It is no secret that the provincial government has been slashing budgets left, right and centre.
As the Mayor of Merrickville Wolford, Doug Struthers has been keeping an eye on the funding cuts and what that means for the residents of the municipality. Although no funding cuts have been announced at the municipal level, there are several County services that will be affected by significant cuts next year.
The province seems to have rolled back the cuts for 2019, however they have stated that the funding formula for many services will change in 2020. According to the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, this will amount to a total loss of $1,750,203 in funding for essential services like childcare, Ontario Works and paramedic services. Doug says the County has reported that EMS calls have increased by eight per cent over the past eight years which makes him wonder how they are going to maintain the same level of service with more demand and less money.
One option is to amalgamate services, which is already being done with Health Units across the province. Doug believes that should this happen with other services, there needs to be a distinction made between rural and urban municipalities. “There are different kinds of services needed in rural areas than urban centres,” he says.
Although most of the cuts are at the county level, municipalities are being told they need to find four per cent cost savings in their budget. They have all been given something the province is calling the Municipal Modernization Fund (MMF) which is meant to help municipalities find “efficiencies,” to use one of the current government’s favourite buzzwords. Doug is concerned that this grant means that the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, which is important to small municipalities like Merrickville-Wolford, will be cut considering the injection they received with the MMF. “They are saying there is not going to be a significant change in 2020 for northern and rural municipalities but this doesn’t mean no impact,” Doug says. “Time will tell.”
Doug is also looking ahead to the future and watching closely as the province studies regional governments in the Toronto area. He believes that it is a possibility that small municipalities like Merrickville-Wolford could be swallowed up into regional governments should they not prove to be “effective” and “efficient” enough in the province’s eyes. “They might decide to go to single tier or regional government,” Doug says. “Many studies show that single tier governments do not equal cost savings.”
Although Doug is remaining diplomatic about the provincial government’s actions, he does have concerns about the way it is being rolled out. “It has left organizations scrambling,” he says. “How are they going to maintain the level of service with less money?”
Doug believes the only way that social services will be able to survive is by downloading the cost onto the taxpayer, which would directly impact his constituents’ livelihoods. “These services are valued and needed by our residents,” he says. “It’s causing a lot of concern.”