Establishing priorities

As the cash gets doled out of the infrastructure fund, there is bound to be some winners and losers. Arguably, some losers deserve to be a little bitter – case in point being the Town of Erin.

In the latest round of funding, the little town, which in itself is a bit of misnomer since much of its geography is quite rural, did not make the cut for funding for a rural bridge.

Contrast that with neighbouring Guelph Eramosa’s receipt of $4.13-million to go towards a brand new recreational facility, then add $1.4-million for Puslinch’s recreation project for good measure. While the merits of those proposals in today’s climate are highly suspect, there can be little doubt when a decrepit bridge needs to be replaced to ensure the safety of the travelling public. The unanswerable question therefore, is how or why did Erin miss out when the project was of such a clear need?

Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj, also warden of Wellington County for 2009, was a little philosophical when that question was posed to her by one of our reporters. According to her, there are several rounds of funding on the way so it is too soon to despair.

Considering Centre Wellington did not receive money towards its $10-million sewage plant upgrade this round, that attitude is quite generous. Funds at the county level were granted for a bridge in Centre Wellington but that’s little consolation considering the quantity of bridges there that need replacing.

The return of funding to help municipalities suffering the financial stranglehold of too much work to do and not enough funds with which to do it, has been a big help. For nigh onto a decade, projects were basically funded 100% from the local tax levy. Some townships moved forward with plans and did business, knowing that someday funding would return, but in the meantime business had to be done.

On that basis, Guelph Eramosa should not be admonished for its funding application. Puslinch too, long bolstered by healthy cheques from gravel companies and a smart blend of industrial assessment, ran its township fairly smoothly and deserved consideration under the present rules. Our argument is that the funding partners at the provincial and federal level obviously need to develop more strict eligibility criteria to ensure money is earmarked for “need” before “feel-good” projects.

As a side note, the recreation proposals will add further costs to longer term operating budgets. Despite assurances that the completely new Marden park facility will be self-funded through user fees, years of combined experience suggest to us the facility will in fact cost the tax base. Once established, these facilities will become an annual obligation to fund, which could very well send townships back to the days of shortchanging hard infrastructure budgets for leisure pursuits.

Additionally, we believe more emphasis should be placed on environmental projects. Communities in need of water and sewer upgrades, retrogrades and new pipe should get priority. Centre Wellington’s application could have been half paid if the Puslinch and Guelph Eramosa proposals were put in abeyance this round.

As the province pushes additional residents to the north, east and west – owed in large part to its beloved Greenbelt policy – municipalities are going to feel the pinch. These issues need to be contemplated now, before heavy development resumes, forcing reactive decisions rather than the best possible planning for the future.

There is no question that politics has a way of entering into grant discussions. With more effective criteria, hard infrastructure will get the attention it deserves, rather than the backseat it took in Erin last week.