I was pleased to thank local the Municipal leaders who participated in a recent roundtable discussion to advise her of issues of importance to their municipalities as she represents community priorities in the Parliament of Canada.
This is one of the few opportunities Heads of Council in the Riding have to meet together. In many municipalities the County Council Representative is not the Mayor, nor is Pembroke a member of County Council.
As the host municipality, Mayor Hal Johnson extended greetings from Whitewater Region Township.
Representing their ratepayers were Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Twp. Mayor, Renfrew County Deputy Warden Janice Visneskie-Moore; Whitewater Region Twp. Mayor Hal Johnson; Madawaska Twp. Mayor Kim Love; Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet; Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay; Town of Renfrew Mayor Don Eady: Whitewater Region Twp. Reeve Terry Millar; McNab/Braeside Mayor Tom Peckett; Horton Twp. Mayor Bob Kingsbury; Greater Madawaska Twp. Mayor Glenna McKay; North Algona Wilberforce Twp. Mayor Deborah Farr; South Algonquin Twp. Mayor Jane Dumas.
I started the roundtable discussion by personally thanking the Municipalities of Bonnechere Valley, Madawaska Valley, Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, Petawawa, Laurentian Hills, Greater Madawaska, North Algona Wilberforce, Admaston-Bromley and the County of Renfrew, for passing resolutions in support of fair taxation treatment for family-run campgrounds. With over 90 campgrounds in the Riding, the Federal Government decision to target small, predominantly family-owned campgrounds with increased taxation will cause economic hardship as well as job loss, particularly in rural areas and the adjacent communities that service the campgrounds.
Municipalities were reminded that the Federal Gas Tax agreement, which was renewed by the previous Conservative government in 2015, was done so that a number of the conditions imposed by the former liberal regime were removed at the request of municipalities. Municipalities fear new conditions will be added or re-imposed on how gas tax funds are to be spent. Cheryl encouraged all municipalities to inform her of any changes should or when they occur to federal gas tax distribution.
There is also an indication that the March 2016 Budget commitment to distribute unallocated infrastructure funds through the federal gas tax will not be honoured.
During the general, roundtable discussion, the following points were raised:
• The federal government needs to push the province on economic development, which is not happening in our area.
• It is hard to get economic growth. We need jobs. Youth are leaving to find jobs elsewhere. They are our future.
• Individual councils lack the resources and the expertise to advance economic development.
• There are still gaps in broadband coverage, cell and internet connectivity.
• There is a crisis with critical infrastructure.
• There is a lack of funding for lifecycle costs.
• The tax basis is declining. Incomes are stagnant.
• Municipalities do not want to waste taxpayers’ dollars to make an infrastructure project shovel-ready, unless there is a firm commitment for funding.
• Smaller municipalities with fewer staff need more time when funding application deadlines are announced to meet those deadlines.
• 78% of the property tax base in Renfrew County is residential. Homeowners can only absorb so many property tax increases.
• Petawawa is concerned that with the expansion of Garrison Petawawa. More funding is needed to deal with increased traffic flow.
• Pembroke needs our major employers, Garrison Petawawa and CNL to be successful, to grow local assessment.
• Municipalities like the way the Federal gas tax is now distributed. They do not want changes. The lottery system of funding distribution is stacked against small town and rural municipalities. Predictable funding is necessary, as is sustainable funding.
• Municipalities cannot keep up with asset management plans. Infrastructure is deteriorating faster than the ability of municipalities to raise taxes to pay for upkeep.
• Taxing capacity is not there.
• It is recognized the only way to encourage economic development is to build the infrastructure, which means an efficient, safe and dependable transportation system. Highway 17 upgrade must become a priority for senior levels of government. Economic growth is tied to Highway 17.
• The Algonquin Land Claim is an outstanding issue.
The roundtable discussion concluded by thanking all the participants with the general agreement these discussions were useful and should be continued.