News — 13 December 2017
Wilson offers year-end address on state of Dryden

Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson, File photo


Submitted by Greg Wilson, Dryden Mayor

Having served as your mayor for the past two years, a direct report to the citizens of Dryden seems appropriate as we bid farewell to 2017.  
2017 Successes

Aggressive $3.9 Million Capital Program:

In spite of the challenging budget and debt repayment obligations facing the City, we continued to improve our infrastructure by leveraging approximately $2.1 million of City Operating & Reserve Funds into approximately $3.9 million of total Capital spend through Provincial & Federal partnership programs and community donations. 

This allowed us to start or complete projects such as:

* The LED streetlight replacement project, (major annual cost saving initiative).

* The waste water fall initiative to install pipe lining on many sewer lines

* Highway 601 and Thunder Lake Road resurfacing 

* Replace defective bricks on the outer west wall of the Dryden pool complex

* Numerous sidewalk and curb replacements

* Sauna to steam room conversion at the Rec Centre

* New City of Dryden website – to be launched prior to Christmas 2017

Municipal debt reduction commitments on track:

$2.3 million paid down in 2017. Further principle reductions of $3.1 million in 2018, $2.9 million in 2019 and $3 million in 2020.

By 2021, annual principal payments will be significantly reduced to $800,000 providing Council with options to direct more tax dollars to town improvements. 

Other Accomplishments in 2017:

* Extended Saturday landfill hours on a seasonal basis.  Thank you Public Works!

* Completed City vacant land sales, increasing our Reserves by $235,000.00

* Major ditch rehabilitation on Sandy Beach Road.

* Completed our City asset management plan. A long outstanding item needed for long term capital planning and securing Provincial matching funding on projects.  Thank you City management!

* Provide financial and other City support for both the Dryden Dream Committee and Dryden Youth Soccer projects.  We thank you the volunteers for your hard work and commitment!

* Developed a City “code of conduct” and communication policy.

2017 Initiatives Still in Progress:

* Finalizing a nuisance deer committee report for the public.  The group is comprised of police,  MNR reps, four citizens and chaired by the City’s CAO, Ernie Remillard.

* Finalizing the 2018 capital and operating budgets.  The 2017 budget process was completed in January/17 whereas the target date for the 2018 budget is December of 2017.  Thank you to the Finance Committee for all your hard work!

* Ongoing policing service level review, OPP costing study.

* Lobbying the Province to reverse the decline in annual Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund transfer payments to the City of Dryden.  Since 2012 our funding has been cut annually, from $3,363,000 to $2,553,000 in 2018. Although the Province has uploaded some previously downloaded program costs, Dryden has experienced a net loss of Provincial funding since 2012 in excess of $650,000.00 per year.

* Preparation of delegation presentations to the Province in January and February of 2018.  (OGRA/ROMA meetings in Toronto).  This is where your Council has opportunity to lobby Queens Park on issues that matter most to Dryden.

Key 2018 Initiatives:

City capital spending is limited to approximately $1 million/year through 2020 due to debt repayment obligations.  Below is a partial list of operational and capital projects planned for 2018:

*   Continuation of road improvements on Thunder Lake Road.

*   Colonization Street upgrades (dependent on Provincial matching funds)

*   Duke Street/594 Connecting Links roadwork to be completed

*   New “Welcome to Dryden” entrance signs. More aesthetically pleasing and informative, as well as becoming a revenue generator for the City.

*   LED lighting for the pool deck resulting in significant Hydro savings.

*   Expansion of the sidewalk Rehabilitation budget.

*   Van Horne government dock remediation to restore full dock access

*   Improved street maintenance with replacement of aging street sweeper

*   Webcast Council meetings to allow more citizens access to Council meetings

*   Road surface maintenance budget increased by $100K over 2017.

Internal Projects:  Update bylaws, create an unbiased and more informed Councillor orientation program. 

A separate 2018 concern of mine will be on how to improve street and sidewalk snow removal both in the short and long term.  With constrained resources and tighter regulations, options will continue to be limited. 

Queen’s Park Lobbying must be stepped up in 2018

Municipalities across Ontario must lobby the Province to change their funding formula for all of Ontario, moving from both application based and formula based to formula based only.  We must also lobby the Province to stop double taxation of property owners.  Details below:

1. Formula vs. Application Based funding reform:  

The Provincial government recognizes that the majority of infrastructure spending in the Province occurs within municipal boundaries.  Therefore the bulk of government dollars collected through the provincial taxation process should be transferred to the municipalities.  

