Mayor Stephens baffled by his council’s decision to not apply for $50,000 grant for United Manitoulin Islands Transit

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CENTRAL MANITOULIN—A recommendation that Central Manitoulin council authorize the CAO/clerk to enter into a $50,000 Rural Transit Solutions Fund grant agreement between the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Central Manitoulin and Manitoulin Islands Transit Cooperative Inc. (UMIT) was turned down at the September 8 meeting of council.

The original recommendation from the Water, Waste and Education Committee was moved by Councillor Derek Stephens and seconded by Councillor Angela Johnston at committee and moved at committee by Councillor Stephens and Councillor Al Tribinevicius.

In opening debate on the motion Councillor Steve Shaffer thanked UMIT for the information presented to committee by UMIT executive director Joahnna Berti, saying that it was “very informative” but then went on to say, “after everything is said and done, Central Manitoulin had done its part.” He indicated that the funding would extend the program another two years, to a total of seven and that he would not be supporting the motion. “Central Manitoulin has done its part to get this off the ground.”

Councillor Stephens noted that the current agreement with UMIT still has two years to run and the municipality would look at the partnership at that time. He noted that the current pilot program is a “stepping stone” to providing a transit solution for people on Manitoulin. “I think that since this is the only public group out there that is trying to do something we should support it.”

Councillor Tribinevicius also indicated he would support the motion, noting that UMIT had challenges gathering data due to COVID and could use longer time to gather information on the Island’s transit needs. “They are using new technology for transportation,” he said, indicating that the only other option for those without their own transportation was to use taxis. “We do need a public focus,” he said.

Councillor Dale Scott said that he had concerns although he recognized that, to date, the project “hadn’t cost the municipality anything” that public transit would wind up costing taxpayers money to subsidize once funding had run its course.

Councillor Rose Diebolt said that she agreed with Councillor Scott, citing a suggestion at committee that UMIT could look to Island municipalities for funding in the range of a dollar a resident after the program funding had run its course.

Mayor Richard Stephens noted that the study funds being applied for would assist UMIT in making the case for ongoing funding. Although he agreed with Councillors Shaffer and Scott that the current numbers do not look sustainable, the study funding was coming from outside the community through a government grant and could assist with building the business case for the project and it would be a shame to not make every effort to gather that data.

Councillor Stephens said he agreed with the mayor. “Public transit would be a big economic asset for the Island,” he said. “With the rising costs of gas, transportation is just going to continue to grow as an issue on Manitoulin Island. It is going to be harder to make a case with the provincial government without the numbers.”

Councillor Tribinevicius noted that the Island actually has a well-tuned transit system in place in the form of the school bus system and he suggested that might be an opportunity for collaboration with UMIT.

Mayor Richard Stephens requested a recorded vote on the motion. Councillors Stephens, Tribinevicius and Mayor Stephens voted in favour, with Councillors Scott, Diebolt and Shaffer voting against, Councillor Johnston abstained. Abstentions on a recorded vote are counted as against the motion.