Wind turbines – a thorn in the side of many Ontario municipalities – will be top of mind when local municipal leaders meet with provincial officials this week.
Several Lambton County politicians and municipal staff members are headed to the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference – this year, running from Aug. 14 to 17 in Windsor – to address provincial issues impacting their municipalities.
On Friday, Lambton County Warden Bev MacDougall said she and fellow local leaders will be meeting with Ministry of Finance officials during the conference to discuss the valuation of wind turbines for tax purposes.
“When the Green Energy Act was created by the Ontario government, there was a whole slew of issues that have been dealt with, but the taxation that rests on this wind turbines is inadequate to cover the real municipal cost to host these pieces of equipment,” she said.
“A good example is the cost of maintaining roads to and from them, winter maintenance, as well as road conditions that have to be protected for purposes of the owners of the wind turbines.”
They’ll also be raising the issue of OPP costs associated with policing wind turbines.
Under the OPP’s new billing model, several Ontario municipalities were surprised to learn they’re being charged a base service cost per wind turbine property if these properties are already taxed commercial or industrial, but earlier this year, an OPP spokesperson said a review was underway on that policy.
“We’re looking forward to further discussion on policing these things because it was promised not to become a burden on municipalities, so we’re hoping to get an update on that,” MacDougall said.
Almost all of Ontario’s 444 municipal governments belong to AMO, a non-profit that lobbies on behalf of its members on municipal issues.
While local leaders – like Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber and St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold – will be having their own meetings to address specific issues in their own municipalities, MacDougall said it’s important for the County of Lambton – the local upper-tier government – to be at the table as well especially for the wind turbine discussions.
“There are 11 municipalities – and if you look at a number of them that host [wind turbines] – yes, they could do this all on their own, but our voice is stronger when we exercise that voice together,” she said.
“We also share through road maintenance agreements some of the costs with our lower-tier municipalities. Therefore, it’s an item of shared concern.”
MacDougall has seen firsthand the positive impact when municipalities pull together for a cause.
Last month, the Canadian and Ontario governments announced $180 million for the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project, a multi-year plan to build a high-speed fibre optic regional broadband network across western Ontario.
The project was initiated by the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus.
MacDougall and fellow county representatives will participate in a joint meeting of the western and eastern Ontario wardens’ caucuses at the AMO conference next week.
“Our Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus meeting is going to be really important to western wardens because this will be our first forum together since the big SWIFT announcement, so we need to have the face-to-face,” said MacDougall, who is vice-chair of the SWIFT committee.
She said that forum will allow the caucus to discuss the next steps they need to take to move the project forward.
The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus has also been gathering economic development priorities from the different regional municipal groups with the goal of commissioning an action plan for regional economic development.
The Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus – which serves municipalities like Peterborough and Cornwall – has already gone through both broadband expansion and economic development plans, MacDougall noted.
“We learn and share from each other, and AMO [conference] is a place we always meet, so I’m looking forward to the conference,” she said.
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