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Wellington North delays transit decision due to financial concerns

by Kris Svela

KENILWORTH - A disability transit system in Wellington North could be  derailed.

Wellington North council will delay until Oct. 17 a final decision on whether to fund a transit system for physically and mentally challenged residents in the municipality.

At its meeting  on Monday evening, council received the Wellington North Accessible Transportation report that largely supports a transit system operated by Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit (SMART).

The service already operates in five municipalities in Grey and Bruce counties and is based in Hanover as a non-profit corporation.

Participating municipalities pay to the system based on ridership and the report explained Wellington North could be included in SMART’s  coverage area at an initial cost of $20,000 a year.

Councillor Dan Yake, who helped put the report together along with county councillor Gary Williamson, said the report compared several similar services operated in other counties and found the SMART program suited Wellington North best.

“Providing transportation services to physically and mentally challenged individuals as well as seniors comes at a cost,” Yake said. “However, it is believed and been proven in municipalities like Hanover that the benefits to the individuals and to the community far outweigh the cost.

“Individuals who in most cases have paid taxes to the municipality all their adult lives, when provided with transportation, can continue to be active and to contribute to the community they call home.”

Essentially the service sees individual clients charged a base rate of $2 plus 80 cents a kilometre for a trip; the minimum charge is $6.80 per ride. A client may have an attendant ride for free. If a driver needs to wait for a client, there is a waiting time charge of $17 per hour.

The SMART service operates 14 vehicles,  including two mid-size buses and one large bus for group outings.  

It’s expected a system operating in Wellington North would generate some 2,000 rides at an average cost of $12. The plan, originally brought to council by Williamson, who has been spearheading efforts to establish a disability transit system in northern Wellington County, resulted in a presentations by Roger Cook,  manager of transit services, to Wellington North, Minto and county councils on what services SMART provides.

County Warden Chris White and Minto deputy-mayor Terry Fisk attended Monday’s council meeting along with local supporters of the plan and representatives from Wellington North Health Care.

Included in the report were letters of support for the plan from health care providers, nursing home operators and individuals.

“Transportation is a municipal responsibility,” Yake said, reading from the report. “As our population ages, communities that support local services like accessible transportation, can realize the economic benefits from people moving to your community because of the services being provided.

“Inadequate transportation options can be one of the factors that limit a municipality being a good place to live and work. Accessible transportation can also be used to help reduce the demands on local ambulance service by assisting with the transportation of patients from hospitals, thus freeing up the ambulances to respond to emergency situations.”

The municipality has already earmarked $15,000 toward the project with another $5,000 donation expected.

If council decides to set up  the pilot project it would mean committing $20,000 in the first year and another $20,000 in 2013 because the contract requires council give a year’s notice if it decides to back out.

It’s that financial commitment that has raised concerns with councillor Andy Lennox, head of Wellington North’s finance committee.

“My concern is financial,” said Lennox. “Based on the  information we have, we’re going to have to increase property taxes to cover (transit) costs. I have a struggle to see how we can commit that   money on behalf of all the residents.”

Lennox added he supports the concept, but is concerned about additional costs.

“I’m aware of the need, I realize this (aging population) is growing, but we have serious financial problems,” Lennox said. “I just feel we’re not in a position to provide it.”

Councillor Sherry Burke voiced similar concerns, saying she wants council to explore other options, possibly including private sector involvement.

Mount Forest residents Rita McCartney, who supported the plan in a personal letter, and Roy Shaw were disappointed with council deferring a decision to Oct. 17.

“I don’t see how you can turn your back on this,” Shaw said. “This is needed.”

Warden White said the county would not assist the township with funding at this early stage, but might consider funding once the program is running successfully.

“This could be a hugely expensive service for a limited number of people,” White warned. “It’s a bit of a gamble.”

Mayor Ray Tout said, “I would like to see this program. We have to take a hard look. Generally we’re all in favor of seeing if this thing will work, but it’s a tough year.”

If council approves the project it would start in January.

 

September 2, 2011

 
 

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