyens also thanked Rickford for the $201,400 his township received, noting it will be great boost for the town.

He said most of the money will go into the town’s reserves to build them back up so they can handle some leaner years, if they occur, and plan for the future to avoid any large or surprising tax increases.

“If we have an emergency we’ll have the money in place,” Heyens remarked.

Chapple Township received $224,000 and the township’s reeve, Rilla Race said the funding was much needed and will be a huge benefit to the town.

“It’s a tremendous thing for Chapple Township because we’re putting in a bridge this year that came in way over what we originally costed it at,” she explained.

“This will go a ways towards offsetting the difference in what we initially thought the bridge would cost us and what the total is actually going to come in at,” added Race.

Race hopes to have the project started this spring.

The Township of Emo was the recipient of $265,000 and councillor Harrold Boven said it will be great for modernizing the township.

There has been some consideration on using the money towards projects that upgrade the downtown area, he noted.

“We will talk at our next council meeting to see where we can spend the money most wisely,” Boven remarked.

In Rainy River, mayor Deb Ewald said the $241,600 their town received will allow them to address some essential projects.

The roof of the town office building is in dire need of replacing as well as the roof at the town’s rec centre, she noted.

“We quite frankly have been concentrating on new infrastructure work, the water/sewer lines and the roads, so other stuff has to kind of fall by the wayside,” Ewald said.

“It will help us in the long run to do the little things that you don’t always have the money to do,” she added.

Rickford said this funding announcement is much wider in scope than anything his government has ever done before.

“It’s not a free for all, it’s a recognition that one of the things that the other levels of government . . . have lacked is a opportunity for an infusion of resources that gives you a flexibility to focus on your priorities,” he remarked.

“There’s no room here to waste this money; there are parameters but they are wide and flexible in scope so the townships and municipalities can address some of the things that they’ve long wanted to tend to.

“The things that their normal budgets just don’t accommodate for,” Rickford added.

Rickford said it is important to note that the $6.2 million in funding is specifically for municipalities, in rural areas that face unique challenges with respect to revenue.

“This is not money that’s going to those big municipalities or cities even across northern Ontario and into southern Ontario, this is focused on rural and remote municipalities and townships in this province,” he explained.

“The [funding] matrix was fairly simplified, it started out with smaller townships and municipalities being recognized as having an immediate and significant disadvantage in how much taxation they get,” added Rickford.

Municipalities with a low population, small tax base, and large land mass were given the most money per capita.

“There are actually some smaller municipalities and townships that got a proportionately higher amount than say Kenora did,” Rickford noted.

For example, Sioux-Narrows Nestor Falls has a fraction of the population in Fort Frances yet received $410,800, which is more than half of the $689,030 received here.

Rickford reiterated that the focus of this funding is on “modernization” and he is thankful to the representatives who illustrated the importance of this funding.

“I want to appreciate the leadership from our townships and in particular our mayor [June Caul] who expressed the pressing and substantial need for an infusion of resources to help pursue projects and opportunities that will make a difference in Fort Frances moving forward,” he said.

A total of 405 small and rural municipalities will also receive a one-time envelope of “flexible” funding for modernization from the provincial government.