Township concerned about “˜onerous”™ government requirements

A government proclamation establishing municipal requirements for long-term planning for infrastructure turned into a lengthy debate on yet another set of rules being handed down by the province.

Puslinch councillor Ken Roth said it is all well and good for the province to pass its Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, but asked “what is it going to do for us?”

The act itself establishes new mechanisms to encourage long-term infrastructure planning that supports job creation and training opportunities, economic growth, protection of the environment and design excellence. The provincial government News release states, “Upon proclamation, the government and broader public sector entities covered by the act will be required to consider statutory infrastructure planning principles when making infrastructure-related decisions.

“Can someone tell me what this means?” Roth asked.

Municipalities are having more pieces of legislation “throw at us regarding transparency and accountability … this is just ridiculous,” he added. “At what point are the municipalities going to tell the Ontario government ‘enough is enough?’”

Mayor Dennis Lever said, “I think that message has been conveyed. Whether it is received (and acted upon) is another story.”

Roth said the province is telling municipalities they need to better financially plan for infrastructure projects.

“Do they think we just pick them out of our back pockets, because we have all this money laying around and don’t put any planning into them?” Roth asked.

He considered the latest announcement a “waste of paper. If this is all they have to do, it’s pretty scary. I take offense to this and I think every municipality should as well.”

Councillor Susan Fielding said that while she had no specific views on the document before council, she agreed with many of Roth’s points.

“In the 13 years I’ve been on council, the reporting mechanisms have become more and more onerous, requiring more and more staff time, and there are not enough hours in the day,” said Fielding.

She contended before all the provincial requirements came into play, the township could operate with a much smaller staff.

While the councillor did agree with the concept of transparent government at the local level, “We don’t have much transparency from our federal, and particularly our provincial, governments.”

She agreed it is time to say “enough is enough,” noting upper levels of government should realize municipalities have survived quite a number of years without the imposed rules.

Mayor Lever said the message has been carried to the province.

Lever noted that Minto Mayor George Bridge, also now warden of Wellington County, met with Municipal Affairs and Housing officials a few years ago to explain the number of reports the municipality was required to prepare annually. Lever said he  believes that number was over 200. Lever added that during the recent Good Roads conference he noted that over half of Ontario municipalities in are in fact smaller than Puslinch.

“For whatever reason, the province continues to move ahead defining how municipalities will operate in what they consider to be an open and transparent method … that doesn’t seem to apply to them or the federal government,” said Lever.

Fielding said “one of the biggest disappointments is that the provincial government just isn’t listening … they’ve been made aware.” She added many of those now serving as MPPs have come from the municipal sector – “so they know the restraints municipalities are under.”

Roth was uncertain what the township can do, short of sending a letter refusing to prepare the reports.

“Good luck with that,” Lever laughed.

Roth said something similar will have to happen because the amount of reporting and documentation required “just isn’t sustainable.”

He added, “We spend more money on reporting than we actually spend on fixing infrastructure.”

Treasurer Paul Creamer said he found it interesting the province is threatening not to provide the municipality funding without the reports, but the township prepares the reports to apply for the funding – and is still turned down.

Roth expressed disappointment with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario for not sending the message to the province forcefully enough.

And with AMO representing over 400 municipalities, Roth said “If they can’t get the message across … who can?”

“I’m done ranting … for now,” Roth said.