Council defers decision on improvements to local trail system over funding concerns

MAPLETON – Council here has deferred a $186,000 project to improve four township trails.

The project would see improvements to signs, benches and garbage cans, lighting, mulch and more at Alma’s Wallace Cumming Park trail, the Moorefield Community Centre Trail, Drayton Walking Trail and Riverside Trail.

On Sept. 10 council deferred its decision in order to discuss how to lower the township’s contribution to the project with public works director Sam Mattina, who was absent from the meeting.

The initial recommendation was for council to approve the use of $135,925 from capital reserves with $50,000 of grant funding provided by Wellington County.

The county program is described in a report to council from Mattina as “an active transportation initiative … promoting the development of local trails” that was established in 2015 with all seven lower-tier municipalities eligible for up to $50,000.

To take advantage of the county grant, Mapleton’s application must meet the Nov. 30 submission deadline.

However, councillor Michael Martin raised concerns over taking such a large amount from township capital reserves.

“I surprised myself on this one; I don’t support the resolution as it is currently constituted,” he told council, adding he generally supports trail improvements.

“But specific to this, $185,000 coming this late in a budget year, I kind of feel like it’s come out of left field. I feel like we have created this project to take advantage of a $50,000 grant that will disappear in the fall,” he said.

Martin’s concerns, he explained, stem from council’s current commitment to improving Mapleton’s water and wastewater system.

“We’ve got this great big elephant in the room with our water and wastewater [project]. If it happens to deflate, we are going to need all of the reserves we have to just tread water,” Martin said.

The trail improvement plan includes:

– Wallace Cumming Park Trail: $14,000 for signs, $20,925 for structures (benches, garbage cans, pet waste systems, bicycle stands, picnic tables), $16,000 for lighting and $5,000 for materials (mulch, sod, screening);

– Moorefield Community Centre Trail: $10,000 for signs, $21,375 for structures, $16,000 for lighting and $7,500 for materials; and

– Drayton Walking Trail and Riverside Trail combined: $18,500 for signs, $26,625 for structures, $24,000 for  lighting and $5,000 for materials.

Martin recommended approving enhancements from this budget year totalling $100,000 and removing two of the four trails from the recommendation to do so.

Finance director John Morrison supported Martin’s recommendation.

“I would support what councillor Martin is saying, if the proponent from the RFP disappears or deflates we will need the money in order to fund the project ourselves,” Morrison said.

“I am working on a plan right now that would incorporate that as a what-if scenario and we would have to discuss that.”

Councillor Marlene Ottens also offered support to lowering the township’s financial commitment, but suggested doing so while still doing some improvements to all four trails.

“Rather than by doing it on a trail-by-trail basis, I would prefer that we eliminate the specific elements,” she said.

“I can see adding lighting and signage is quite important … and things like benches and pet waste disposable systems and bike stands can be added easily as the years go on.”

Councillor Paul Douglas agreed with Ottens’ suggestion, saying, “I have real concerns with the lighting in the Riverside Trail, just because the amount of debris and ice and stuff that comes down there. It’s just going to be taken out and by flooding.”

Mayor Gregg Davidson suggested removing structures from the project plan for all four trails, but added, “I will remind council that we will have more money  … (for) trail systems as we go further, as it is part of our strategic plan for the next three years.

“So there will be more money going into [making it a] ‘walkable community,’ whatever that might mean.”

CAO Manny Baron voiced concern over removing the structures category.

“I think that is one of the most important parts of the project, benches specifically and tables specifically and waste systems…” said Baron.

Davidson clarified council does acknowledge the importance of improving the  structures, but would budget for it in 2020.

After further discussion Martin motioned to defer the decision in order to discuss options with Mattina. It was passed unanimously.