There has been much discussion across the city since Mayor Andy Letham proposed on Oct. 6 to return a $3 million surplus accrued from the 2019 budget to the taxpayers of Kawartha Lakes in a small refund on their 2021 taxes.
After watching the marathon council meeting on Oct. 20 where councillors spent almost an hour trying to get additional projects added to the lifecycle extension program — the city’s five-year road plan, the sidewalk revitalization plan or the capital budget for 2021 it is clear there is only one place for that money to go: infrastructure.
It was hard to watch councillors jostling to get some of their constituents’ most pressing concerns onto one of these lists. Councillors came with extensive shopping lists of projects ranging from funding for a medical centre to roads, docks, boat launches, sidewalks and brushing/ditch clearance.
Kawartha Lakes councillors know their success in the next municipal election is directly tied to how many of these projects are taken care of in their wards.
Municipal elections are typically decided by a handful of very motivated voters who turn out to the polls while most stay home.
An expensive car repair because of pot holes or a flooded front lawn in the spring because ditching and brushing was not done is often motivation enough to get an angry voter to vote — and vote against the incumbent.
Each councillor who spoke made convincing arguments as to why their ward projects should be considered.
Councillor Tracy Richardson presented a lengthy list of projects saying they “were well past due for action.”
Councillor Doug Elmslie asked for work on Henry Street in Fenelon Falls saying the road had not “been touched since the 1950s.”
Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan and Councillor Emmett Yeo spoke forcefully about the partially built Bobcaygeon Beach Park and the Coboconk Wellness Centre whose construction is vital to the future of Coboconk, Norland and Kirkfield.
Yeo put a number of roads forward in his ward, saying he is “astounded they aren’t part of the plan already.”
Councillor Ron Ashmore wanted to know if the entire 2020 brushing budget had been spent, and was disappointed to discover it had.
Mayor Letham seemed under siege at times as the lists grew to well over 40 projects brought forth by individual councillors, likely costing in the tens of millions of dollars if all were approved.
Most council watchers agree that the project wish lists are driven by a much-depleted 2021 capital budget where more than half the budget is eaten up by 2020 projects either not completed or not yet started because of the pandemic.
I propose that each councillor be given an equal share of that $3 million surplus to spend in their ward.
That would give each councillor $375,000 to spend on the most pressing projects of choice. That kind of money would gravel some roads, fill a few potholes, brush some ditches, possibly create a nest egg for a wellness centre much needed in Ward One or help build a splash pad in Omemee.
Councillors could hold virtual town halls to get input from citizens, and for this one time and one time only truly have a say on how their tax money is spent to benefit them in their own backyard.
I realize that the human resources would have to be available, and the projects would have to fit into the city’s Ten Year Master plan, but if each household is to receive only a puny $80 refund in 2021, pressing infrastructure repairs evenly allocated around the city should be the priority moving forward.
That would be $3 million well spent.