Ru­ral may­ors frus­trated by gas-tax

The Observer (Sarnia) - - NEWS - LOUIS PIN [email protected]­

On­tario’s cities are get­ting money to boost their pub­lic tran­sit — Sar­nia in­cluded — but ru­ral South­west­ern On­tario has once again been left off the list.

The an­nual gas tax funds come from two cents per litre paid at the pump to the tune of roughly $357.5 mil­lion across the prov­ince. That money is meant to in­crease rid­er­ship and in­fra­struc­ture of pub­lic tran­sit ser­vices around the prov­ince.

Most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in ru­ral On­tario do not have pub­lic tran­sit so are not eligible for that fund­ing.

“Trans­porta­tion is a huge pri­or­ity for us be­cause it’s a huge barrier for a lot of our com­mu­nity,” Jackie Rom­bouts, mayor of War­wick, said. “A lot of the peo­ple in our com­mu­nity are not higher-in­come peo­ple. They don’t have the trans­porta­tion to get to a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment, or even to visit fam­ily.”

The fund­ing for­mula — how much each mu­nic­i­pal­ity gets — is based on rid­er­ship and to­tal pop­u­la­tion, and can not ex­ceed 75 per cent of lo­cal tran­sit spend­ing.

Sar­nia will get a lit­tle more than $1 mil­lion, Chatham-Kent will get a lit­tle less than $1 mil­lion, and Point Ed­ward will get roughly $20,000.

“There are a num­ber of is­sues in tran­sit that have been on­go­ing,” Sar­nia Mayor Mike Bradley said. “Try­ing to in­crease the read­er­ship, mar­ket­ing and all those things; cer­tainly that money is use­ful for that pur­pose.”

Sar­nia MPP Bob Bai­ley said he un­der­stands the con­cern from res­i­dents in ru­ral On­tario who also pay the full 14.7 cents per litre.

“We’ve al­ways ar­gued that (they should be in­cluded),” Bai­ley said.

It’s not as if ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties don’t want pub­lic tran­sit. Last year, dozens of ap­pli­ca­tions were sub­mit­ted to the prov­ince for Com­mu­nity Trans­porta­tion Grants, de­signed to help un­der­ser­viced mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties pi­lot tran­sit projects at home. A hand­ful of nearby ap­pli­ca­tions were ac­cepted, in­clud­ing a joint sub­mis­sion by Sar­nia, Strathroy, Mt. Bry­dges, and London.

That pi­lot project, and other projects funded through Com­mu­nity Trans­porta­tion Grants, was frozen by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment last year.

“A new govern­ment al­ways has to take some time,” Greg McClinchey, chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer of nearby Strathroy-Caradoc, added. “We very much look for­ward to a pos­i­tive de­ci­sion from the govern­ment of On­tario (about the Com­mu­nity Trans­porta­tion Grants).

“(The wait) is dis­ap­point­ing but we’re not here to be­grudge any­body else.”

“I don’t know where we’re at with that,” Bai­ley said when asked about the Com­mu­nity Trans­porta­tion Grants. “I know they’re look­ing at a lot of pro­grams right now.”

The other is­sue is build­ing a com­mu­nity, Rom­bouts said. Peo­ple are mov­ing to ur­ban On­tario in droves partly be­cause taken-for­granted ser­vices are pulling out of com­mu­ni­ties like Mel­bourne and New­bury, and those same peo­ple are less likely to re­turn to places de­void of pub­lic tran­sit.

Ru­ral On­tario has other needs too.

“We have a road sys­tem here that’s not made for the type of equip­ment we’re us­ing,” Rom­bouts said. “We have bridges that were de­signed and built in the 1940s that are still be­ing used. Well, the farm equip­ment then was way smaller, way lighter. Now we’re us­ing mas­sive trac­tors, com­bines. Our road sys­tem isn’t set up for the type of farm­ing we’re do­ing now.”

Cities like Sar­nia and Chatham still need an­nual fund­ing, Rom­bouts added. Most pub­lic tran­sit sys­tems are sub­si­dized by sources of in­come like the per­l­itre gas tax, and On­tario’s ur­ban pop­u­la­tion has put added pres­sure on tran­sit ser­vices in places like Toronto and London.

Sar­nia, too, re­lies on pro­vin­cial fund­ing to break even.

“Trans­porta­tion sys­tems, in my view, are a so­cial ser­vice for the com­mu­nity,” Bradley said. “They’re there to help and if you look at the stats at the Sar­nia tran­sit sys­tem, the peo­ple that use it re­ally need the ser­vice.”

“That’s all part of what it’s like to be in ru­ral On­tario,” Rom­bouts said.

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