By John Francis
It’s a daunting year to be a municipality. High water levels on Georgian Bay and Lake Huron threaten a lot of municipal infrastructure. COVID 19 threatens to change all the rules.
Not only that, but the tiny budget generated under the lowest tax rate (by far) in Bruce County doesn’t leave the municipality a lot of wiggle room.
The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has a lot of expensive projects on its agenda.
Heron Point bridge needs to be replaced before it collapses into the Stokes River. Cost: somewhere in excess of $600,000 which is around 10% of the municipality’s entire annual budget.
The Spring Creek bridge on Ira Lake Road is the poster child for decrepit municipal infrastructure. Built nearly 100 years ago, it is literally falling down. The load limit keeps being revised downward — currently rated at 5 tonnes, it is not legal for fire trucks or large snow plows. Replacement cost is nearly half a million dollars.
The Friendship Centre in Lion’s Head needs a new roof. Cost estimates are high and vague — it’s not at all clear that the building’s walls would support the roof it needs.
The upgrade that is proposed for the Lion’s Head arena would include space equivalent (well, OK, better than equivalent) to the Friendship Centre, but that upgrade has been up in the air for years. Friendship Centre proponents are suspicious of anything other than an improvement to their existing building.
Northern Bruce Peninsula is on tenterhooks, waiting/hoping for approval of federal/provincial grant assistance on the arena improvement project.
Meanwhile, the municipality is trying to move forward to upgrade Isthmus Bay Road (well over $ 1 million) and upgrade Tobermory’s public water system ($breathtaking).
It is difficult, to say the least, for council and staff to stay focused on long term goals when so many other issues also need attention.
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Councillor Smoky Golden has been busy, lobbying our MP Alex Ruff to get changes in the Unemployment Insurance rules. She feels that tourism workers on the Bruce Peninsula are already living from hand to mouth and will be devastated by a potentially late opening of the 2020 tourist season. The federal government has been talking about new programs to offset COVID 19 related job losses but Councillor Golden feels that these will be months rolling out. The bureaucracy administering Employment Insurance is already fully engaged — any complex new program will overwhelm them, resulting in substantial delays. Councillor Golden offers a much better idea — simply extend the EI claims of everybody who works in tourism. It can be done with existing personnel and it will happen in time to help those who need the support. “Is there some way to streamline this so that nobody gets cut off?” she asks.
“I have no idea whether I have one iota of influence,” she says, but she is determined to keep pushing because the system is so unfair to seasonal workers.
MP Ruff has referred her to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. Councillor Golden hopes to get an endorsement from MNBP Council at the March 23 Meeting.
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During our back-and-forth conversation about seasonal employment, Councillor Golden offered a totally different insight: “interesting fact….did you know our little municipality is the only one in Bruce County with a pandemic plan?”
That’s impressive. Let’s hope it doesn’t need to be implemented.