Pierre Leroux, Mayor of Russell Township and warden of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR), returned from the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference with renewed hope for improved provincial funding for UCPR’s communities.
Hosted in Toronto from January 21 to 23 with over 2,000 rural municipal participants, the annual ROMA conference is an opportunity for communities to bend the ear of provincial politicians and discuss the unique challenges Ontario’s small and rural municipalities face. It’s an opportunity for provincial and municipal leaders to work together for solutions to strengthen their communities and ensure financial stability for rural municipal governments.
Leroux said some of the major discussions he had along with his delegation of mayors and municipal administrators from across the UCPR pertained to the long-term care facility in Hawkesbury, violence against women and the need for more services from the province, the South Nation conservation regarding the retrograde aggressive landslides area in the UCPR, and support for the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus.
Additionally, provincial funding for recreational facilities – particularly important for Leroux as Russell Township plans to build a new recreational complex – was a topic of interest for the UCPR delegation.
Currently, there are no provincial programs in place to fund the building of recreational facilities, which are increasingly important infrastructure for small and rural communities looking to provide services to residents closer to home.
“Often what happens is as soon as you put a shovel in the ground, you can’t apply for many grants. So, we said ‘you’re aware of our projects, you guys don’t have a funding program in place right now, however if a funding program does become available, keep us in mind. We don’t want to be excluded because we were being proactive’.”
For this year, the warden currently does not have a current plan to apply for the Russell municipality, he feels like these types of conferences are more for networking with other rural municipalities who may have innovative or out-of-the-box solutions to similar problems faced by municipalities in the UCPR.
“It’s to be able to have those connections. Where all these people are living, a lot of the time they are living with the same challenges and opportunities as we are. And being to see and discuss what has been done elsewhere often can provide insight as to possible solutions here at home.”
Provincial funding expanded at ROMA
During the conference, the province announced that $120 million of the $1.2 billion Building Faster Fund (intended to encourage municipalities to hit housing targets) would be made available to rural municipalities. The province also announced the opening of applications for the Rural Economic Development Program which provides cost-share funding for economic development projects up to 50% or $250,000 of associated costs. Municipalities, Aboriginal communities and non-profit groups can apply until February 21.