Perth County municipalities seek audience with Finance Minister on OMPF funding cuts

Perth South signs on to Lightweight Truss Building Identification Program

By Dan Rankin
Another council meeting, another lost funding opportunity. At Perth South’s council meeting Jan. 12, treasurer Rebecca Clothier told Council that their application to the federal Small Communities Fund had been denied. “This was the second time that our application for this grant program has been denied,” she said. “We received a similar letter to this one, in November I believe, in regards to a provincial grant that’s very similar to this one.”
She said the most likely reason this latest request was denied is because the municipality has too low a volume of traffic on its roads and bridges to qualify.
As the share Perth South receives of the province’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) continues to dwindle, Clothier said she is facing increasing pressure to either make successful grant applications or begin making cuts to services and infrastructure to make up for lost funds.
“We’re losing $2 million in a very short amount of time, and we need to make that up amongst ourselves,” she said. “Either services will have to be cut or investment in infrastructure will have to be cut. We will have to continue to apply for grants to try to make up that revenue. I’m struggling to find ways that we’ll be able to make it up.”
The fact that the provincial funding Perth South receives will, in short order, be reduced from $2 million to $300,000, “puts significant pressure on the amount of taxes we have to collect from residents,” Clothier said. “When the budget’s complete, and when we’re looking at periods that include up to 2020, you’re going to see that there are significant challenges because of those continued reductions,” she told Council.
Much of the OMPF transitional funding Perth South and other rural municipalities in the region had been receiving, as well as some new provincial dollars, will be invested in grant components aimed at Northern Ontario.
In response to these changes, Clothier has been consulting with officials from other Perth County municipalities facing similar challenges, she said. Together they have submitted a joint request to present a delegation to the provincial finance minister at the upcoming Ontario Good Roads Association/Rural Ontario Municipal Association (OGRA/ROMA) conference being held in Toronto Feb. 21-24.
“We’re going to move forward as a group and present the concerns that we have,” she said, indicating that Perth County Council had supported the plan. “Our fingers are crossed that they’ll accept the delegation request.”
According to Clothier, there are some big changes that need to take place if the province is interested in a funding model that is sustainable for farming municipalities. The Perth delegation would ask for an increase in funds available to the province’s rural townships from $5 million to $20 million. “It needs to be a larger amount,” she said. “Then on top of that, once we got that larger amount, we want to change how they’re allocating it. We don’t agree it should be done on a per-household basis.”
Perth South Council moved to also endorse the plan for a joint delegation at the OGRA/ROMA conference.
Lightweight Truss Building Identification Program
Also at the Jan. 12 meeting, Perth East Fire Chief Bill Hunter described a new program that aims to help fire fighters responding to a call quickly determine whether a building was constructed with lightweight trusses in its floor or roof.
The system, already in place in Stratford and Perth East, simply involves placing a round, reflective decal at the front of certain buildings that were built using lightweight trusses; materials that have been found to be particularly vulnerable to high temperatures. Structures that would require decals include commercial and industrial buildings as well as residential buildings of more than three units.
Chief Hunter said that while the department has no concerns with lightweight trusses in terms of how structurally sound they are, “They don’t hold up very well when they are exposed to high temperatures.”
“Lightweight truss, when exposed to fire, has a failure rate of about eight minutes,” he said. “Our average response time anywhere in our area is 10-11 minutes. So, when we’re showing up on the scene, either the floor has failed, or it is preparing to fail. We need to be aware the building we’re in has that type of construction.”
The risks posed by lightweight trusses in a fire hit home locally in March 2011, he said, when two fire fighters were killed in Listowel. “Part of the investigation from the Fire Marshal’s Office was that the roof of the building was constructed with lightweight truss, and that was a contributing factor,” he said.
Perth South is served in the northeastern portion of the municipality by the Perth East Fire Department, although Chief Hunter recommended Council sign onto the program throughout the entire municipality. Perth South is also served by the St. Marys and Lucan-Biddulph fire departments.
There would be no additional cost to the municipality to introduce the program, he said.
“We would take care of making sure a decal was properly applied prior to the occupancy of the building,” he said.
Most new single family dwellings are constructed with lightweight trusses, he said, so the fire department arrives to those calls prepared for that situation, however if someone were to renovate an old structure, “they may use lightweight truss on a 100-year-old building,” he said. “Firefighters pulling up at a scene at an old building like that might assume it is heavy timber construction and it will last for a while. If it doesn’t have that decal on it, we won’t know it’s been renovated that way.”
Council approved the motion to adopt the new program and passed a new by-law that will involve the building department notifying Perth East’s fire service whenever they become aware of a building permit request that includes lightweight trusses in the construction process for the floor or roof.
“Next on our agenda is West Perth,” Chief Hunter said. “The intent is to continue right across the county.”
Also of note:
- Because of the lack of snow the area received in December, Perth South didn’t need to put many snow ploughs on the road, resulting in a savings of close to $60,000.
- Deputy Mayor Jim Aitcheson congratulated the building department on a job well done in December. Chief Building Official Martin Feeney told Council building numbers had continued to be strong last month, which had an estimated building value of $627,000, with $9,000 collected in permit fees. “The building department had a very successful year in regards to building activity and permit fees collected,” he said, indicating that they would have in the neighbourhood of $60,000 to transfer to reserves for the year. “Permit revenue is also up 76 percent.”