By Don Crosby
For the Confederate
Southgate has become the latest municipality to provide disability transit for its residents.
But the agreement approved by council on Wednesday (June 6) with Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit (SMART) passed by a narrow vote of 4-3, with strong opposition from several councilors.“It’s not good for us. It’s too costly. I’m afraid the cost will double next year,” said Councillor Pat Franks.
Southgate’s share for this year is $15,000.
Councillor Franks also objects to the service being available only to the mentally and physically challenged which limits the number of users. So far only a half dozen users have been identified.
This year’s cost was based on three months trial basis last year.
Southgate joins Hanover, West Grey, Arran-Elderslie, Brockton and Kincardine in using the services of SMART.
Councillor Dennis Evans doesn’t like the idea of council committing to paying for the service in 2013 without knowing next year’s costs, which will be based on how much the service was used this year and how many other new municipalities sign on to the service.
“We are committing to figures for the 2013 budget without knowing them,” he said.
Councillor Kim Peeters argued that because of Southgate’s small population, spread out over a large geographic area, it’s unlikely the service will be used because the user fees are based on distance travelled to and from home.
Mayor Brian Milne argued that it’s precisely because of the large rural area that the service is needed. People who can’t drive and don’t have friends or family to drive them rely on this type of service. And it enables people to remain in their homes longer.
“It’s geography that drives the price through the roof but it’s geography that creates the need,” said Mayor Milne, adding, “people are generally healthier at home and happier at home. I think this gives people the opportunity to stay at home yet get out and participate in the community.”
Councillor Dale Pallister noted that the municipality spends plenty of money on recreational facilities like arenas so why not spend a little money on health-related service for some of the most vulnerable in the community.
Mayor Milne was quick to note that this is a service the provincial government should be funding.
“It’s a healthcare related issue. It’s no different than land ambulances or hospitals. It’s not a property tax issue. But the reality is the province will not fund it and if we want it we have to pay for it,” he said.