On Tuesday, August 9th, 2016, Kathleen Wynne became the first Ontario Premier since David Peterson to make an official visit to Wawa. Arriving by car, after visiting Pancake Bay, the Premier’s stop was part of a Northeastern Ontario tour.
Traveling with Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines, the Premier requested to meet with Mayor Ron Rody and CAO, Chris Wray to discuss matters pertaining to Wawa.
The one-hour meeting was followed by a short meeting with local media where those in attendance were given an opportunity to ask questions of the Premier. It was at this time that Mayor Rody presented Premier Wynne with a Wawa Goose Print. The Premier and Minister Gravelle then traveled to the Wawa Goose for several pictures with those in attendance before departing by aircraft.
The Premier characterized the meeting as a “great conversation with the Mayor and CAO”, referencing subjects such as housing and infrastructure.
Mayor Rody said that “the approach by the Municipality of Wawa was to explain to the Premier and Minister Gravelle that Wawa has made significant progress in a number of areas; some with the assistance of the Province but there also remained significant challenges facing the Municipality”. Mayor Rody went on to say that “Wawa believes that the Municipality is a large part of the solution to its challenges and does not look to the Province as the only solution to these issues but rather as a participatory partner’.
Mayor Rody concluded by stating that he hoped that the meeting will provide an excellent reference point for Premier Wynne and Minister Gravelle in the future when it comes to issues pertinent to Wawa.
OUR POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
1. Continuation of the Power Dam Compensatory Grant Program and removal of the proposed clawback announced in the 2014 Provincial Budget.
This provides predictable funding moving into the future.
2. A recent allocation of $1.1 million through the OCIF (second intake) application based program. These funds will be used to repair our sewage lagoons that are over 35 years old and have been malfunctioning.
We were also extremely pleased to receive the news last week that our application to the Canada-Ontario Small Communities Fund (second intake) had been approved for a total of $951,116 that will assist us in a much-needed expansions of our landfill site which has reached the end of its useful life.
The completion of both the sewage lagoon replacement and landfill expansion projects will ensure the execution of the two (2) top priorities identified in our Asset Management Plan.
3. The Municipality of Wawa has been very aggressive with a number of energy related projects including; six (6) solar rooftop micro fit projects, replacing all on-street and off-street lighting fixtures with LED lighting and installing water meters for over 1 ,800 properties. These projects were made possible through good planning, the Federal Gas Tax and opportunities made possible by the Province of Ontario.
This past spring, the Wawa Economic Development Corporation completed on behalf of the Municipality of Wawa, a Community Energy Plan. This plan was made possible through a grant from the Ministry of Energy – one of only a few in the Province. In April, the Ontario Trillium Foundation then granted the Wawa partners $220,000 to implement the Community Energy Plan which includes actions for reductions in electricity, water, and waste.
4. In May 2016, the Municipality with the assistance of the Wawa EDC completed and Age Friendly Needs Assessment with funds provided by the Ontario Seniors Secretariat. The results of this study have now given us the information needed to start addressing our aging population.
5. We are currently awaiting the results of our application under the Northern Communities Investment Readiness Program that will assist us and the Township of White River to assess the severe issues respecting housing in our region.
6. We have recently completed a Community Strategic Plan and a Municipal Business Plan that will assist us in planning to adapt to our present situation and address some of the shortfalls that we need to address.
7. We have built service sharing partnerships with the communities around us including our award winning Northern Information Technology and Geomatics Cooperative that serves five (5) other communities, our local Family Health Team, our Victims Assistance Organization and White River Forest Products – through GIS and Information Technology Services.
Other partnership agreements include services for Chief Building Official, Fire Services, and our Chief Administrative Officer.
8. With support from NOHFC, Wawa partnered with Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Manitouwadge and Northeast Midstream to determine the feasibility of bringing Liquefied Natural Gas to the north shore of Superior. The results of the feasibility study are now being considered.
9. Wawa has established itself as a leading hub for the evacuation of remote First Nation Communities that experience displacement due to flooding (James Bay Coast), forest fire or other disasters.
10. Working with the Algoma-Kinniwabi Travel Association, Wawa has set aside the promotion of itself as a sole tourism destination to embrace the branding, values and positive aspects of a larger regional approach in the Algoma District.
11. We have embraced the Premier’s concept of Community Hubs and are actively working towards two (2) such ventures.
Recognizing that we have a growing population of aged ratepayers and using some of the results from our upcoming housing study (if funds are granted), we are exploring a hub that would include not just seniors housing (All types) but also ancillary services (such as those that are health related) that are needed to support seniors. We have already identified a potential location in an elementary school that may be surplused in the coming year.
The combination of an identified need by the Province for a new OPP Detachment, combined with an aging Municipal Office that houses both administrative and court service facilities has led to the concept of a combined facility for policing, court, municipal administration, fire services, public library and regional mine rescue. Discussions have been ongoing with both the OPP and Infrastructure Ontario while a feasibility study is underway.
