by Cecilia Naismith
County joins mobile-broadband project
Northumberland County council got behind a request for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of investment in a mobile-broadband improvement project at its May meeting.
Specifically, the motion they passed calls for a commitment of $40,000 to the 50/10Mbps+ study (megabytes-per-second, Warden Mark Lovshin explained) and between $658,053 and $955,109 for the actual project.
This is an initiative of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, undertaken after extensive consultation with cellular service providers regarding coverage and capacity issues throughout the region. The result is a proposed $213-million public-private partnership for a project aimed at network-design issues to address the coverage gap and possible future capacity gaps.
Chief administrative officer Jennifer Moore said the Federal and provincial governments are just now seeking firm commitments of support for the project from municipalities across Eastern Ontario.
“That includes all upper-tier levels and single-tiers, as well as separate cities,” Moore said.
The request had been made in a dollar range rather than an exact dollar amount, she said, because firm expressions of support are not all finalized yet. Basically, the more commitments come in, the lower the dollar amount will work out to be for the county.
“The best-case scenario is more participants,” she said.
“We anticipate more to come, but we have to go through the procress.
“This is looking for our commitment to move forward, and many of our residents would like to see the enhanced coverage and capacity.”
Brighton Mayor Mark Walas asked that, when a final number is ascertained, that it come back to council for information purposes.
Alnwick-Haldimand Township Mayor John Logel said he had seen a map showing exactly where gaps of service now exist in his community.
“Our residents are looking forward to additional coverage,” Logel said.
Cobourg Mayor Gil Brocanier asked for timelines, and Moore shared the plans as they currently stand – though, she warned, the dates are still quite fluid.
She has heard of an announcement of $71-million in provincial support, though Federal plans are not finalized.
“They are hoping to formalize that in the summer,” she said.
“Following that, through the fall months, there will be a negotiation of contribution agreements with each level of government, then a series of RFPs will go out for construction next summer.
“Awarding of contracts would likely be spring 2020, and then it would take time to build and implement – all subject to the approval of the various funding agreements.”
2017 County figures look good
Northumberland County finances were looking good as of year's end 2017, and director of finance Glenn Dees reported on the details at the May county council meeting.
Offering figures from 2010, 2016 and 2017 for comparison, Dees pointed out that net financial assets are up by 74% from last year. And the $14.4-million figure compares to -$29.2-million in 2010. In short he summed up, there's a continued positive trend of increased accumulated surplus.
He also reported cash and investments have increased by $3.7-million, allowing for enhanced financing capacity and resilience,
The total net book value of county assets is $162-million, he said, and roads and bridges account for 60% of that, Other key assets include land, buildings and equipment.
The accumulated surplus for 2017 stands at $129.6-million, with reserves at $47.5-million (a respectable figure, though down by $1-million from 2016).
Dees set aside a few minutes to share highlights, including a total revenue of $105.5-million working out to $1.6-million over budget (and $5.8-million over 2016). Drivers for this statistic include investment interest, child-care program funding, and revenues from the Material Recovery Facility and the Provincial Offences court. Tipping fees were up sharply this year, he added, because of waste dumped from the Highway 401 reconstruction at Division Street in Cobourg.
Sorting revenue by type, the three top items are $52.8-million from taxation, $33-million from the provincial government and $11.6-million from user charges.
Expenses from 2017 of $95.1-million were $3.8-million under budget (though $4-million more than in 2016),
Sorting expenses by type, the top three items were salaries and benefits ($38-million), external transfers ($21-million) and materials ($17.1-million). Sorting expenses by service, the top three items were social and family services, including long-term care (34%), transportation (16%) and health services (14%).
Total long-term debt decreased by $3.2-million. Dees said this remains well below the annual repayment limit and provides flexibility for future needs.
Councillors were happy to hear such a positive report, and Warden Mark Lovshin pointed out that next year's report should reflect at least a couple of big challenges coming up – like the new Campellford bridge and the Golden Plough Lodge rebuild.
County council passes shoreline resolution
Last month's presentation at county council by United Shoreline Ontario struck a chord with Northumberland mayors who had experienced flooding in their own communities.
At the May meeting, council passed a resolution calling for action – a request to both provincial and Federal governments to strike a committee to review mitigation and safety plans for communities bordering the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
This applies to six of the seven municipalities, the motion pointed out – the Town of Cobourg, the Municipality of Port Hope and the townships of Hamilton, Cramahe, Brighton and Alnwick-Haldimand.
“Residents and businesses of Northumberland were impacted by very high water levels from Lake Ontario in the spring of 2017,” it added.
The resolution includes the provision that the upper-tier municipality of Northumberland County be invited to participateon this committee, to allow for input in the review of the plans.
