Although district municipal leaders aren’t expecting stimulus funding for any more big projects this year, they’re optimistic about what 2011 holds in store.
La Vallee Reeve Ross Donaldson said he is “feeling pretty positive” about the upcoming year, although at this point it’s much about getting council “up to speed” following October’s municipal election.
“With the mix of new and old councillors, I think it’s going to be a really good experience,” Reeve Donaldson said, noting to this point council just has been working to sort out such things as who is sitting on which committees.
“The first year is a learning experience,” he reasoned. “You almost have to get into the middle of the term before you do big things.”
Last year saw the completion of the bridge project, with Reeve Donaldson saying this year the township will be looking into some new equipment.
There also is a road rebuild scheduled in—but this depends on the township’s budget, which has yet to be laid out.
“We have lots of work that needs to be done,” Reeve Donaldson admitted. “Of course, that’s the difficulty to prioritize because it’s always a trade-off between what we would like to do and what we can afford to do.”
He certainly doesn’t see the infrastructure funding coming from senior levels of government continuing into this year at the same amount.
“So it’s going to be tough for us to do some of the bigger projects like the [completed] bridge—there’s no way we could have afforded to do that on our local tax base,” Reeve Donaldson noted.
“We’re really at the mercy of the provincial and federal governments for a lot of our bigger project because that’s the only way we can afford them,” he stressed.
For Chapple Reeve Peter Van Heyst, the biggest highlight of the past year was the replacement of the Barron Bridge north of Barwick—a nearly $2-million project which hopefully will be completed this spring.
“There’s always the goal to maintain what we have,” he said about the upcoming year, noting there are quite a number of bridges in the township that need to be upgraded and lots of roads to look after.
“If there’s any more funding that comes through—infrastructure funding—we probably will do another project,” Reeve Van Heyst remarked.
“But the government has been cutting back, so it’s going to be difficult to do any big project this time,” he added, echoing Reeve Donaldson, while also noting that Chapple’s budget has yet to be set for this year.
“That’s always the challenge—to work within the budget and fulfilling the expectations of the ratepayers,” he explained.
But economically speaking, Reeve Van Heyst was optimistic about 2011.
“I think that things are looking up a little more for agriculture and forestry, we hope, and then there’s a fair amount of mining activity in our township, in Richardson Township, and that creates employment and it helps boosts the economy some,” he noted.
“We’re always open for new business ideas,” he stressed. “If people are willing to come to our township, we’re open and will help wherever we can.”
Working to attract new businesses and initiatives is an area which the Township of Emo also is focusing on in the upcoming year, said Vincent Sheppard, who was elected mayor back in October.
“I think from what people see, a lot of the district population is declining, so we’re looking at least [of] trying to hold our own,” he remarked.
Mining developments in the region, and the employment which comes from it, are positive, he added.
“Keep our fingers crossed on that one. Mining’s always touchy,” Mayor Sheppard warned.
With the exception of incumbent Gary Judson, October’s election in Emo saw a whole new council chosen to take on the next four years.
“We’ve had a couple meetings now, and are getting to work together,” said Mayor Sheppard, noting the projects going so far include working to make buildings such as the public library, curling club, and rec centre handicapped accessible and up to standards.
As well, Emo is looking into the expansion of the water system and water plant, as well as a new sewer lagoon, he added, noting council is waiting to hear back about funding for all of these projects.
“Other than that, we’re just taking it as it comes,” the mayor said.
Revisiting the town’s official plan is “already in the works,” Mayor Sheppard continued, as well as reinstating the Ontario Ombudsmen as the township’s closed meeting investigator.
Meanwhile, having just wrapped up an eventful year which saw the completion of major projects in Alberton, Reeve Mike Hammond conceded 2011 won’t be as busy.
“We completed quite a bit last year,” he noted. “We had a fire hall addition that was sponsored by the infrastructure stimulus fund.
“At the Millennium Park, we had renovations and an extension to the rink shack,” Reeve Hammond added, noting this was funded through the Recreational Infrastructure Canada Program and Ontario Recreation Program.
As well, new equipment was installed at the park—paid for through the township and rec centre reserve fund.
The final lift of hard surfacing also was laid down on the hill on the north part of Ducharme Road, which was paid for through federal gas tax funding and road surfacing reserve.
“There was a lot of stimulus funding. We took advantage of it,” Reeve Hammond said.
“There’s no more to come, I don’t think.”
As such, Reeve Hammond doesn’t expect there will be any big capital projects for 2011 in Alberton, but noted there’s been some people musing about putting in a beach volleyball court at the Millennium Park.
“It sounds kind of good. Not expensive. And you see a lot of them around now,” he remarked.
“It hasn’t been priced, but it probably will become a reality because the cost isn’t that much.
“You go to a lot of towns and you see that kind of stuff,” Reeve Hammond continued.
“So, for the price, I could probably go for that one.”
2011 also will hold challenges and issues the district as a whole will have to address, Reeve Donaldson stressed.
“The Fort Frances Airport is going to be an interesting issue that we’re going to have to address,” he noted, referring to the recent call by the Town of Fort Frances that district municipalities help foot the cost to operate and maintain the facility.
As well, Fort Frances has brought the issue of OPP policing costs “to a forefront,” Reeve Donaldson added.
“Again, the [Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board] is a big one, the health unit, what they call uncontrollable costs,” he said.
“But they’re not uncontrollable, we just have to control them,” he stressed.
Reeve Donaldson—who sits on the local DSSAB—said one of the main issues for him is working to try and control costs while still providing the services.
“I think what these things bring up is how we have to stick together as municipalities,” he remarked.
“The [Rainy River District] Municipal Association and NOMA really work because we all have the same concerns.
“We have to stick together,” he reiterated.