I will be the first to concede that, in general terms, as a collective society we've stretched ourselves too thin when it comes to all of this glorious infrastructure we've built over the past century, and we're finding that as it ages it's too expensive to properly maintain. At some point many communities will need to make some tough choices – whether it be deciding to forever close and remove some bridges, or to turn low-travelled paved roads to gravel.
When it comes to roads, in Meaford we've got a plan – the 400 plus kilometres of roads in this municipality have been prioritized, and council has committed to keeping the good roads good while bad roads will wait a while until funding can be found. What I haven't seen anywhere in the roads plan is a strategy for the surprise pulverization of a hard-surfaced road to return it to gravel without any consultation with the residents or with council (they were surprised too), and without any opportunity to explore options. But that's what happened on Story Book Park Road last summer, and in the months since, Councillor Steve Bartley has been pushing to right that wrong in spite of some suggesting that committing to fixing the road would amount to jumping a queue of roads that would take priority.
That there's 55 roads that would have priority, according to Meaford's treasurer, would be a legitimate argument had residents of Story Book Park Road simply marched into council demanding that their road be reconstructed, all other roads in the municipality be damned. But that isn't what happened. What caused residents of the road to engage with council to begin with was that their hard-surfaced road was pulverized and returned to gravel with little warning, and no opportunity to have dialogue with council to explore alternatives. Instead, residents essentially went to bed one night with a hard-surfaced road, and the next day their road was gravel.
As Councillor Bartley has been pushing to right this wrong, the treasurer and some members of council have suggested that committing to a reconstruction of the two kilometre stretch of Story Book Park Road, home to two dozen residences would amount to jumping the queue, and it wouldn't be fair to all of the other residents living on roads in need of repair. To that I say poppycock. What wasn't fair was springing a surprise pulverization of a hard-surfaced road on residents without any process, without allowing anyone the opportunity to throw their hands up to say, 'Hold on, you're going to do what to our road?'
Had residents of this road marched into council with demands to fix their road without any provocation, I would be the first to say get in line, there's lots of roads that need fixing. Had these residents been angry and animated, had they opted for harsh language and name calling, I would be even more comfortable in telling them to get in line, but that simply isn't the case. Residents of Story Book Park Road have attended council regularly since their road was pulverized, and they have been patient, respectful, and cordial. Their only demand has been to be heard, and to have council seriously consider righting this wrong.
I have zero sympathy for the municipality on this issue, as it is an issue of their own making. As I mention above, I have no doubt that in the years to come we will see bridges close and paved roads return to gravel. It won't be pleasant, but it will be necessary. But there must be a process that allows for public and council input, and you can't surprise residents with something as major as the pulverization of a hard-surfaced road to turn it to gravel because it's the easiest solution for a road that has had years of issues with potholes. That's not fair, it's not respectful, and it's bound to anger people. Should the municipality decide to make a habit of using such a strategy, they should get used to having more and more people show up at council meetings, and I suspect they won't all be as polite and patient as the residents of Story Book Park Road have been over the past year.
The residents of Story Book Road saw a victory on Monday when council finally voted in favour of dedicating funds for a full reconstruction of the road using the larger than anticipated surplus from last year. Unfortunately for those residents, that reconstruction won't happen this year, as the treasurer insists it would be impossible, so at best it will happen next year – unless of course the next council decides they don't want to do it – nothing in what council decided on Monday will bind the next council to follow through.
If you are going to take something away from tax-paying residents, there must be a process, there must be an opportunity for debate, and it must be open and transparent – anything less is an injustice.