With a Provincial infrastructure spending budget of $14.61 billion (1) set for the next year,  most municipal governments across Ontario will only share a total of $576M million from the Province ($230M Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, $321M Provincial Gas Tax, and $25M Connecting Links).  Not only is this a drop in the bucket to what we should be receiving for infrastructure transfer payments, the current model also does not treat all municipalities equitably

Queens Park mainly spreads those scant OCIF dollars to communities through two methods; one is formula based, with the other an application based model:

The Province describes the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund as “a program that offers a permanent and predictable infrastructure funding model”, yet only 56% of it is allocated by formula while the other 44% is by application, complicating our local budgeting process significantly each year.

In my opinion, the Provincial government should make their total municipal funding (or at least 95% of the transfer payment process) –  formula based.  A three-tiered weighted formula based on population would compensate for inequities with smaller communities.  

This would accomplish four objectives:

1. It would save millions of dollars per year as it would require less man hours to calculate and implement/
process at both the municipal and provincial level

2. It would introduce fairness in the way the Province treats each municipality,  reducing the amount of politics that goes into the decision making process.  Transfer dollar distributions would be based on Ontario’s total annual transfer budget instead of piecemeal based on which politician or municipality can deliver the most riding votes to the government.

3. It would give all towns and cities greater control over our annual budgets.  We could decide at the local level what infrastructure projects should be funded.

4. It would ensure all municipal dollars spent each year would be matched with Provincial/Federal dollars – no stranded unleveraged money at the local level come year end.
Presiding Provincial governments will never want to adopt such a model as it would strip them of the ability to send more dollars to some ridings for political benefit and less to others with smaller populations.  This issue must be raised just prior to a provincial election in order to gain political traction.  Otherwise it won’t see the light of day.

2. Double taxation of Dryden’s property owners:
There is a second inequity Dryden and all other towns and cities in Ontario must deal with.
 Your Council’s municipal mandate is to provide basic services such as maintenance, periodic upgrading/replacement of municipal infrastructure, clean and waste water facilities, street lighting, solid waste disposal, fire and police services.
These are the traditional core services that you, as property tax payers, expect from your municipal leaders. Municipalities may also offer other non-essential, discretionary services such as public recreation, museum, and library facilities.  Almost all other services are the responsibility of either the Province of Federal government. 
However, the playing field between levels of government has shifted over the decades. Over time, senior levels of government have either encouraged or legislated local governments into taking increased responsibility for services originally delivered and funded by the Province and Federal government; such as daycare, public transportation, public housing, health care etc.  
The result is that local property owners who already pay provincial income taxes to cover these programs find themselves paying again for these same services through property tax payments.
For example, consider what happened in 2017 at the City.  We paid KDSB $1.3 million for management of Daycare, housing and other Social Services.  We also paid $800,000 to the Home for the Aged and $400,000 to the Northwestern Health Unit to help fund their programs.  The City raised this money through collection of your property taxes. Again, all of these examples are the responsibility of the Province, NOT the City of Dryden.  The question here is not the validity of these services citizens in our town rely on, but the unfair double taxation of our home and business owners.
These are just some of the examples of annual  Provincial downloading that tax payers end up paying for twice.  Ontario Municipalities need to lobby the Province to either stop this double taxation of property owners, or come up with adequate transfer payments to cover all of our annual costs.
As someone shared with me recently, “There is no such thing as a political leader.  Politicians are usually followers, not leaders.  They don’t take up a cause unless there are enough voters behind it to make it worth their time and attention.”  I will be looking for help from Council, the Kenora District Municipal Association, NOMA and OMA to build momentum in 2018 so that the government and opposition parties make both double taxation of property owners and  formula based transfer payments part of their election platform next spring.
At the end of the day, although we will continue to deal with some fairly significant financial challenges in running our wonderful community, we can be proud of the progress we are making together in improving all areas of our City.
I look forward to your continued support and assistance. Please feel free to email me at gwilson@dryden.ca or greghwilson@hotmail.com for comments or questions.  As always, I appreciate the feedback and will do my best to get your questions answered directly or through our CAO, Ernie Remillard  –  (contact Ernie directly at eremillard@dryden.ca  or by phone  223-1194).  You can also contact any of our six Councillors directly.  

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About Author

Chris Marchand is a native of Dryden, Ontario. He served his first newspaper internship at The Dryden Observer in 1998 while attending journalism studies at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops B.C. He's worked desks as both reporter and editor at the Fernie Free Press as well as filled the role of sports editor at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. Marchand was named editor of the Dryden Observer in Aug. 2009.

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