Copies of the resolution will be sent to Northumberland-Peterborough South MP Kim Rudd, Northumberland-Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi, the Federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and the Lower Trent Conservation Authority.
New grant should help county transportation issues
Northumberland County councillors were happy to learn at their May meeting that a grant has been approved under the Ministry of Transportation's Community Transportation Grant program.
Warden Mark Lovshin said it is wonderful news for the Community Care Northumberland transporation program to the tune of almost $500,000, and the main beneficiatries would be those in more remote rural areas.
The letter from the ministry, shared at the council meeting, says the agency is eligible for up to $497,200, once transfer-payment agreement plans are finalized.
“The program will support the government's commitment to assist municipalities throughout the province to provide better transporation options in areas that are currently not served or underserved by public transit and intercommunity bus service,” aid the letter from minister Kathryn McGarry.
Jessica Hoskin of Community Care said they were grateful for the help of the county in applying for the grant, and was pleased that it will help them build their transportation program.
County has plans for accessibility week
How Northumberland County will observe National Access Awareness Week (May 27 through June 2) was the subject of a presentation at county council's May meeting by Northumberland Accessibility Advisory Committee chair Janet Warren and human-resources and accessibility coordinator Kirsty Brown.
The annual observance was established following Rick Hansen's Man In Motion World Tour, Warren said.
“Long gone are the days when someone with a visual, mental or physical challenge was locked away at home, and neighbours even didn't know about them,” she said.
“We do have a ways to go yet, but people are interested in making that happen, and that is what this week is raising that awareness for.”
Warren was excited about a poster campaign they will be launching at that time, called Disability Disrespect. It's based on a campaign from Indiana, and they have permission from the Governor's Council to proceed with it.
Its based on terms that (consciously or not) show disrespect, and suggests alternatives. The poster of the wheelchair-basketball athlete shows the phrase “man confined to a wheelchair” crossed out and replaced by “man in a wheelchair.” A little girl is seen with the caption “girl suffering from cerebral palsy” crossed out and replaced by “girl with cerebral palsy.”
Warren added that workshops are being organized on conducting accessible meetings. In that very council chamber, for example, she pointed out how the wall-mounted button to open the exit door was blocked by a table in front of it – putting it out of reach of someone in a wheelchair.
Brown was pleased to announce the 2018 Helping Hands winner, emergency-planning manager Ken Stubbings. This award was established last year to recognize a county staffer who has gone above and beyond in his or her compliance with accessibility regulations and ideals. Warren cited the recent emergency exercise he organized that included people with disabilities and challenges, and the way he trains his volunteers in this area.
County council hears agricultural update
Agriculture continues to be a major focus around Northumberland County and, at its May meeting, county council got an update on the latest agriculture advisory group meeting from chief administrative officer Jennifer Moore.
The session included news from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture pertaining to the provincial election, a presentation from the county forestry manager of significant interest around land-clearing regulations and a discussion on noxious weeds.
Moore also related a discussion on road-safety initiatives and creative signage in areas with a high volume of agricultural traffic. Some communities are coming up with innovative ideas, she reported.
There was also acknowledgement of the need for enhanced awareness on both sides of this issue, she allowed – along with those driving through who encounter agricultural traffic, those driving it must follow the rules (including appropriate signage).
Concern continues to be keen on the loss of agricultural land to development, particularly to the west as one approaches the Greater Toronto Area.
“Northumberland is really doing well at preserving the majority of our agricultural land, and have not experienced what they have in some areas,” Moore said.
“They are pleased we are protecting the land.”
Weather hikes costs of landfill project
One casualty of recent weather is the contract to create expansion waste cells at the Brighton Landfill.
It has forced the contractor to ask for more money, but Northumberland County council decided at its May meeting that this is no big problem. The report from manager of environmental and technical services Adam McCue indicates that, even with this increase, the project should still come in under the currently approved budget.
This expansion project was undertaken to extend the life of the county's last remaining landfill, but weather has played havoc with the work. The winter brought the challenge of snow volume and the necessity to thaw large volumes of ice, with a wet spring following.
A change order request has been filed by Golder Associates Ltd. asking for an additional $145,220.68. Because of anticipated savings resulting from less waste having to be located than previously estimated, the overall cost of the enitre project should come in slightly under the budgeted amount of $8,079,337.51.
“The whole budget is acceptable,” Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson said.
Sanderson was also amused at the exact nature of the quote.
“I don't know how you got the 51 cents – a little rounding would be okay.”
He added that he had been at the site personally and had a look around.
“I know it has been a challenge in some areas. I feel they have brought forward an appropriate request within budget.”