Gas money, rate hikes fuel debate
South Glengarry Township is slated to receive $419,222 through the federal Gas Tax Fund and candidates are divided as to whether that money should help offset rising water rates in Glen Walter, Lancaster, and Green Valley.
While the funds could be put towards water and waste water projects, the money has traditionally gone to projects that benefit the entire municipality.
Mayor-Elect Frank Prevost, who has been acclaimed to his new position, defends this practice. “If it was put towards the water and sewer it would only benefit so many people in the township and gas tax is to help all residents of the Township. In my opinion it should be used to help cover the costs of our road system, bridges, ditching and recreation.”
In June, the township voted to increase the water rates to help pay for an upgrade to its 25-year-old water system. Glen Walter residents will see their bills rise from $804 per year to $1,077.61 in 2018 and to $2,332 next year.
Lancaster residents, currently paying $804 for their water and sewer, will see their bills rise to $1,105 this year and then $1,265 the following year to match system requirements.
Users in Green Valley and Kennedy Redwood will also see increases, though nowhere near as extreme. In Green Valley, sewer users will see their fees jump from $435 to $505 in 2018 and then $575 the next year. There will be further two per cent increases in 2020 and 2021. For Kennedy Redwood water users, the fee will jump from $1,016 to $1,077 this year and then $1,138 in 2019. There will be further two per cent increases in 2020 and 2021.
Mr. Prevost has said that when he is mayor, he would revisit the issue should someone at the council table wish to bring it up again.
Depending on who gets elected, that could very well happen.
Over the past few months, Lancaster resident Glenn Patton, a councillor candidate, has been questioning the rate hikes, arguing the Fund money should be used to reduce the burden on affected communities. “If already budgeted elsewhere, then change it,” demanded Mr. Patton, adding that if his taxes can help build a fire hall in Glen Walter or a bridge in Williamstown, then it isn’t out of the ordinary to ask that taxes help pay for the water system too.
Mr. Patton is not alone in his convictions. Fellow council hopefuls Hanz Schulz and Jo-Ann Periard agree.
“I am aware that some of the residents are facing a substantial increase in their rates,” says Mr. Schulz, a Martintown resident. “The unfortunate fact is that with increased or mandated services, costs will be incurred and generally will need to be borne by those who utilize those services.”
If elected, Mr. Schulz stated he would be willing to consider the possibility of using some of the Gas Tax Fund to help mitigate the steep rate increases faced by some of the township residents.
Ms. Periard says that council should have been charging more for its water rates in order to build up for something like this.
“It’s kind of like when you buy appliances, you know you’re going to have to replace them,” she said. “So I think money should have been put aside for any infra costs that might arise over the years.”
Ms. Periard would consider putting a maximum of $100,000 to- wards the water and sewage since Lancaster, Glen Walter and Green Valley make up a big portion of the township. The rest of the funding, said Ms. Periard, would be allotted towards infrastructure benefiting the whole of the township.
When asked why she believed it was important to dedicate a portion of the gas tax fund towards the targeted water and waste water reserves, Ms. Periard said that it would help the whole township in the long run. “In Lancaster for example, the water and sewage played a large role in getting the village going again. In Glen Walter there are now quite a few restaurants so it helps the economy of South Glengarry as a whole.”
Councillor candidate David Small also isn’t diametrically opposed to using the Gas Tax Fund to offset costs, though he agrees with Ms. Periard that council should have been building up reserves for such a situation.
“I would certainly be willing to consider its use in an emergency situation,” he said. “I believe neighbours want to help neighbours.”
However, council members and council hopefuls believe the gas tax funds should go to infrastructure as a whole.
Councillor Trevor Bougie - the sole member of council to vote against the water and waste water hikes – disagrees with Mr. Patton.
“I do not think the Gas Tax Fund should be used towards water and waste water systems as it is supposed to be fully funded by the users of the system,” said Mr. Bougie. “I think the Gas Tax Fund should be used strictly for roads and bridges in the Township.” Councillor Bill MacKenzie agrees. “I don’t believe we should be giving out money that can be used for the entire Township to a particular group of users… That’s not fair to the people who are not on the water and waste water system,” he said.
Councillor Lyle Warden, currently running for Deputy-Mayor, commented: “Why would we use Gas Tax Fund money for water and sewer which approximately 13 per cent of our residents use? For a person to think that Gas Tax, which is paid by us all, should be used for only a select percentage of ratepayers is crazy. I can’t see any elected member in South Glengarry agreeing to do so.”
Deputy Mayor candidate Jacqueline Milner says that “perhaps a percentage” of the gas tax rebate could be allocated to water/wastewater reserves. She “hopes that the money would support infrastructure projects that assist as many South Glengarry citizens as possible.”
Other councillor candidates offered their perspectives.
Sam McDonell: “The Gas Tax is for use in transportation as specified by the government. This municipality is predominantly rural and the funds are essential to maintain our road ways.”
Martin Lang: “At this point, I think the gas tax system should go towards everyone. I always thought that the gas tax should go toward roads and bridges. Having learned more about it recently, I still believe that here in South Glengarry, the money should go towards roads and infrastructure that benefit the whole township.”
Stephanie Jaworski: “Gas Tax Funds should be directed to projects that have a wider impact to the community at large.” Examples of projects that would have wider impact include improving accessibility to recreation for both children and their families and the growing numbers of active seniors.
Duncan Whiteman: “I believe it should be used for roads and bridges.”
Claude Bourcier: “I think we need to do an investigation. I don't believe what the township is saying or that we even need money for reserves. If it turns out that we do then I'd be willing to use a portion or all of the gas tax fund money to put towards the water /waste water reserves.”