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Woolwich pans provincial communications proposal

Another provincial ode to political correctness rather than common sense got the thumbs down from Woolwich council this week.

This time, the province wants municipalities to make information available in formats suitable for people with disabilities such as vision or hearing issues. The idea is to provide documents in Braille and large print, in audio format and in sign language.

And it’s set the end of 2011 as the deadline for compliance.

Debating the township’s stance in advance of a Feb. 6 deadline for written comments, councillors called the idea unrealistic, especially given the timelines. They joined other municipalities in calling for, at minimum, an extension.

Deputy clerk Val Hummel, who tabled the report, said members of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) are calling for the measures to be phased in by 2024.

The measures – proposed standard for accessible information and communication – fall under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

At the heart of the issue is the cost-benefit analysis. The province’s own study indicates municipalities would be hit with costs equal to between one and three per cent of their annual operating budget – in Woolwich’s case, $100,000 to $300,000. All without any idea how many people would be served by the exercise.

“Who’s benefitting from this? One person? Ten people? One thousand people?” asked Coun. Mark Bauman.

“I’m concerned about spending taxpayer dollars on a service that may be underutilized.”

Hummel indicated the township has had the occasional request for materials in large print, which is easily accommodated on a case-by-case basis.

There’s no indication any of the other measures would be useful.

Without any indication of demand, the crippling costs could be for naught.

“I’m worried about the cost. It’s going to be very costly for a municipality the size of ours,” said Mayor Bill Strauss.

Chief administrative officer David Brenneman said this program is yet another case of the province coming up with a directive for municipalities without providing any funding, and without regard to the consequences.

“Municipalities should tell the province ‘it’s a good idea, but where’s the funding to match?’”

AMO, which estimates the province-wide cost of implementation at $300 million to $900 million, said the issue should be left to individual municipalities to deal with on an as-needed basis.

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