Following the release of Ontario’s 2019 budget on Thursday, officials in Peterborough County reacted to what was — and wasn’t — in the province’s plan.
Here are some of the projects highlighted in the new budget document, along with some of the issues Peterborough officials say ought to be addressed.
Aging infrastructure is a common problem across all of rural Ontario, and Peterborough County is no different: there are a number of roads, bridges and buildings in the area that need to be repaired or replaced.
County officials were hoping for help from the province in its 2019 budget, but the only infrastructure spending mentioned was a series of bridge rehabilitation projects in the area with no dollar value listed.
“We’re $80 million shy of maintaining the infrastructure we have now,” said J. Murray Jones, county warden. “We need continued help for infrastructure money.”
There are several major road projects on the books in Peterborough this year, including the replacement of a one-kilometre stretch of County Road 45 south of Norwood, the continuation of the widening of the James A. Gifford Causeway between Bridgenorth and Ennismore and the replacement of bridges near Keene and Apsley.
“It’s getting harder and harder, with the additional responsibilities we have to do, to make ends meet,” said David Clifford, CAO of Douro-Dummer Township. “At the same time, we need to keep our tax rates on residents to a reasonable level.”
Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith plans to raise these issues with the province in the near future.
“We have a number of infrastructure issues here. We have a number of roads to be repaired,” said Smith.
“All of those things will come up in the next month, two months as we open up things for it. Everything I’m advocating for will be coming up.”
WATCH: Peterborough County wants more money for roads, bridges and buildings
Recently, the county also called on the provincial and federal governments to step up to address the opioid crisis, which has seen 17 people die in the Peterborough area from suspected overdoses in the first few months of 2019.
The county wanted to see strategies to deal with the opioid crisis mentioned in the provincial budget, however none were listed.
“We’re proud to take some kind of lead (on this),” said Jones. “That’s all fine and good, but someone needs to listen to you and see that it’s needed.”
Twin-pad arena project
Late last year, a plan to build a twin-pad arena near Trent University was halted because of a lack of provincial money for the project.
An $18-million funding promise over three years from the former Ontario Liberal government was later scrapped by the Progressive Conservatives.
“That was never money that was ever given. It was an empty promise. There was never any money in any budget, it was just a promise to buy votes,” said Smith.
“In July, we (the province) opened up the infrastructure program for community arenas, and Peterborough has the opportunity to apply. The federal and provincial money is tied to the same program so it’s just a one-time application.
“We’re looking for shovel-ready projects so we can get those things built quickly. Peterborough isn’t ready this year, but they can apply this year and build next spring.”
Health care for senior citizens
Peterborough also boasts the second highest percentage of seniors per capita, according to census data from Statistics Canada.
Twenty-two per cent of the population in the county is over the age of 65.
“As these individuals get older, there will be a greater need for long-term care,” said Karl Moher, deputy mayor of Douro-Dummer Township. “We had a good announcement in Havelock last year, and hopefully, there’s more money for further spots.”
The province announced 15,000 new long-term care beds Ontario-wide but provided no specifics on where they would be located.
According to Peterborough Public Health, there are also 8,175 seniors in the City of Peterborough and across the county who would qualify for access to the new provincial dental program for seniors living on low income.
“Every day, seniors call our community dental health clinic asking for financial assistance to receive necessary dental work, and to date, we’ve been very limited in what we can offer,” said Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Peterborough’s medical officer of health.
“We will definitely be applying to the province to bring this new program to Peterborough because it will significantly improve the quality of life for seniors living on low incomes.”
Mondernizing Public Health Units
The 2019 budget also proposes “modernizing public health units”.
The budget document states the government wants to improve programs while finding back-office efficiencies.
It proposes consolidating the province’s 35 public health units into 10 regional boards of health with one common governance model by 2020-21.
“This government is proposing to slash $200 million from a budget of $750 million, that’s almost 30 per cent of our overall budget for local public health,” added Salvaterra. “This is not trimming the fat. This is not about efficiencies. This is about cutting the meat and bone away from public health. This will be devastating to public health and its services.”