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Proposed accessible transit system is sidelined in Wellington North

by Kris Svela

KENILWORTH - A proposed disability transit system for Wellington  North failed to gain traction with council on Monday and was defeated 4-1 after considerable debate about its pros and cons.

The issue was first raised at council in August and adjourned until the Oct. 17 meeting.

The system was strongly supported by councillor Dan Yake and Wellington North county councillor Gary   Williamson, who argued it is needed to assist handicapped residents needing rides to appointments.

However, several Wellington North councillors, including finance committee chairman Andy Lennox,  opposed the service, claiming it would be a financial burden on the township, which is  already troubled by high debt.

The system, known as the Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit (SMART) service, was expected to cost the township about $65,000 in its first two years of operation, depending on ridership.

The figure was presented to council at its August meeting by SMART manager Roger Cook, who said the township would have to commit itself to a two-year contract to test the system and see if it is a viable service in Wellington North (the contract required a one-year termination period).

It is that time frame Lennox was concerned about, as well as the financial commitment.

At council’s Oct. 3 meeting, Lennox pointed out the  township’s current debt load means council is obligated to get annual tax increases as close to inflation as possible  - so adding a  new service would be too much of a burden financially.

It was an argument he reiterated prior to Monday’s vote.

“We need to focus our efforts on keeping our core services,” Lennox said, referring to the cost of maintaining recreational services such as arenas and swimming pools.

“My concern is financial and I believe we need to change the pattern our township has been on for 10 years. We are paying so much on debt repayment, I don’t see how we can commit to new services.”

Yake countered since the transit issue was first brought to council in the summer, he has heard a lot of support for it from local nursing homes, health care officials and other individuals.

“There is support for this issue,” Yake said. “I was shocked at the number of calls I received and the letters (of support) to the newspapers.

“I’m not going to beg council to do the right thing. I think we have a good opportunity to provide a service in Wellington  North.”

He added, “I support the service. I hope it’s given the chance to succeed.”

Williamson said he has also heard community support for the service.

“I think we need to keep in mind the people who need this service have paid taxes in this community all their lives,” Williamson said.

“Maybe it’s time they received something back.”

Councillor Sherri Burke opposed the plan, saying similar services are already in place in Wellington North, including VON transportation services, Wellington North transportation services and cancer patient  services, which provide transportation on a volunteer basis.

“I believe the municipality can’t afford it,” Burke said.

Councillor Mark Goetz agreed, saying council can’t take on costs associated with a new service when its committees are being asked to trim their own budgets.

“If we keep adding stuff [costs] it’s going to be tougher and tougher to move forward,” Goetz said.

Mayor Ray Tout offered a compromise where he suggested the township would put up $40,000 for two years if other community groups came on as partners to raise the remaining $35,000.

“I’m willing to jump in and support $15,000 in the first year and $15,000 in our second year budget, so somebody is going to have to come in with $35,000,” the mayor said.

“What we need to do is find someone who is willing to   partner with us.”

The mayor’s compromise failed to come to council as a motion when it was proposed by Goetz but died for lack of a seconder. 

That left council with the original motion from the August meeting, which called for a full endorsement and council funding. That motion was defeated 4-1.

Tout, who supported the plan, said council could reconsider it next year if other community groups are interested in assisting with funding.

 

October 21, 2011

 
 

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