January 22, 2014

Small towns need consistent funding

As published in The Erin Advocate

Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott has taken up the fight of small municipalities to get adequate funding for infrastructure from the provincial government.

The Progressive Conservative member accuses the Liberals of unfairly cutting back regular funding and making it harder to get grants to cover major projects. He recently wrote to Jeff Leal, Minister of Rural Affairs, about rejection of funding for the Station Street Bridge in Hillsburgh.

“Your Ministry’s decision is completely unsatisfactory,” he said. “There are significant structural concerns with the dam and a hazard assessment identified a high hazard potential should the dam collapse.”

He pointed out that the bridge “has been identified by the Credit Valley Conservation Authority as a safety concern and by the Ministry of Natural Resources as an item the Town of Erin must deal with by June 2014. Town staff have informed me that they are not certain how they will be able to proceed with the project without assistance from your Government.”

The province said other applicants with critical projects had more challenging conditions “as measured by property assessments and incomes”.

Towns that raise taxes and borrow for infrastructure are more likely to get grants, apparently an attempt to keep the provincial deficit under control.

Arnott has also said that cuts to core funding through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) amount to “downloading by stealth”. From 2012 to 2014, Wellington and its local municipalities are getting about $1.7 million less, with province-wide funding being scaled back from $598 million in 2012, to $550 million this year and to $500 million by 2016.

The Ministry of Finance says: “The OMPF phase-down was part of the Province’s agreement with municipalities in 2008 to upload social assistance benefit programs as well as court security costs off the property tax base.

“Despite the phase-down of the program, the combined benefit of the OMPF and provincial uploads will continue to increase, with uploads more than offsetting the reduction to the program.”

The uploading of costs benefits the county, but not local governments. Erin’s OMPF allocation dropped by $65,400 in 2013 but only by $3,300 for 2014. Some municipalities in Wellington lost well over $100,000 for 2014, while others had increases.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) says the transition formulas “have not and will not be responsive to changing social service and police costs. The scale of OMPF cuts will be magnified by 2014 OPP wage related cost increases of approximately $25 million in 2014. Tax increases or service reductions are likely in all corners of the province.”

A letter to Premier Wynne from Bill Vrebosch, Mayor of East Ferris (near North Bay), which was included in a recent Erin meeting agenda, expressed disappointment with administration of the $100 million Small, Rural and Northern Municipal Infrastructure Fund.

“We have all put a great deal of effort into this process but obviously the consultations were a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy. We are back to the hat in hand / lottery system for the distribution of funds. This is a total disregard for the input of the municipalities of this province.”

His municipality has reduced its reserves, borrowed money for the first time for roads projects and raised taxes more than the rate of inflation for five years.

We have been doing all that has been asked of us by the Province and more yet we continue to be shut out of infrastructure funding.

“We are trying our best to be creative and innovative in our approach to our planning in an attempt to become financially healthier and move towards greater sustainability in the future. Now we can say that we, together with AMO and most of the other municipalities, are not even being listened to. We continue to ask for a source of sustainable infrastructure funding for all municipalities.”