Roads and taxes are top concerns
On April 26, Ward 8 Councilor Jérôme Courchesne held an open house for his constituents at the Lavigne Community Centre, accompanied by Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon. The meeting was relatively informal, following on the heels of a similar meeting in Cache Bay with Councilor Roch St-Louis, as part of a series of local consultations the mayor indicated she hopes to hold throughout the municipality.
“We’re here to get feedback from the community about things, where you have issues, things you’d like to see, things that are going well. We can tell you a little bit about what’s coming up and what’s planned for this year, for Lavigne, and a little bit about our new Council and how we’re working together. But it really is to hear the ideas and the feedback from the individual neighborhoods and the ward,” said Thorne Rochon to a respectable crowd of about 40 residents. “There may be questions you have tonight that Jérôme and I don’t have the answers to, and we have to go back and ask staff… We will take notes and we’ll find a way to communicate that back to you. You know we can’t make any promises about what will or will not happen because we live in a democracy… So you know we can’t say ‘Yes, we’re going to do this.’ But when we hear good ideas… there are definitely things that we can advocate for and push to see happen in the community.”
By and large the efforts of Courchesne and Thorne Rochon were well received, but they also got an earful, primarily from North Monetville residents who felt they were seriously underserved in the matter of roads maintenance. Roads were also the issue in Lavigne, but the concerns were more around the traffic speed on some roads endangering pedestrians. One local resident told the politicians, concerning Caron Road, “It’s just how fast they’re going. You know it’s a dead-end road for Pete’s sakes! Where are you going? Even if you’re going to your own house, you’re going by me so freaking fast that I want to hit the ditch, and I have hit the ditch!” The speed on Caron Road is posted at 40 km/h.
Another local resident wanted to know what was going on with Eugene Road, and was told that because there is a bridge replacement underway, the road repairs would be held off until that replacement is done. Residents were advised to contact the municipality if they have specific concerns about specific roads. “Someone would be able to help answer if that road is in priority,” said the mayor. That brought a skeptical response from the Monetville residents. “Yeah right!” exclaimed one. “We’ve been countless years hollering regarding East Road.” Another told Courchesne and the mayor, concerning East Road, “There were 22 culverts two years ago that needed to be changed. I showed him the one in front of my place. That was two years ago and nothing has happened. I’ve lived on the road for 50, almost 58 years. This is the worst our roads have ever been. We haven’t had gravel on our road completely since we became part of West Nipissing. They put emergency gravel on it when there’s washouts and then say, ‘Oh, you got gravel.’ Well, we did get gravel, but that was for washouts. We haven’t had very good communication with calling in and talking to people. I’ve been told we’re a Class 4 Road, we’re allowed to have muddy spots even if you’re sinking going up to your axles. Well, I pay a lot in taxes and that’s not acceptable… We have to buy 4-wheel-drives to go down our road, and if the ambulance can’t come down, or the fire truck …it’s not going to be good.”
Courchesne was sympathetic and assured that the municipality was exploring options to provide better service on roads that are a long distance from the town’s service yards.
Dokis Road also came up as another sore point. Mayor Thorne Rochon told the meeting, “I just met with the Chief and Council of Dokis First Nation, along with our Public Works supervisor and our CEO this past Monday. So, we understand that there are some, we’ll call it, maintenance deficits in North Monetville, and that’s putting it mildly… but Dokis Rd. is slated for continued work and rebuilding over the next four years, 5 kilometers at a time, brushing and ditching one year and the …new granular the next year. We’re on to… year 3… that plan is underway … but we’ve also put it out there that we would be interested in negotiating service contracts with contractors that are closer to you that are in a better physical location to serve you because it is…very challenging, as you know. …There are a lot of really messed up things about amalgamation and I think we can all agree with that… because of a line that somebody in Toronto drew in 1999. But the other part about amalgamation is that we inherited a lot of the infrastructure for the municipality… Our public works yards are not where we would put the public works yards if we were strategically planning [today]… it would probably be about 3 kilometers up the road from here and that would service both Verner and the southern part of the municipality.”
The mayor’s comments were received with understanding that the whole process of amalgamation has been difficult for everyone, with a very large network of roads and the cost of maintenance downloaded to the new municipality – costs which were borne by the province prior to amalgamation. “Amalgamation was 25 years ago!” exclaimed one participant. Mayor Thorne Rochon responded that she was going to say some things that would be unpopular in response. “With amalgamation, all of these communities came in together… everybody had their fire station and their dump and their this and their that and nobody wants to take anything away from anybody, even if it is to serve the strategic needs of this new municipality. So, it’s never been politically popular to say, OK, well, we have 9 fire stations and every time you have a fire station, you have a building you have to maintain, you have vehicles that have to sit in there that you have to maintain. …Our Field public works yard serves all the way down to Hwy 17. The Verner one doesn’t serve Cache Lake, which is only two kilometers away. It serves everything south… There was never a political appetite to go see… now that we’re 20 years in, can we do things better? Can we do things more efficiently? So, when you talk about having high taxes, part of the reason why taxes seem high is that we are supporting infrastructure that maybe isn’t in the best places to serve the community we’re supporting. We’re supporting all of the old because nobody likes change. Try to close somebody’s dump – they will come to your house carrying torches… If you start having those conversations people get antsy about it… Pre-amalgamation, the fire stations were the center of community and volunteerism…There is a strong tie to those buildings, even if they’re not serving the same needs.”