Variety of municipal concerns get highlighted at ROMA 2020

Doug Ford speaks at ROMA 2020 (Photo via Aaron Hall Twitter)

Representatives from Chatham-Kent are getting plenty of one-on-one time with provincial officials during this year’s Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference in Toronto.

Councillor Aaron Hall, Joe Faas, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte,  Mary Clare Latimer, Carmen McGregor, Mayor Darrin Canniff are all in attendance at the 2020 ROMA Conference along with municipal staff members John Norton, Gord Quinton, Don Shropshire and April Rietdyk.

According to Hall, the team has had several meetings with multiple ministers that sit on the provincial cabinet, touching on a variety of topics. He said they started the three-day conference off by meeting with Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing, and bringing a number of concerns to his attention.

“One of them was some rural grant disparities. Some of our neighbouring communities who are in the two-tier system in government, they got a lot more money when you look at their efficiency grant,” Hall explained. “I think we got about $750,000. When you look at Lambton and you look at Essex County, they got several million dollars.”

Another timely issue that got brought up was the sidewalk salting standards. Because of changes to the provincial Minimum Maintenance Standards Regulation in 2019, municipalities were required to establish a plan for ice and snow removal. This led to Chatham-Kent introducing a bylaw that requires property owners to salt their sidewalks.

However, Hall said the introduction of this standard brought some difficulties for a large rural municipality like Chatham-Kent, which they brought to the minister’s attention.

“Basically the need to have some local decision making on that standard. When there was the change to minimum maintenance standards across the province, I think us as Chatham-Kent, that was really an urban-type decision that helps out those big urban centres and cities but definitely provides some challenges for us,” said Hall.

Government cuts were also a topic of conversation, including in a discussion with Attorney General Doug Downey.

“We brought up the issue of funding cuts to Legal Aid Ontario,” Hall said. “That’s something that it’s a vital service that helps protect and helps some of our most vulnerable people in our community.”

During the conference, Premier Doug Ford was on hand for a presentation to provide an update on his government’s investments in infrastructure and transit. While at the podium, Ford announced the province is moving forward with new intake for the Rural Economic Development program, something that Hall said piqued his interest.

“It’s a strategic economic infrastructure stream of this program. It basically enables the province to cover up to 30 per cent of eligible capital costs for minor capital projects and help spur economic growth,” Hall explained. “He mentions restoring museums, heritage sites, streetscaping. One that really caught my eye was setting up community hubs. It’s something that we’re going to have to look into further and see if there’s any opportunity there.”

Hall said that Ford also talked about bringing fibre internet technology across the province and announced that Lambton County would be getting one of the first phases of funding for broadband internet in rural communities.

“That’s a good sign I think and we definitely have that need in Chatham-Kent,” said Hall. “If one of neighbours are getting it I think we can be optimistic and hopeful that they’ll start some of the work there and continue on, across the border into Chatham-Kent.”

The conference runs from January 19 until January 21. So far, Hall said it’s been a success.

“It was definitely a worthwhile trip,” he exclaimed. “We’ve got some good face time with provincial ministers and it’s always good to have that dialogue and make those connections on behalf of Chatham-Kent.”