Roads boards hitting the highway

Local roads boards are on their way out the door as the province shifts gears on the way unincorporated areas can access funding for roads.
But that’s news to local roads boards in this area.
Once the Northern Services Improvement Act is passed, which will include amendments to the Local Services Boards Act, funding for road maintenance will be pumped through the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines rather than the Ministry of Transportation.
And only local services boards–not local roads boards–legally can access any dollars from that ministry, said Doug May, with the ministry’s communication department in Sudbury.
But Halkirk resident Bob MacDonald, who has been attending the working group meetings to create an area services board here, said he thought the move to local services boards would be optional.
And he charged by making the changes, the province was blackmailing them into creating local services boards.
Aarne Hahkala, with a roads board in Miscampbell, agreed, adding they hadn’t heard anything about the changes, either. There had been no moves toward making a local services board there.
“To just replace a local roads board with a local services board doesn’t accomplish anything,” MacDonald noted yesterday, “[But] if the local services board were to take in all of Halkirk, that would be different.”
And that is where the province is heading. May said there were 254 roads boards across Northern Ontario, and in some cases, each road has its own board. The ministry is aiming to have some of those consolidated.
“There obviously needs to be a reduction in the number of local roads boards in that area,” May added. “We would like to see the number of road authorities reduced.
“The intent is for it to follow a request or an application from the areas involved,” he continued, noting there had to be evidence of a public meeting and a local MNDM officer would be there to report back on what the tone was.
“Our desire is to see these people come together and work out their solutions,” May stressed.
If not, he admitted the ministry might step in.
“Fiscal realities may drive us to it,” he said. “There is room legally for the government, if it thinks taxpayers’ money is being mishandled, to intervene.”
But MacDonald questioned how fair that would be. In his area in Halkirk, he said they have been collecting a $150 “road tax” (the minimum collection is $10) in order to improve the road. And he wondered what would happen if they consolidated with an area where the road needed work.
May admitted he didn’t know how a situation like that would be handled, or if tax assessment could be restructured.
Until last year, MTO kicked in $2 for every $1 collected by local roads boards. That dropped to a one-to-one ratio last year.
“For 1998, the grants will continue as they were last year, and that is dollar for dollar,” May assured, admitting there was talk about dollars being capped.
And that, he noted, was where consolidated boards could lead to efficiencies. Rather than pay for equipment to be transported to roads in the same area, a local services board could have that equipment do a number of roads–cutting down on transportation time and cost.
For 1998, the MTO and MNDM will work together to continue funding the present roads boards. May noted the provincial dollars will go to the MTO, which will extend the grants through MNDM.
The following year, though, he felt the provincial dollars would flow directly through the MNDM.
Local service boards have three ways to come up with money–fundraise, apply fee for services, or have taxes added to the provincial land tax. Presently, local services boards can collect dollars for fire, recreation, garbage, street lighting, and sewer and water.
May added members have to be elected, with only one officer–usually the secretary/treasurer–receiving a slight remuneration.