Monday, March 31, 2008

Ontario Provincial Liberals come through for Halton

Carr applauds $1-billion commitment

Province allocates dollars to municipal

By Melanie Hennessey, Special to the Post

Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr is applauding the provincial government for allocating $1 billion to municipal infrastructure needs in its 2008 budget released this week.

The head of council said the budget begins to address what the region has been calling for through its Fairness for Halton campaign -- more funding for local infrastructure to help accommodate the growth targets specified in the province's Places to Grow plan. It says Halton's population is
supposed to increase by more than 300,000 to 780,000 by 2031.

"We're pleased that the provincial government recognizes infrastructure is an important part of a healthy community," Carr said. "It's a good first step."

The $1 billion includes almost $500 million for public transit in the GTA and Hamilton, $400 million for roads and bridges in communities outside Toronto and $100 million to rehabilitate social housing units, including energy-efficient improvements.

On the public transit front, $57 million is designated for Halton to develop
a bus rapid transit line along Dundas Street.

Carr said he wasn't too surprised about this funding, since he is a member of Metrolinx -- an agency of the Ontario government that's striving to develop an integrated transportation system for the GTA and Hamilton. Metrolinx had already recommended the project be funded in the budget. But even if it wasn't news to Carr, he said he's pleased nonetheless.

"I think it will be an important component of moving people from east to west," he remarked.

The chair said he's also happy that the GO Lakeshore corridor has been identified for improvements. The budget allocates $60 million for 20 additional bi-level passenger coaches for the line.

Carr said the region has yet to receive formal notification from the province on any additional funding Halton may receive for infrastructure from the budget. He noted more should be known within the next few weeks.

The region is also waiting on the soon-to-be-released results of the Joint
Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review, which aims to determine the best way to deliver and pay for programs like social housing and welfare -- things that used to be paid for at the provincial level but were downloaded to municipalities by former premier Mike Harris.

A report on the 18-month review is expected in late spring. Through Fairness for Halton, the region has been asking the province to take back at least some of the responsibility for funding social service programs.

"I believe these services shouldn't be on the property tax base," noted Carr.

It that money was freed up, the region would put it toward needed infrastructure like road and sewers, the chair previously told the Milton Canadian Champion, the Post's sister newspaper.

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