County declines MTO grant application
By Chad Ingram
Published Jan. 30, 2018
Haliburton County council will stick with its plan of commissioning an implementation plan for a transportation service in the community, forgoing a grant opportunity from the Ministry of Transportation.
At a December meeting, council decided it will hire a consultant to complete a transportation project implementation plan and has allotted $50,000 in the 2018 draft budget for that purpose.
During a Jan. 24 meeting, councillors were visited by Tina Jackson and Sue Shikaze of the Haliburton County community transportation task force, who asked councillors to take advantage of a new community transportation grant program offered by the MTO.
A business case prepared by the task force that councillors had received at their December meeting outlined a number of transportation options, one being a booked, shared ride service that would transport residents who called to book rides. It was estimated the cost for such a service would be at least $192,000 a year.
“I know there is some concern about how this model will meet the needs of all residents, and I’m here to assure you that it can’t and it won’t,” Jackson said, adding that ideally a suite of transportation services is required to fulfill the needs of residents.
“Our request is that you reconsider your decision and prepare and submit an application to the ministry of transportation,” Shikaze said.
She emphasized the grant program is designed for communities that are not served or are under-served by transit, and can be used to develop new systems, with an emphasis on improving mobility for the entire community, including those with transportation barriers, seniors, people with disabilities, youth and individuals with low incomes.
The program offers funding of up to $500,000 over five years, however, a caveat is that it is a five-year commitment.
County planner Charlsey White told councillors that if council decided after a few years a system was unsustainable and decided to pull out of the arrangement, it was possible that some or all funds received from the province would have to be paid back.
With municipal elections taking place this October, a five-year commitment would also mean that council was committing not just the next county council, but also the council after that, to the project.
“I need to see an implementation plan,” said Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Andrea Roberts. “I’m just worried about committing future councils.”
“We have to acknowledge this whole project is fraught with various risks,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. Moffatt said she did see the grant program as an opportunity, but noted the county would be taking a risk with the five-year commitment.
“I see it as hedging our bets,” Moffatt said.
Dysart et al Mayor Murray Fearrey, who emphasized he was not against the project, noted the county would be responsible for administration of the service, something likely not possible with its current staff level. With vehicles, gas and drivers, he said he believed a booked, shared ride service would end up costing more than the $192,000 that had been estimated in the task force’s business case.
The grant application deadline is also fast approaching, at the end of February.
Chief administrative officer Mike Rutter said it was staff’s opinion the more financially prudent option for council would be to use gas tax funding to help finance whatever transportation system is eventually created. That way, Rutter said, there would not be a specific time commitment, and council could abandon a financially unsustainable program at any time.
Moffatt and Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin acknowledged the decision would likely draw criticism from some members of the public.
“I think we’re sincerely committed to this, and we’re going to do something,” Devolin said. The county will not submit a grant application and will continue with the creation of its implementation plan.