MATHESON – Improving the town’s financial situation and turning Crown land into farmland were among some of the issues brought to the attention of provincial leaders by the town of Black River-Matheson at an annual conference.

Mayor Doug Bender and CAO Chris Wray attended the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference from Jan. 21-23 in Toronto.

Bender told TimminsToday that while they didn’t have as many delegations with the provincial government as they’d hoped to have, they did have one “excellent session.”

“It just seemed as if they weren’t taking as many this year or something. I don’t know. But, we had one excellent session. We still haven’t got back our final answer to know if it was successful or not, but it was the most important one that’s basically been hampering our progress here as a municipality,” he said.

Bender said they met with the Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy’s team to discuss the financial state of the municipality and the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF).

“Which is basically the money that provincial governments give to municipalities for their use to run the municipalities. Our municipality has been losing money for the last number of years, so we’re hoping to get that back to where it needs and where it should be. It was a really strong delegation because of our CAO being prepared as usual,” Bender said.

Bethlenfalvy’s team seemed very receptive and understanding of their issues, Bender said.

“Whether or not it gets resolved to our satisfaction, we’ll have to wait and see. But I’ve actually had a follow-up conversation with the MPP since I’ve been back because during my time in Toronto, I had the opportunity to have a hallway meeting with the premier,” he said.

“The premier was aware of my problem from before, without getting into details of how he knows. He’s more than aware and he’d asked me to update him and how we’d made out, so I told him and he kind of nudged and pushed and the MPP called me back to let me know that they were looking into it further and he knows the Premier is on my side. So I’m very hopeful that we’re going to get something resolved. Maybe not perfectly, but we’re going to win something out of this.”

Wray also had meetings with the Minister of Agriculture through his involvement with the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI). Bender said, from his understanding, there were good, constructive meetings to discuss the next steps towards making use of some Crown land for the farming industry.

“I want to be very clear, a lot of the forestry industry is very nervous when we talk about this stuff. They’re thinking that we’re going to take good forest land away and use it for farmland and that’s not the plan at all. There’s just lots of the farming community that has crown land surrounding them that has all been deforested in the last number of years and it’s going to take another 75 years before it’s got any value to the forestry companies,” Bender said.

The majority of the farming community needs extra land next to their farm, Bender said.

“And a lot of times there’s Crown land in between two farms and they want to just connect their farmland and make it make more sense,” he said.

“In our municipality, farming was big way back in the day, and then it kind of tailed off and it became forestry and mining. But since the Mennonite population started moving north, we’ve got some major farming community here again and we’re looking to expand it further. And what we’re trying to do will also help the whole Highway 11 corridor.”

Other delegations Bender had hoped to have were in regards to the town’s OPP detachment closing and discussions related to economic development.

Bender said he was also able to sit in on a number of sessions at the conference, one being about the attraction and retention of staff which he said “is difficult in this world that we’re living in.”

“There was also a very good session on housing and provincial and federal government money,” he said.

“It all comes back down to the money side of things. The nasty situation we were in last year where we had to increase our levy by over 30 per cent, a lot of that is because of our OMPF being way down. If we don’t get our financial piece of the picture fixed, it’s pretty hard for us to move anything forward. You can only ask taxpayers to pay so much. So, I’m putting most of my heart, soul, and my efforts into fixing that.”

By Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on Feb 04, 2024 at 17:48

This item reprinted with permission from   Timmins, Ontario

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