Municipal staff and politicians must be feeling a bit of whiplash after a string of provincial government announcements in the past week or so.
No doubt they will all affect upper and lower-tier government here, although it might take some time to figure out what it all means. But local government is starting to get used to it. It’s the Ford government way.
First off, the Conservatives announced Oct. 25 that Ontario taxpayers are providing up to $143 million to municipalities to help them lower costs and improve services for local residents over the long term. According to Ontario News, money will be made available to all 444 municipalities so they can find smarter, more efficient ways to operate and focus spending on vital programs and services for Ontarians.
Wait a minute, you say. Didn’t they already do that? Well, yes, they did, back on May 21. The County of Haliburton got $725,000; Dysart et al and Minden $542,255 each; Algonquin Highlands $532,292, and Highlands East $534,469. Incidentally, little of that money has been spent to date.
The government said it will extend two application-based funding streams; one for small and rural municipalities, and one for large urban governments. So, it looks like our municipalities are going to do quite well out of this.
Another big announcement was that the province says it’s decided against pursuing a so-called ‘top-down approach’ to regional government review following a months-long probe. We’re really not talking about smallish governments like ours, though. The original, Jan. 15, 2019, announcement was referring to a review of Halton, York, Durham, Waterloo, Niagara, Peel, Muskoka District, Oxford County, and the County of Simcoe — and their lower-tier municipalities.
What we will say, however, is this – not having a top-down approach should in no way be construed as the province backing down from its intention to streamline local government. With the County of Haliburton already embarking upon a review of government services at both the upper and lower tier level, this should be an impetus to continue that work.
At the end of the day, both announcements don’t really affect the local investigation all that much – other than to give councillors and staff a little breathing room to find a made-in-Haliburton County solution – and a little bit more money.
The other announcements that didn’t get as much play in the media are of more immediate importance to local government. The Ford government announced that the 2020 Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund will have the same structure as this year and provide a total of $500 million to 389 municipalities across the province. It gives treasurers some degree of certainly as they prepare draft budgets.
Even better, Ontario will launch a consultation with municipalities about whether to align the municipal and provincial fiscal year. To us, this is a no-brainer. We have seen municipalities struggle to set budgets not knowing what the province is going to chip in until the spring of each year.
Further, the province is proposing to eliminate duplication by combining the provincial and municipal voters’ lists, giving Elections Ontario the responsibility of managing the updated list and taking the burden off of municipalities.
All in all, despite the whiplash, local government should be feeling good about the past week.