March 12, 2014

Mayor appeals to Premier after funding denied

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has written a bitter complaint letter to Premier Katherine Wynne, seeking reconsideration after provincial funding was denied for restoration of the Station Street bridge and dam.

Suggesting it was a “pre-stacked” process, the mayor expressed Town Council’s “disappointment and frustration” with the Ministry of Infrastructure’s funding program for small municipalities. 

The project met the requirement that it be “critical” work to deal with “urgent public health and safety issues”. More than $2 million will be needed, regardless of whether the Hillsburgh mill pond is drained or not. Town staff have allocated $190,000 for an Environmental Assessment in the proposed 2014 budget.

The province had demanded that applicants have an Asset Management Plan in place by the end of 2013. That plan was approved on December 10, identifying Station Street as the number one priority.

The ministry rejection letter was dated December 9, “obviously without having examined our new Asset Management Plan, leaving one to wonder if the successful project applications had been pre-selected,” said the mayor.

The Small, Rural and Northern Municipal lnfrastructure Fund was designed to help towns with challenging economic conditions and limited fiscal flexibility, with special consideration for those already making significant infrastructure investments.

“It would seem impossible for the Town of Erin to be faced with a more ‘limited fiscal flexibility’ predicament than we currently are in,” Maieron’s letter says. 

“With a population of only approximately 10,500 residents, we are staring at the well documented possibility of taking on tens of millions of dollars in debt to build a sewage system, depending on the outcome of our SSMP. 

“As of our last published annual financial statements the Town of Erin had loans outstanding representing almost $3.25 million dollars in principle. To be clear, these are not operating loans, but in fact were drawn down to finance 'significant infrastructure investments' in roads construction, watermains, firehall, and recreation facilities, etc.

The Town was upset at a Ministry statement that other applicants “had more challenging economic conditions (as measured by property assessments and incomes)”.

The letter to the premier says, “There was no mention at all in your application template that the measuring stick used to judge worthiness would be either property assessments or income. 

“Had this been known in advance, the Province would have been expected to provide a ranking of its municipalities by these two criteria – with the likely result being that some of the 350 applicants could have saved staff time and money by avoiding the pre-stacked expression of interest process.

“Respectfully, we would like to appeal the non selection of our expression of interest, and would appreciate it being re-considered for financial aid.”