Fiscal responsibility and fairness

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by Jim Bertram

Recent articles in the Times have given attention to the general subject of aspects of provincial funding in support of municipal budgets. This is a subject which, in my opinion, draws too little scrutiny on the part of the citizens of Ontario. Yet, given its impact on municipal services and property tax levels, it deserves a great deal of attention.

Last week, in the article “Taking care of business”, David Shanahan discussed the rapidly shrinking and perhaps soon to disappear Ontario Municipal Partnership. He alluded to the fund as an attempt by the province, however inadequate, to ease the burden of the number of services downloaded conveniently by the province from their own area of responsibility onto the shoulders of municipalities and, of course, local payers of municipal taxes.

I had hoped that a new provincial government seriously interested, as they say they are, in the lives and futures of the citizens of Ontario might take a look at compensating municipal taxpayers for the many years of financial downloading of expensive programs from the province, which created the programs in the first place, to municipalities. This was, of course, very useful for the various provincial governments. Expensive mandates were created at the provincial level. But, they didn’t have to pay for them. They could say that they were keeping provincial tax rates low. Except that they weren’t. The costs were simply being dumped into the municipal tax domain which, as I mentioned in a previous article, has much less in its fiscal toolbox with which to pay for the programs for which it ends up having responsibility. End result: increasing pressure on municipal tax rates. Thank you provincial government.

So much for hoping the province might look at being fair and taking responsibility for its own programs and mandates. At the same time as the OMPF is looking more and more like an endangered and soon to be extinct species, it is apparent that provincial funding for municipalities has never been what one might call balanced. As Steve Hammond wrote last week, vote-rich cities have benefited exponentially relative to small municipalities like ours from provincial funding. For years, not only were we expected to devote what the Association of Municipalities of Ontario estimates as an average 27% to 30% share of our budget to paying for provincial programs, but small municipalities had to endure a comparatively weak dribble of provincial funding relative to larger centres.

So – let’s look at some recent political facts. In 2018 our riding (Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes) voted massively Conservative in the provincial election. Numerous other (20 I believe) rural ridings also voted Conservative. Without the support of those ridings, the current government would not be in power. Basically, ladies and gentlemen, what I am saying is: You have power. Collective power. The issues discussed in this article and related articles in this paper have a strong impact on you. On your family finances. Your business. On YOUR personal financial status. I believe you care about this subject. I hope so.

If I am correct in assuming that readers, as residents, DO care, you should be letting our provincial MPP, Steve Clarke, know, through e-mails and other means, what you think and what you expect. Let your County government know as well by contacting Mayor Peckford, who sits on County Council. Write to the other members of our local Council to express your ideas and expectations. Phone them. The financial issues discussed here are municipal issues, and Council should not just lie down before the provincial juggernaut and let the municipality be steamrolled without a loud and active response.

While I recognise that the current provincial government has staggering financial challenges left over from the previous spend-thrift government, this does not excuse it from taking an even-handed and fair approach to municipalities and THEIR fiscal challenges. Yes, of course, municipalities have to manage wisely in the fiscal area. But let’s establish a level playing field, where small municipalities receive a fair portion of available grant monies. And let’s end down-loading, as well as beginning a program to mitigate its effects. Let’s get that 27% -30% financial millstone off our necks, as we try to negotiate the tricky fiscal waters that will be coming in the direction of North Grenville over the next several years. And let’s be active in pressing for fair change in favour of North Grenville’s citizens. Leaving this task to the noisy few just won’t work. Let your voice be heard!

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