By Chad Ingram
O ntario’s municipalities are in trouble.
They are camels whose backs can’t handle much more baggage.
Years of the province downloading costs from infrastructure to social services to security has left many of the Ontario’s 444 municipalities facing woeful financial straits.
Many have reserve levels well below where they should ideally be Haliburton County being one of them.
Others are carrying heavy debt loads.
If some of the townships in this province don’t get some help soon they are going to go the way of Detroit.
And that help is not likely to come from the province. After all it’s the province that’s largely responsible for the hobbled state municipalities are beginning to find themselves in.
Much of the downloading started in the 1990s during then-Premier Mike Harris’s so called “common sense revolution” but has continued with successive provincial governments municipalities asked to pay more and more for services they require and over whose costs they have little or no control.
The most glaring recent example is the new OPP billing formula which was enacted by the province last year. Redistributing total OPP costs on a per household basis it’s clobbering cottage country communities since the province has decided seasonal residences qualify as households.
Collectively the OPP bills of Haliburton County’s four lower-tier townships will double from approximately $3 million to approximately $6 million. This year the OPP bill for Algonquin Highlands – permanent population 2200 – is $740000. The OPP bill for Minden Hills – permanent population 5500 – is more than $1.8 million.
That is roughly the same amount – $1.8 million – that Haliburton County will pay for social services this year social services that are not nearly meeting the needs of the community’s at-risk population.
There is currently a waiting list of more than 1000 for the 1050 financially-assisted housing units controlled by the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation.
According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario 67 per cent of all infrastructure in the province – much of it aging – is owned by municipalities who collectively pay billions of dollars a year just to maintain it.
And since most municipalities have very few revenue-generating vehicles their only real option is to hike property taxes passing the tab along to residents.
As a favourite saying of some of the county’s politicians goes there’s only one taxpayer.
Municipalities need help and it’s not coming from the limping $300-billion-in-debt albatross that is the Ontario government.
No it’s time to go upstairs.
The federal government has said it will run $10-billion deficits for the next few years in order to provide stimulus funding much of which will go to infrastructure and create some jobs along the way.
But we need more than that at this point we need long-term strategic planning at the national level.
A detailed and ongoing national infrastructure assistance program. A national housing strategy.
What is happening to municipalities in Ontario has shown that perhaps provinces shouldn’t be left to their own devices quite so much.