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Norfolk council seeks ideas for legacy windfall

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Getty Images

Getty Images

SIMCOE - 

A Norfolk councillor would like the county to step up its repaving program while oil prices are favourable.

Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton has noticed that the price of asphalt is depressed now that oil is hovering in the range of $50 a barrel. The price for asphalt is likely to double, he told council this week, if oil rises back to the range of $100.

Brunton offered the suggestion Tuesday during a discussion of what to do with the $250,000 that Norfolk council set aside from its Legacy Fund prior to the start of budget talks Jan. 23.

There were plans to slot the money somewhere in the 2017 operating budget. That, however, didn’t happen.

Councillors volunteered their ideas this week after Windham Coun. Jim Oliver suggested lending the money to the Norfolk County Community Foundation. Oliver’s motion received no support. Council instead is awaiting a report from the treasury department on suitable infrastructure projects.

“I’d like to put an extra $100,000 into hot surface treatment if we can,” Brunton said. “I won’t support giving one foundation $250,000 until we can give every foundation $250,000.”

This is a good time to pave roads, streets and parking lots. Asphalt cement emulsion cost $857 a tonne in 2014 when oil prices were riding high. Today, that same emulsion can be had for about $480 a tonne.

The $66-million Legacy Fund consists of money Norfolk netted when it sold Norfolk Power to Hydro One three years ago. Through a collection of conservative, low-risk investments, the fund produced $2.9 million in revenue last year.

Oliver has expressed regret in the past that council seems bent on spending the revenue on low-profile projects such as roads, sewers, sidewalks and the like. With at least a portion of the money, Oliver sees an opportunity for council to leave a real “legacy” to the future.

“My fear is this $250,000 will disappear down the black hole of infrastructure,” Oliver said. “I hope one day we can look back and say `I remember when we did something special with that money.’”

The Norfolk foundation approached council in 2015 with a proposal to borrow $250,000 for investment purposes. The foundation has ample collateral and is not required by law to invest in conservative, low-return areas.

Norfolk’s Legacy Fund Advisory Committee recommended against the request at its meeting Dec. 6. Council affirmed that position Tuesday.

Port Dover Coun. John Wells, chair of the Port Dover Community Foundation, said this would be an improper use of taxpayers’ money. Municipal councils, Wells said, are not in the businesses of topping up community foundations with public funds.

Simcoe Coun. Peter Black also wants the $250,000 plowed into infrastructure. Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus doesn’t like the “optics” of the county lending public money to private institutions.

For his part, Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt says the $250,000 should be put back where council found it.

“I’d like to see a recommendation come back to keep it in the piggy bank,” Haydt said. “It ain’t burning a hole in my pocket.”

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com