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Blessing or bluff?

The Review, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blessing or bluff?

BY MATTHEW TALBOT

How do you get 40 people, including dignitaries, from across Glengarry-Prescott-Russell into a sewage treatment plant? Make an announcement about millions of dollars in funding, of course.

That is what Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Pierre Lemieux and MPP Jean-Marc Lalonde did on February 3 at Hawkesbury's beleaguered wastewater treatment plant. The upgrade of this plant just happens to be one of the most costly projects accepted for Building Canada funding in all of Ontario.

Building Canada has leveraged about $34 million in combined federal and provincial funding into the riding for projects ranging from bridge repairs to major waterworks and wastewater treatment plant upgrades in seven communities and at the United Counties level.

While area mayors (excluding North Glengarry Mayor Grant Crack and Alfred-Plantagenet Mayor Jean-Yves Lalonde, whose municipalities were passed over in this round of funding) might have been jumping for joy last Friday, there is a catch that isn't easy to ignore.

The ratepayers in those municipalities still have to come up with a lot of money.

For Hawkesbury, where project costs are estimated at $35 million, that could be incredibly difficult. The Town of Hawkesbury is alleged to be at its borrowing limit, and Mayor Jeanne Charlebois hasn't hidden the fact that the town doesn't have a lot of capital to spend. So while I'm not trying to rain on what appears to be a pretty good parade, where is Hawkesbury going to get $11.8 million?

That is Hawkesbury's required one-third contribution to the $35 million project. If Hawkesbury has 10,300 citizens, that equates to approximately $1,100 each. That's not per household, but per person.

Would it be reasonable for Hawkesbury to ask each citizen for an extra $1,100 next year? Could low-income families afford an extra $4,400 in taxes? I don't think so.

So, where is the town going to get the money?

It's too early to tell, but there seem to be very few options. Can the federal or provincial government step in with more financial help?

Should they? What if Hawkesbury's borrowing limit was waived, and they were allowed to borrow $11.8 million? Would that be a responsible action?

There are many unanswered questions, and these are questions our government representatives need to be considering.

We are bombarded with constant reminders that economic times are difficult and money is tight. What other important projects would Hawkesbury have to forgo to find $11.8 million for a project that is arguably vital to protecting the environmental integrity of the Ottawa River?

Keeping in mind that numerous paper mills, the City of Ottawa and a nuclear power plant allegedly continue to dump waste into the river, should Hawkesbury do its part? I believe so, but at what cost to its citizens?

Yes, it seems like a really good thing, but Building Canada could amount to nothing more than a gamble on the part of the federal and provincial governments.

It seems like a heated poker game and the guys with the money (the upper tier governments) have just decided to wager sums some smaller players can't match, putting it all into the pot in the gamble they might not lose out.

It might be a way for the federal and provincial governments to appear generous without having to pay out. Will municipalities call the bluff?

When the federal government has admitted they're going into a deficit, there's nothing stopping them from signing cheques by the hundreds.

Is it time for municipalities to adopt the same philosophy, to be allowed to have a deficit? Another open question.

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The Review, Wednesday, February 18, 2009
‘Its raining money' say Lemieux and Lalonde
by Philippe Morin


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