HomeSudbury News

Gas tax money announced in December was already in the budget, staff says

By: Darren MacDonald - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jan 17, 2014 - 6:21 PM |
Four-way stop signs dues to be removed at four intersections in Sudbury – including this one at Westmount Avenue and Hawthorne Drive – received a reprieve this week. City council overturned an operations committee decision to remove the signs, citing popular support from residents who live in the affected areas. File photo.

Four-way stop signs dues to be removed at four intersections in Sudbury – including this one at Westmount Avenue and Hawthorne Drive – received a reprieve this week. City council overturned an operations committee decision to remove the signs, citing popular support from residents who live in the affected areas. File photo.

Contradicts MPP who said funding was unexpected; also this week, council puts brakes on stop sign removals

Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume took issue with a statement made by Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci before Christmas, when Bartolucci was announcing the city's latest allotment of gas tax revenue.

Bartolucci called a news conference Dec. 19 to announce “major funding for local transit system.” Standing in front of a city bus alongside Mayor Marianne Matichuk and Robert Gauthier, Greater Sudbury's manager of transit operations, the longtime Liberal MPP told reporters the money was unexpected, new funding.

“It's $1.29 million that the City of Greater Sudbury was not expecting to get that they are getting,” he said.

When asked at the same press conference, Matichuk said she also understood it was new money the city wasn't expecting. But at a city council meeting this week, Berthiaume asked city staff whether this really was a Christmas bonus from the province.

“I'm somewhat confused, because I thought that this was already included in our budget,” Berthiaume said Tuesday. “But the way it came across in the media, it sounded like it was new money, to be spent in different ways to add to services.

“I'd like a clarification on this, on what exactly was this announcement.”

Paddy Buchanan, the city's deputy treasurer, said while it was money that hadn't been announced previously, it had, indeed, already been accounted for in the 2014 budget. It comes down to a change in the way the province doles out the money, which see two cents per litre of gas tax revenues shared with municipalities to expand and improve their public transit systems. Since 2003, Sudbury has received about $23 million under the program, which was made permanent in the 2013 provincial budget.

Buchanan said grants used to be given out for the fiscal year running Oct. 1-Sept. 30, but at the request of municipalities, the province changed the fiscal year to April 1-March 31. That lines up with the municipal budget year, making budget planning easier.

But that left a gap of six months, between the end of the old fiscal year and the start of the new one. Buchanan said the amount of money the city anticipated receiving in that six-month period was closer to $1.3 million, so the $1.29 million was actually a little less than expected.

“Annually, we'll still get about the same amount of money, so it isn't new money,” Buchanan said.

“So basically, it's status quo – nothing's changed?” Berthiaume asked. “There's no additional money we're receiving for transit?”

“That's correct,” Buchanan responded.

When contacted, Bartolucci's office said he was out of town, but that he stood by his statements from Dec. 19.

Stop signs all the way
Four-way stops signs that were set to be removed after a one-year trial period showed they weren't warranted according to city guidelines, got a reprieve at city council Tuesday.

The signs at Lansing Avenue at Melbourne Street, Hawthorne Drive at Westmount Avenue, Madeleine Avenue at Main Street and Madeleine Avenue at Alexander Street will all stay where they are, at least for now.

The decision reversed an operations committee motion from November, and came after an emotional debate that pitted statistical evidence that showed the signs didn't belong there versus the perception among residents that the signs make their neighborhoods safer.

Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli showed a clip on the big screen in council chambers of several vehicles rolling through or blowing stop signs downtown, including Sudbury Transit and Handi-Transit buses. Belli was trying counter a staff argument that putting four-way stops in places where traffic doesn't warrant them encourages drivers to ignore them.

He and Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann both had petitions from residents in their wards calling for the signs to stay. He received lots of traffic complaints before the signs went up, he said, but no one has complained about the signs themselves.

Councillors are elected to do what people tell them to do, Belli said. So the signs should stay.

“That's what they want, we should give it to them,” he said, adding he was recently in Vancouver where intersections at every street seemingly has a stop sign. “And I'm not opposed to that.”

They were joined by other councillors, who said if they make residents feel safer, the signs should stay.

But Tony Cecutti, the city's general manager of infrastructure, said the guidelines to determine where stops signs and four-way stops is the best way to make decisions on where they should go. But it's difficult to counter emotional arguments from residents with statistics, he said, since it's a battle between perception and reality.

Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau said he was less concerned about whether the signs stay than with all the staff time that is wasted preparing traffic studies at the request of councillors, only to have the results ignored.

“Let's not put staff through the process of spending umpteen hours” on reports they discard if the conclusions don't match the outcome councillor wanted, Barbeau said.

“This happens council after council,” he said. “Our city is full of stop signs we don't need.”

Rather than asking for studies, he half-jokingly suggested dropping guidelines used to decide where the signs should go in favour of giving each councillor a maximum of three stop signs per term, no studies required. At least then, staff time wouldn't be wasted preparing reports that are discarded.

And Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett cautioned against being a “yes man,” saying always doing what's popular could jeopardize public safety.

In the end, council voted 7-5 to keep the signs in place for now, referring the matter back to the operations committee.  
Darren MacDonald

Darren MacDonald

Staff Writer


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