Council wants to know more about County infrastructure
Roy Pennell wants council to go on a County roads tour—not so much to lobby for this or that road to be fixed—but rather to help him and his colleagues understand how some roads are chosen for repair and others are neglected.
But his fellow councillors were reluctant. Most didn’t want roads to become a political football again. They knew from experience, or instinct, this was a losing game.
“I remember those days,” said Hallowell councillor Gord Fox. “It didn’t matter what the engineer said.”
In those days, council members haggled over which roads would get fixed—favours were called and pressure wielded. Better roads were an emblem of political clout.
None of the current council were eager to go back to those days. Still they had questions.
Some councillors, including Kevin Gale, Janice Maynard, Gord Fox and Jamie Forrester, believe it is a matter of committing more taxpayer dollars to the problem.
“Every bit of extra dollars should be put into our roads,” urged Ameliasburgh’s Maynard. “Even if it comes at the expense of some wants.”
Others, however, like Picton’s Treat Hull and Lenny Epstein have read the reports and heard the County’s managers. They understand the County’s infrastructure needs are far greater than the resources they can throw at it. The scale is simply too large.
“I think we understand this is a problem that can’t be fixed at the municipal level,” suggested Epstein. “It’s a crisis.”
But it isn’t at all clear that his colleagues believe that. Or understand it. Some harbour the belief that all that is needed is to dedicate a few more dollars at budget time. The sorry fact is that they could double or triple taxes next year and it would scarcely make a dent in the condition of the County’s 1,100 kilometres of roads.
Hull underlined the vastness of the problem and the limitations of the County financial capacity. He explained that geographically the County is about the same size as the Greater Toronto area plus Ajax and Pickering. Collectively, this region is home to 4 million people.
“We have fewer than one per cent of the population on the same amount of land. We don’t have enough to go around.”
He reminded his council partners that their job was not to second guess decision-making, but rather to ensure the County has good processes to evaluate and prioritize infrastructure spending— to make sure the few dollars that Shire Hall spends each year on it roads are spent well and deliver the greatest return on investment.
“Leadership is required,” suggested Hull. “The public doesn’t understand the scale of the infrastructure crisis.”
He said it was council’s job to explain to residents the County’s infrastructure challenges and to share with them the processes used to prioritize roads repair and reconstruction based upon factors including condition, traffic volume and growth.
“The public doesn’t understand the crash we are headed toward,” said Hull.
Unfortunately, that information gap extends to some members of council.
“If we want better roads, we have to give them [works department] more money,” said Fox.
While the County’s roads teams would happily find ways to spend more money, no one—not least of all the County’s managers—suggests it would ever be enough.
The County’s chief manager, James Hepburn, was careful to temper expectations. Instead, he suggested that more dollars might move County roads toward a standard “we can all be more proud of.”
Councillor Pennell returned to the gap in understanding.
“We need more information,” said Pennell. “We should know more about our road system.”
No truer words have been said at Shire Hall.