/Money for nothing 

Money for nothing 

By Chad Ingram

as there is no such thing as a truly free lunch, there is no such thing
as truly no-strings-attached funding from the provincial government to
Late last month, a
number of Ontario municipalities, including all five councils within
Haliburton County, were informed they’d be receiving one-time funding
from the province through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
And the amounts are nothing to scoff at. The upper tier of the county
will receive $725,000, Minden Hills and Dysart et al each $542,255,
Highlands East $534,469 and Algonquin Highlands $532,292. So
collectively, we’re talking about some $2.8 million, which of course, at
first blush, seems like a good thing. 
it seems the money is intended for a pretty specific purpose and one
must wonder what the provincial government is priming the county for
with nearly $3 million in surprise dollars. 
letter from Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark to heads
of council is pretty telling. While it refers to the funding as
“unconditional,” it quickly makes clear what it is to be used for. 
this investment is unconditional, it is intended to help modernize
service delivery and reduce future costs through investments in projects
such as: service delivery reviews, development of shared services
agreements, and capital investments,” the letter reads. 
believe there will be an expectation that we will be reducing our
costs,” county chief administrative officer Mike Rutter told councillors
last week. 
So, municipalities are
essentially being paid by the province to streamline their own
operations. That makes it seem pretty likely that municipalities can
expect to take a substantial hit when it comes to provincial funding in
the next few years. There was uncertainty regarding whether local
governments would receive money from the Ontario Municipal Partnership
Fund this budget year. While that equalization funding has been
confirmed for 2019, it’s uncertain whether this funding will continue in
the future. Collectively, Haliburton County and its lower tiers
currently receive approximately $7 million per year from the fund, used
to offset general operating costs. Were that funding to disappear, it
would have to be compensated for, either through service reductions or
property tax increases. 
We know that
Premier Doug Ford is over-interested in municipal affairs. Recall his
government’s slashing of Toronto city council by half its members in the
lead-up to last fall’s municipal election, or the provincial review
that is being conducted of Ontario’s eight regional governments. If
anyone thought that the province’s smaller communities were going to be
left alone, this funding announcement should make it clear that is not
going to be the case. 
The County of
Haliburton is undertaking a governance review/exploration of shared
services and while there doesn’t seem to an overwhelming appetite for
amalgamation among members of the current county council, a potential
single-tier framework should be part of that governance review.
the county does not take sufficient steps to improve its efficiency, it
seems quite likely the premier is willing to take those steps for us. 
Beware a free lunch.