Municipal responsibilities and fiscal realities

By MPP Toby Barrett              

Municipalities play a significant role in our daily lives across Ontario.

Each year 2,800 locally-elected officials in 444 municipal governments allocate something like $53 billion in programs and services, ranging from roads and culverts to water, waste water and solid waste to social housing, libraries and arenas.

People in Ontario pay the highest property taxes in Canada, with much of the revenue required augmented by user fees, development charges, fines and grant money transferred from the provincial and federal level. The City of Toronto is unique in that it can access a variety of revenue sources ranging from billboards, alcohol, tobacco, parking, motor vehicle ownership and entertainment.

In presentations to both AMO – the Association of Municipalities of Ontario – and ROMA – the Rural Ontario Municipal Association – Opposition Leader Patrick Brown recognized the gap between the responsibilities and the fiscal realities of municipalities.

“I’ve heard from municipalities who are struggling with the impacts of provincial policies, and don’t believe they are being treated fairly,” Brown told AMO. “. . . you are continuously asked to do too much, with too little. This is due to a government that continues to download red tape and expenses onto municipalizes, while at the same time cutting critical municipal funding.”

Our municipal public health units are a case in point where the province has frozen funding for services, which were typically cost shared 75 per cent provincial and 25 cent municipal. This has meant that municipalities have either been forced to reduce services they provide, or contribute money they can ill-afford as expenses increase.

Any cuts to public health can translate into cuts to sexual health programs cuts, to the Healthy Babies program or to the termination of nurses. And, as is recently the case in Haldimand-Norfolk, the elimination of nurse practitioner services.

Norfolk County Councillor Jim Oliver stated earlier last year that between Norfolk and Haldimand counties, the municipalities contribute over $300,000 into programs that are supposed to be funded by the province.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is now struggling to cut $143,000 from this year’s budget.

But it’s not just health care. Over the last few years municipalities have been hit with numerous other cuts from the Ontario government. The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) has been slashed by $70 million over four years. It hits some of our municipalities disproportionately. The Town of Ingersoll received $878,900 in OMPF grants in 2012, but nearly 50 per cent less at $457,300 in 2016.

OMPF cuts are occurring suddenly, without recognizing the impact, while municipalities try to maintain services. And it puts additional pressure on municipal revenues – property taxes, user fees and grants – in order to absorb the funding cuts. The OMPF has historically been a critical financial commitment to Ontario municipalities in need of infrastructure repairs. Meanwhile the Ontario Government continues to re-announce infrastructure projects throughout the province that are years away.

Whether it’s unaffordable electricity rates, a growing provincial debt, false promises of infrastructure funding, or cuts to public health and frontline community services, this government is making Ontario increasingly unaffordable and uncompetitive.

We are seeing first-hand the impact government waste and mismanagement are having on our most basic services. And we continue to witness first-hand the damage our loss of industry and our struggling economy is doing to our health and social infrastructure.