A total of 58 rural Ontario municipalities will receive help with local infrastructure planning, thanks to a program delivered by the Municipal Finance Officers’ Association (MFOA) of Ontario in partnership with the province.
Monte McNaughton, minister of infrastructure, made the program announcement on Jan. 11.
“This assistance will help many rural and northern communities map out the future,” McNaughton said in a same-day Ontario government release. “We know that infrastructure spending benefits families and businesses. … We have to ensure funds are spent in the right place, at the right time and on the right project.”
In parts of Ontario, infrastructure is deteriorating faster than local governments can repair and replace it. Municipalities are creating asset management plans to help with infrastructure spending decisions.
Professional assistance benefits rural communities, Kathryn Enders, Ontario Farmland Trust’s executive director, told Farms.com.
“Strategic investment in rural communities can play an important role in protecting agricultural viability,” she said.
One of the key components of these rural investments is roads, said Keith Currie, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s president.
“We started, a little over a year ago, with our Producing Prosperity campaign. The crutch of it was distributing economic development (across) the province. One of the key pillars … was infrastructure investment. Of course, we have been pushing, for years now, for natural gas expansion,” but also for improvements to our transit systems, Currie told Farms.com.
“We don’t have buses, streetcars, subways and GO trains (in our rural communities). We have cars … We need that road infrastructure, not only for us and our vehicles, but also for all of the services that we provide,” Currie said.
Although looking to address infrastructure needs, the government is also trying to reduce an estimated $14.5-billion deficit, the release said.
“Infrastructure spending has real benefits for the people of Ontario,” McNaughton said in the release. “But, in our current environment, spending decisions must be targeted, sustainable and focused on the long term.”
Small communities with limited staff and resources face challenges in developing and improving asset management plans. The provincial government believes expert assistance is crucial in maintaining necessary services, like roads, bridges and clean drinking water.
“The initiative is a good example of how our government is working with small and rural municipalities to make it easier for them to deliver effective services,” said Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing, in the release. “Development of asset management plans will help small municipalities build more competitive communities and improve the lives of the people in Ontario.”
The MFOA, in partnership with the Ministry of Infrastructure, will deliver the program in three phases.
“We will have to see how this all plays out. (However,) I think it can’t do anything but help to initiate some smart planning so we can get the most bang for (our) buck out of the dollars that the province will invest,” Currie added.