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Issues being brought to AMO conference

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Local delegates will bend ministry reps' ears next week (Aug. 13-16) during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's 2017 conference in Ottawa.

During the conference, Mayor Roy Avis, Couns. June Caul and Paul Ryan and town CAO Doug Brown will bring several briefs on locally-relevant issues—including roads funding, railway taxation reform, the need for a residential judge and assistant Crown attorney, and a secure wood supply—to the attention of several provincial ministers and their assistants.

The group will meet with the Ministry of Transportation on Sunday to lobby for “Connecting Link” funding——provincial dollars earmarked for municipalities to repair and replace roads and bridges make that run through communities and connect to provincial highways.

Brown told the Times that provincial “Connecting Link” funding is expected to increase to $30 million next year, and the town wants to ensure it gets some in this next round.

The town did receive such funding in 2015 to do engineering study to fix the Mill Road overpass at the east end of town, but then never got money to actually do the job the following year or since.

“Any time something gets deferred like that, we have a back log, and we've got just about nine kilometres of 'Connecting Link,'” said Brown.

“We're kind of a mini-Windsor where our roads are getting beat up because of the border crossing," he added. "We want to make sure we apply and start getting funding.”

Brown noted much of the economy of Northwestern Ontario relies on traffic coming through Fort Frances to cross the border, and the town doesn't think it's getting its “fair shake.”

Brown mentioned the town tendered to have Scott Street from Reid Avenue to Colonization Road East fixed way back in 2008, didn't get any “Connecting Link” funding for it, and now can't get back to that job because others, such as the overpass, have taken higher priority.

Delegates then will meet with the Ministry of Finance on Monday regarding the review of the railway taxation system in Ontario.

This past spring, the province set a minimum of $80 an acre for property tax rates in municipalities if a rail line goes through it. While this is an improvement from $35 an acre, if a railway taxation system based on tonnage were in place, like it is some other provinces, Ontario municipalities could be reaping hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of dollars.

“We really think this has value for us because we are a major port into the States for CN and there's a lot of tonnes going through our community and nobody wants to address it,” said Brown.

While a working group is reviewing the railway taxation issue, the town feels it must keep the pressure up with the province to make sure the issue is addressed or the working group comes up with a recommendation on how to proceed, he added.

Later that day, delegates will meet with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi regarding the review of the justice system in Rainy River District.

“Council and the justice partners still think that having resident judge—housed out of Fort Frances—makes sense for the district,” remarked Brown.

“We also think that the case load in the Rainy River District, because of the new mine, has increased by 10 percent since we started looking for having a permanent Crown attorney and now we want an assistant Crown attorney just based on data from other northern court systems," he added. "And so we've got to keep the pressure on that.”

And delegates also will meet with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to reinforce the message that there must be a guaranteed wood supply from the Crossroute Forest in the future.

The new enhanced Sustainable Forest Licence (eSFL) program comes into effect in 2020, explained Brown.

“We want to have an early discussion and make sure that that doesn't have an impact on either a new purchaser or Resolute re-opening,” he added.

Delegates also will meet with Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro and representatives of Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle during the course of the conference.

The conference will draw more than 1,900 participants from hundreds of municipalities and other organizations from across Ontario.

Key session topics will include the need for new and modern approaches to funding municipal services, changes to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), infrastructure and transit, climate change, new waste legislation and changes to the “Blue Box” program, marijuana legalization, the digital and sharing economy, affordable housing, and police modernization.

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