By Trevor Busch
Westwind Weekly News
The Village of Stirling is pushing forward with a major paving project in 2020 as part of their capital plan, but Mayor Trevor Lewington says council is awaiting some outcomes on the federal and provincial fronts before committing to a detailed schedule for additional projects.
“We have a number of capital projects, the biggest one is the block in front of the school. The school was newly modernized and just reopened in September of last year, a beautiful, shiny new space. And so the road in front of the school needed some new paving, drainage issues and some infrastructure upgrades anyway, so now is a good time to completely redo that street, hopefully add a bus lane and do some things to improve the aesthetics,” said Lewington. “So that’s probably our biggest capital project. I’m hopeful — it’s engineered and ready to go, and there are likely construction companies looking for that work, so I think that as a long as they can keep people safe, that’s worth pursuing.”
With many aspects of planning in a state of flux for the village due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the village is playing a waiting game in early 2020.
“We had talked about a number of other projects, and potentially some repairs to the pool and some of our public spaces,” said Lewington. “At this point, it’s a bit more of a wait and see. I think we’ll have to see whether there’s stimulus funding that comes from the province or federal government, are there construction projects that they’re going to prioritize and support to get people working? If that’s the case we want to make sure we take advantage of that. So though we do have our 10-year capital plan, I think we need to be flexible and adjust based on what are those federal and provincial priorities.”
An escalation in the percentage of education property taxes that had been sought by the provincial government in the most recent provincial budget has since been reversed.
“The biggest thing — there was going to be a four per cent increase on the education portion of property taxes — but that has since been reversed as a result of this pandemic. That was going to be a big deal, because no matter what we did people were going to see a jump go up on their property taxes, which we collect but has nothing to do with us. But that, again, has since been reversed,” said Lewington.
The village is also apprehensive about the ongoing costs of policing after the provincial government radically altered the previous police funding model. Lewington is projecting the village’s costs for policing to rise to about $65,000 annually at the end of a four year ramp-up period.
“The changes to policing, certainly we were concerned about — communities like Stirling have historically have not had to pay for policing, any community under 5,000 — and so our proportionate share over four years would work into about $52 per capita. So every man, woman and child would get an extra $52 on their property taxes to pay for policing. Yet we know based on the Crime Severity Index and how that staffing is going to work, that funding is going to other parts of the province that need more boots on the ground. Always a concern when you’re taking more from your taxpayers, but you’re not actually seeing anything directly for that cost.”
Lewington says the village is essentially in a holding pattern at present with regard to the potential impacts at the provincial level.
“I think obviously a lot has shifted….the province now has a $7 billion hole in their budget, and many of the things that they either took away, or committed to, I think are all subject to change at this point. Any plan that we might have had, I think we’ll just hang that up on the dartboard for now and wait and see what takes place.”