Last week’s annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario gave me an opportunity to sit down with elected officials from Pickle Lake to Pelee Island and points in between.
As in Haldimand and Norfolk, challenges range from money and red tape, to ensuring an improved municipal provincial relationship.
One of the biggest challenges is the cost of first responders. The number one complaint I heard from the municipal councillors at AMO was the unsustainable cost of policing.
PC Municipal Affairs Critic, MPP Ernie Hardeman explained in his keynote: “People need to know when they dial 911 someone will be there to help them, and they’ll be there quickly.” But when some municipalities are spending half their budget on emergency services it is difficult to deliver everything else constituents need.
Government has announced the third version of its police funding formula. On average, each household will pay $355. But councillors still can’t tell ratepayers how much policing will cost them. What we do know, across the province, some municipalities will win, and 207 local governments will pay more.
Over the past few years, municipalities have seen their insurance rates spiral because too often they are viewed as having the ability to pay large damages – even when their level of responsibility is found to be almost nothing.
Opposition PC MPP Randy Pettapiece introduced a motion calling for the government to reform joint and several liability by June 2014. At every AMO conference the government has promised to take action on this problem. Now they have announced they are not taking any action at all.
As you will hear many times over, the provincial government is running up a $12.5 billion deficit. That means there is less money available for the municipal level.
But municipalities are struggling with significant new infrastructure costs due to the sudden cancellation of the Connection Links program that funded about 350 kilometres of road and 70 bridges. We know when programs like that are cancelled suddenly it makes it even more of a burden because there’s no time to budget or build reserves for those infrastructure costs.
Government has also been cutting the grants through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF). MPP Hardeman used the example of a town in his riding – Ingersoll – where the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund grants have been cut by more than 50 per cent or $690,000. In the meantime, their savings from uploads have only been $18,000.
Fairness means ensuring that if people are paying a tax, that they are getting the benefit from it.
People in every single municipality in Ontario pay the provincial gas tax. In fact, in rural and Northern communities driving isn’t a luxury – it’s the only way to get around. And although everyone pays, communities like Haldimand County never benefit or get a return for their dollar. It goes only to communities that have transit. That simply isn’t fair. The gas tax should help with infrastructure costs in all communities.
It was plain to see municipalities across Ontario now know better what is not coming down the pipe as the senior level of government is going broke. This is a reality worthy of debate as we run up to the municipal vote on October 27th.