1 . Power Dams
a. Many communities lost large portions of assessment that have now been declared exempt from taxation. While the CPP was put in place to replace this loss in assessment it did not include adjustments for changes in municipal costs that would normally have been picked up by the former assessable property. This has caused an unfair shift in taxation in communities that were already struggling with such a shift being most detrimental to the residential tax base. Any adjustment in the CPP, by the Province, for increases in municipal costs has been limited to an adjustment for CPI in only a few years.
b. The power dam assessment was part of the property tax fabric that was used to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain the subject communities. The continued exemption of the subject assessment from municipal taxation is punitive in nature in that it is no longer available to contribute to infrastructure replacement.
c. The CPP is quite often referred to as a Provincial Support Program when in fact it is funds that each community is owed based on the principle of fair municipal property taxation in the Province of Ontario.
d. The now exempt assessment was not limited to power dams. Also included was assessment for poles and wires that in some cases were placed on the subject assessment rolls by the Assessment Commissioner of the day. Yet it is not clear how the original CPP was calculated and whether or not poles and wires were included.
e. Upon exempting the power dams, poles and wires from municipal, taxation, the Province amended the Electricity Act, 1998 requiring the owners of such assessment to pay a Gross Revenue Charge (GRC) to the Province. The amounts and manner in which these charges have been administered is not transparent and efforts to obtain such information have proven impossible. It is the Province and not the Municipalities that benefit from the GRC.
f. Power Dams that were subject to property taxation (Prior to 2001) through the Payment in Lieu (PIL) program continue to make payments to communities as PIL’s, making the situation all the more confusing.
g. Municipalities that are recipients of the CPP will need to compensate for the stagnation of the former taxation payments by significantly increasing taxes, in some cases in communities that have decreasing assessment bases or significantly compromised municipal services.
h. Affected communities will still be required to provide the necessary infrastructure to service power dams (such as roads, fire service, etc.) despite receiving payments from the CPP that are regressive in nature.
i. Assessment Review Board cases that date back prior to 2001 leave the affected municipalities with no way to recapture a proportionate share from the reassessed value of the subject power dams, poles, and wires. This means that decisions on reduced assessment will require that municipalities refund taxes prior to 2001 without the benefit of the remaining power dam assessment.
j. The current CPP program results in one payment to the subject municipalities from the Province with such payment coming at times as late as October. In the past, the owners of the subject properties always paid taxes quarterly as issued by the individual municipalities.
Thus, the delays in the payments of the CPP are fiscally damaging to the municipalities.
Wawa was built as a community that would host 5,500 residents. The land use planning and related infrastructure both reflect a community that was growing and making a significant contribution to both the regional and Provincial economy.
The loss of major employers such as Algoma Ore Division and Weyerhaeuser and the centralization of many public sector jobs to places such as Sault Ste. Marie has resulted in a community that is not capable, without assistance in addressing its infrastructure deficit. With assets totaling over $80 million and a replacement value many times that, Wawa will need the assistance of the Province and Federal Government well into the future.
3. Economy & Negative Growth
With two operating gold mines in the region and as many as four (4) others with potential to come online in the next decade there is great opportunity for economic growth. However, policies that allow mining companies to build locate and operate outside of municipal boundaries while training and using employees that do not live in the region will only contribute to further decline.
i. Mining exploration activity continues to be strong in the area and we are encouraged by this.
ii. Concerned that mining companies are not aware of the Northern Growth Plan.
iii. Concerned about the development of camps that will place a strain on our resources and other resources in the region while not finally contributing through property taxes.
iv. The location of transient workers in Wawa is displacing low-income residents due to the price that transients are willing to pay for accommodations. This has caused a large problem for low-income residents and is contributing towards people leaving the community.
v. We have begun exploring potential agreements with at least one mining company and will be discussing with others.
b. Assessment Loss
Notwithstanding the loss of 50% of the municipal property assessment (power dams) in 2001, Wawa continues to experience a lack of growth in property assessment. New construction is very rare and the remaining assessment values continue to decrease.
This only results in tax rates that are among the highest in Northern Ontario.
c. Loss of Commercial Sector
Assessment loss in Wawa is greatest in the commercial sector where there are no new businesses and current buildings are seeing a decline in value and condition – this leads to a commercial sector that is not attractive to new opportunities.
d. No Industrial
The removal of the power dams from taxable assessment has resulted in any of the remaining Industrial Assessment being in the range of 1% of the total assessment base. There are no readily identified industrial opportunities in Wawa.
4. Tax Arrears, Vacant Buildings, and Vacant Owners
a. Total tax arrears in Wawa continue to increase as tax rates rise and growth is limited or non-existent. Homes and businesses are being abandoned placing the Municipality in the precarious situation of having to recover outstanding taxes from property that is worth only a portion of the outstanding taxes, suing owners for the demolition of the subject buildings and at times having to expend additional funds to demolish and landfill these buildings.
Absent of such actions, tax arrears and liabilities increase while legal action becomes expensive and time-consuming.
5. Electrical Rates
a. Affordable electricity is of great importance to not only our ratepayers but also to our commercial and small industrial; sector if it is to have an opportunity to contribute to rebuilding Wawa.
Unfortunately, rates in Wawa have steadily increased, eclipsing rate increases of other areas. The Municipality has taken an active role with the Ontario Energy Board in an attempt to address or understand the issues. While the OEB has allowed intervenor status it will no longer allow cost awards thereby placing the financial responsibility on our ratepayers.
6. Northern Growth Plan
a. We are looking forward to the five (5) year review of the Northern Growth Plan. Now that the initial years of the plan have been experienced we are of the opinion that significant changes need to be made to benefit not just Wawa but all small communities in the north.