By Lisa Dumontier
Local concerns were raised with the Government of Ontario last week as Mayor Phil Vinet, Councillors Debra Shushack and Anne Billard, and Municipal CAO Brian Anderson took to the sky to attend the 2012 Ontario Good Roads-Rural Ontario Municipal Association combined conference in Toronto from February 26-29th. Sitting down with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the delegates wasted no time getting down to business highlighting the area’s high policing costs, unfair costs associated with renting childcare spaces within local elementary schools and the importance of establishing a walkable trails network to link local communities.
Founded in 1984, the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) represents the infrastructure interests of municipalities across the province through “advocacy, consultation, training and the delivery of identified services” and when teamed with the voice of Ontario’s rural municipalities—the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA)—provides for the annual OGRA/ROMA combined conference. One of the largest annual gatherings of municipal leaders in Canada, the combined conference provides information seminars, guest speakers and opportunities for municipal leaders to meet and discuss their challenges directly with provincial leaders in the hopes of arming municipalities with the tools they needs to respond to their various challenges.
Meeting with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, delegates with the Municipality of Red Lake continued their multi-year debate over the provincial funding formula for police services noting that when it comes to Red Lake, two plus two does not equal four. Maintaining that local policing concerns deal strictly with the high costs associated with services and not with the level of service being provided locally, Mayor Vinet expressed his desire to see the province step up to the plate to help lessen the impact of policing costs on area ratepayers.
“Our policing costs are so much higher than the provincial average and I think our presentation to the Ministry was well received—I think they generally agreed with all of our points,” confirmed Vinet. “They didn’t offer us a solution on the spot of course but I am optimistic that if we keep at this, and continue to press our point with our police services funding concerns, a solution will be in the cards for the municipal ratepayers.”
Child care costs also continue to escalate in the Red Lake area and according to the Municipality, this has a lot to do with the rising costs associated with leasing the Early Learning Centres housed within local elementary schools. A former representative of the Township of Golden—the governing body that oversaw the Balmertown area prior to the amalgamation of the Red Lake area—Mayor Vinet pointed toward a funding arrangement that was struck with the Golden Learning Centre (GLC) during its construction phase for the Municipality’s Balmertown Early Learning Centre as ideal and would like to see similar arrangements reached for other local centres.
“Our contention is that the schools are dealing with lower enrolment and there is space available within the school system,” detailed Vinet. “When GLC was built, the old Township of Golden was a partner in the process so now the Municipality is only responsible for operating and maintenance costs associated with its Balmertown child care space and we’re suggesting that this type of fee structure be adopted at the Red Lake Madsen Public School because we paid for the renovations and the school has already been paid for by the local ratepayers.”
“This is a classic double-dip to the Red Lake ratepayer and, more importantly, I think it’s imperative that we utilize all public facilities as effectively and as efficiently as possible,” he continued noting that Ministry of Education staff were receptive to the Municipality’s position and were pleased to see the local delegates show up to the table with creative solutions for their concerns.
A friend of the Red Lake area, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines also received a visit from local delegates who debriefed Parliamentary Assistant Bill Mauro on the challenges being faced by the Municipality of Red Lake in an effort to keep Minister Rick Bartolucci up to speed and in their corner. In addition to providing the foot notes of their presentations on policing costs and rental fees for their early learning centres and best start hubs, Councillor Shushack also provided a detailed presentation on the area’s walkable trails project. Unavailable at the time of press, Shushack is expected to update council on her walkable trails presentation when the delegates next meet in council chambers.
While unprepared to issue immediate solutions to the struggles faced by the Municipality of Red Lake, according to Mayor Vinet the ministries approached by local delegates were all receptive to the information presented. Noting that the local governing body is not one to simply show up with a problem and demand it be fixed, Vinet also confirmed that the Municipality always provides a clear set of solutions for their concerns instead of merely approaching the province with its hands extended.
“Whenever we make a presentation to the various ministries, we don’t show up with a problem alone,” finished Vinet. “We always offer a creative solution and a reasonable solution for the Ministers to consider which I think is very much appreciated.”