Crossing guards in Espanola could soon be crossed off the town's payroll as it struggles to deal with a $4 million tax reassessment bill.
And that's causing a rift between the municipality and school groups.
As a parent and school board trustee, Bob Clement said he's worried fewer crossing guards would compromise the safety of students.
"We have a four-lane highway that goes through Espanola and we have two crossing guards there at A.B. Ellis," he said. "That is a very dangerous crossing and I can't see anyone cutting those crossing guards."
Clement is the Rainbow board trustee representing English public schools in Espanola.
He said he's already spoken with parents who are upset about the proposed change.
"Well the one parent or two parents I have heard [from] already are incensed … that the safety of their children [wouldn’t] be No.1," he said.
Looking for volunteers
The clerk-treasurer-administrator for Espanola said ending the crossing guard program would save the town about $45,000 a year.
"We have to start somewhere and this is just one of the many things that we're considering," Cynthia Townsend said.
"Council has mentioned considering increased signage in that area, and we're always looking for volunteers possibly if that's an option."
Townsend said she's also written to the Rainbow District School board for the money, something Clement noted likely won’t be an option as the Rainbow Board’s budget is very tight.
The town is hoping to cut a number of non-essential services in order to pay off a property re-assessment in which the municipality was found to owe the Domtar mill $4 million in back taxes. The reassessment of the major industrial property also means the town will draw tax payments from a much lower tax base in future years.
Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing said she will be meeting with several mayors next week whose communities are affected by property tax reassessments.
"I understand, as a former municipal councillor, that the impacts of any changes to property assessments on municipalities are certainly alarming," Linda Jeffrey said.
"And although I can't comment on any specific case that is before the Assessment Review Board, I want to assure our municipal partners that we hear their concerns."
Safety an issue
The owner and operator of Veterans Transportation of Espanola, runs 17 routes in the community, said the crossing guards don't just benefit walkers, but bus-going students as well.
"They're very good," said Judith Deline.
"The crossing guards make sure the kids go to their corner and take them across safely, if not, the kids would be running all over the place and in between buses and cars. It's a safety factor for sure."
Deline said she has written a letter to the town saying what a valuable role crossing guards play.
"Even the high school kids use the crossing guard intersection because there is a lot of traffic in the morning and afternoon."
However Clement said the case to get rid of crossing guards can be augmented further as school enrollment across the Rainbow board is declining.
"We’re going to be losing another 500 and some kids," he said. "We do not have money for crossing guards."
Locations of Espanola crossing guards
View Crossing guards in Espanola in a larger map