/Municipal funding cuts on the way 

Municipal funding cuts on the way 

Municipal funding cuts on the way 


By Chad Ingram


provincial government will proceed with municipal funding cuts in 2020,
Premier Doug Ford confirmed during the annual Association of
Municipalities conference in Ottawa last week.

Those cuts will come
in areas of public health and childcare and will be effective Jan. 1 of
next year. There also seems to be an understanding among municipal
politicians that more cuts are likely on the way.


“I came away from
the conference with mixed feelings,” Haliburton County Warden Liz
Danielsen told the Times in an email. “There is little doubt that all of
us are going to be hit with changes and, in all likelihood higher
taxes. While the province is offering transitional funding in several
areas to get us through next year without drastic changes, the unknowns
still associated with health care, ambulance services, long-term care
and housing are all cause for concern.”


Earlier this year, the
government announced that municipalities would be getting one-time
grants, with the County of Haliburton receiving $725,000, Dysart et al
and Minden Hills each $542,255, Highlands East $534,469 and Algonquin
Highlands $532,292. Danielsen said it was clear at the conference that
money was to be used by municipalities for streamlining of their own

“Once again it was very apparent that the government is
directing all of us to look at our services and find ways to streamline
and make cuts wherever possible,” she wrote. “A difficult task when it
is my belief that the County of Haliburton and all the member
municipalities run pretty tight ships. It was also apparent that the
province is not necessarily placing an emphasis on amalgamations in
rural Ontario, but rather on all of us finding better ways of conducting
our business.”


On public health, the province’s plan is to switch
to a framework where the province will carry 70 per cent costs,
municipalities 30 per cent, with the caveat that costs for any
municipality not increase by more than 10 per cent. Currently,
municipalities have individual cost-sharing agreements with the province
when it comes to public health, the province paying as much as 100 per
cent in some cases.


However, Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts, who
sits on the board of the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health
Unit, doesn’t believe the financial impact for the county will be that

 “The previous split was supposed to be 25:75 but in truth we
were nearer 29:71 so I don’t think the impact will be that great,”
Roberts wrote in an email. “Municipalities will be paying 30 per cent as
of January 2020, but we heard from Minister of Health, Christine
Elliott, that they are also asking health units to look for
efficiencies. There will also be financial support to municipalities who
receive a 10 per cent or more increase, but I doubt this will be the
case for Haliburton County. The government feel many things can be done
at the provincial level and that there is a lot of duplication, many of
these observations came from an auditor general report in 2017. Examples
given were around alcohol use, e-cigarettes etc. These are provincial
issues, not local ones, and therefore the province should be dealing
with these.”


The province is in the process of consolidating health
units, and it was announced earlier this year the plan is to merge the
HKPR District Health Unit with those in Peterborough, Hastings County,
Prince Edward County and Durham Region, a plan that Roberts said at the
time she found disconcerting.

Roberts told the Times the province is
now hiring a consultant to help steer that consolidation process, and
that proposed boundaries are under review.


“The boundaries for the
new health units are still being reviewed and the province is
listening,” she wrote. “One thing I was pleased to hear is that they are
hiring an independent consultant to help guide this process, and that
the person they are hiring will be announced very soon. Minister Elliot
said ‘the system is in need of change,’ but at least the changes will be
made with input from the current local health units, mayors, wardens
and others.”


Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt told the Times
there has been no larger, long-term plan from the province in terms of
how cuts will roll out, making the process difficult for municipalities.

“We knew cuts and changes were coming but it might have been better
if the government had taken the time from the start to produce a
fulsome plan where they and us would have the big picture in order to
plan for it,” Moffatt wrote in an email. “It feels disorganized – a bit
here, a percentage there; a big announcement and then a walk-back. On
the one hand you get a reprieve on ambulance funding and an
infrastructure announcement, and on the other you have to absorb part of
public health and child care.”


There has been repeated rhetoric
from the premier about the province getting out of the way of
municipalities, allowing them to do their jobs.

“It’s terrific that
the premier wants to get Queen’s Park out of our way, and let us have
flexibility with our budgets, but what does that actually mean?” Moffatt
wrote. “If it means we’re going to be on our own to determine and
provide for what we deem to be in the best interest of our respective
communities, it could be a dream or it could be a disaster. Free rein or
free falling?”


“The continued reference for this need to find
efficiencies is somewhat insulting for fiscally-responsible
organizations like both the County and Algonquin Highlands,” Moffatt
continued. “It makes it sound as though we’re irresponsible and
thoughtless decision-makers who need reining in. We’ve always done our
best to carve out respectful, sustainable priorities for taxpayers and
will continue to do so but people need to anticipate some combination of
tax increases and/or changes to service levels and programming. There
are myriad complex, moving parts in municipal governance and there are
some very difficult decisions ahead.”


Danielsen, who sits on the
Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, said the EOWC will work to try to
mitigate financial impacts at a regional level.

“The EOWC is
prepared to roll up its sleeves to work with the province to ensure the
least amount of impact on Eastern Ontario,” she wrote. “I think we’re in
for a rocky road.”