The province is giving Haliburton municipalities an unexpected, one-time funding windfall which amounts to more than $500,000 for each of them.
It was announced by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing March 20 for small and rural municipalities. The money is aimed at helping them to improve service delivery “by finding smarter, more efficient ways to spend money,” according to a press release.
“This funding will help small and rural municipalities improve how they deliver services and reduce the ongoing costs of providing those services,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said.
The County of Haliburton will receive the largest allotment locally at $725,000. Dysart et al and Minden will receive
$542,255 each, Algonquin Highlands will get $532,292, and Highlands East $534,469.
County Reeve Liz Danielsen said she is grateful for the extra cash.
“This is ‘found’ money coming in after we have completed our budget discussions. It is difficult to say at this point what county council will determine as best use,” Danielsen said.
Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton said the funding makes a big difference to Highlands East’s bottom line. He added the municipality could explore a service delivery review, but it would not take all the money.
“I don’t really know what we’ll do with the rest of it. It could go to the other reviews we’re doing,” Burton said. “It’s huge. It’s just what we needed.”
At a Dysart et al council meeting March 26, deputy mayor Patrick Kennedy said the county has committed to examining service delivery, instructing staff to compile an inventory for the end of May. He said it would be a great exercise to identify shortages and challenges but also areas that are working extremely well together.
Later in the meeting, during the discussion on the one-time funding, he said he thought modernizing service delivery referenced “get your own ducks in order or we will.” He added some of the money could be used to put towards a larger pool of money for a countywide local government service review.
Municipalities will also be benefitting from a one-time funding windfall from the federal government, which is doubling this year’s gas tax allotments to municipalities.
The allotment goes toward local infrastructure. At the county level, the 2019 budgeted gas tax contribution before the doubling was $547,933, Danielsen said.
“We have a number of outstanding projects including roads and bridges and council will be discussing where the funds are best spent with the guidelines provided,” Danielsen said.
However, Danielsen said she is concerned about what the impact of the extra money could mean for funding programs in 2020 and beyond.
“We have been clear that we expect our partners, including municipalities, to be taking steps to become more efficient,” the ministry said in a press release. “This funding supports Ontario’s commitment to reduce the cost of government.”
The province announced Dec. 21, 2018 it would be reviewing the Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding (OMPF) as part of its effort to reduce its deficit. The funding is the province’s main assistance grant to municipalities.
The province opted to maintain OMPF funding levels for 2019. But Burton said municipalities would have to be prepared for that to change in 2020.
“It may not be there next year, that same opportunity,” Burton said.