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Gas tax fund to help out district

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The Government of Canada is providing a top-up to local municipalities through the gas tax fund.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak made the announcement in the Council Chambers at the Civic Centre here in Fort Frances on Friday. The federal government will be giving $1.1-million to municipalities in Rainy River District.

“The gas tax fund is a way to get funding to municipalities with very few strings attached,” Rusnak said.

“I know from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and our governments listen to it, that we need more flexible funding, especially in smaller rural areas.”

Fort Frances will be receiving $506,557 from the one-time top-up, which can be used for infrastructure projects in town.

Fort Frances Mayor June Caul said the funding makes navigating the complex needs of infrastructure a little easier.

“With the ever-changing spectrum of responsibility placed on municipalities, it is very difficult to improve and replace our infrastructure,” Caul commented.

“The Town of Fort Frances greatly appreciates assistance from the federal government with a top up of federal gas tax funding. With these funds we will be able to complete some very important projects.”

Rusnak said his colleagues in Toronto often make announcements that deal in terms of millions or billions of dollars, but that major areas don't always understand the needs of smaller municipalities.

“$1.1-million spread over the riding doesn't sound like a lot, but it is a lot to some of the smaller municipalities that have pressing projects like culvert replacement,” Rusnak shared.

“It doesn't sound like something important but it is, when we have increased flood events as I understand that we had here last week at Fort Frances. My office basement got flooded on Scott Street. It's important that we prepare for these events and have the infrastructure there to make sure that even small events like that don't become an extra burden on the municipal taxpayer.”

Rusnak said that most of the infrastructure money from the federal government is tied to the province, which led the federal government to make the top-up.

“We realized that our provincial partners weren't going to have approvals before construction season for our small and rural municipalities,” he said.

"The province has sent their first list to the Department of Infrastructure and they're going through and approving them as fast as we can. Those projects that are approved have been prioritized by the province but in Northwestern Ontario, we know we have a short construction season, so most of those won't likely get underway until next year.

Still, while Rusnak won't be running for re-election in the fall, he said he has reached out to local MPP Greg Rickford and the provincial government in order to work together to get more of the infrastructure money freed up.

“I think we [Rusnak and Rickford] can do a lot,” he said.

“We both represent the kind of cross area here in the west and I have the ear the Prime Minister. I also work well with François-Philippe Champagne, who is our Infrastructure Minister and I know he's been reaching out to both the premier's office and the Infrastructure Minister's office to try to get some of that money flowing, just because we need it.”

Mayor Caul also took a moment after the announcement to wish Rusnak well as he steps away from office to spend more time with his family.

“I know you're here around us for the next several months, but we certainly wish you well always,” she said.

“And I'm hoping that you stay in touch, with your fingers still in there a little bit, even though you might not be in the position that you're in now. Best of luck in life and everything else that you need.”

Rusnak thanked the mayor and added that he would be back.

“Maybe I can finally go fishing when I come here again.”

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