Thursday, February 6, 2014

Input to the 2014 Provincial Budget

Comments for Provincial Budget Consultation – 2014

Gord McKay – Mayor, Midland

February 4, 2014

I look to the 2014 provincial budget with low expectations for progress and concern about the many challenges facing the province and its municipalities.

The issues affecting Midland and almost all other small municipalities are well known and have been repeatedly presented to the provincial government.  With reference to AMO’s “Top Ten” list:

1.       Infrastructure - Small, rural and northern municipalities need a permanent, predictable fund to pay for aging infrastructure

2.       Uniform Services Costs – Rate of growth of costs for these services is not sustainable. We need an accountable and transparent arbitration system that gives meaning to the  “ability to pay”.  The province must intervene to make these services affordable for small municipalities

3.       OMPF funding is being reduced. Don’t do that

4.       Municipal Liability – the Attorney General’s willingness to explore some version of proportionate liability needs to move into a government and Legislature priority

5.       Waste Management - Bill 91, the Waste Reduction Act reflects municipal perspectives on producers’ responsibility. Stop the talking and move our waste management to a more sustainable future

6.       Housing – The funding of and approach to housing and homelessness prevention must be rethought.  A flexible collaborative approach (consolidation) is needed to produce a more cost-effective service.  Despite the social services upload, property taxpayers in Ontario shoulder the burden of social housing, on top of child care and long term care and public health

7.       Energy – Develop a realistic  generational energy plan and reduce energy costs so that Ontario can become competitive again
The above mentioned concerns point to structural problems that need to be resolved.

Economic purpose and policy

The province needs a realistic economic focus and policy that will create new wealth through new ideas, businesses and jobs.  The policy must be about long term expansion, not just gaining financial efficiencies by shrinking the workforce. The policy must have a “valued role” for rural municipalities. Ontarians must become excited again about their own and the province’s economic future.

From Midland’s perspective: First of all we need a plan. Then ensure the economic plan has new tools to allow rural communities to meaningfully participate in the economic re-launch. The rural economy is more than agriculture.

Municipal fiscal reform

Municipalities are bedeviled by a policy and fiscal structure that limits their ability to pay for infrastructure, deliver services and participate in economic growth. In particular:
-          Property tax over dependency is destructive of  aging rural municipalities
-          Provincial downloading (eg. AODA, Clean Water, etc) without accommodation/compensation skews municipal finance
-          Uniform service costs (fire, police, EMS) are fiscally out of control due to the imposed provincial labour management system
-          OMPF support is being reduced
-          Significant infrastructure costs exist with no funding plan

From Midland’s perspective: A complete fiscal rethink is required to meet the needs of modern rural municipalities.

Healthcare and the social safety net

Similar to the insight that there is only one taxpayer, there is also only one citizen.  That citizen has to navigate through numerous healthcare structures and social supports (ie. social- healthcare structures) often with great difficulty and cost.  While progress has been made in some areas, Ontario has not yet provided a seamless sustainable approach to the “health and well-being” of its citizens.  An effective approach to affordable housing is central to addressing the problem.

From Midland’s perspective: A comprehensive “social/ healthcare system” would significantly improve the quality of life of citizens in rural municipalities.

Closing Comments

If you sense frustration you are right.

Rural municipalities have already given significant input on what they want to see. What we fail to see is action.

Municipalities will survive in one form or another.  It would be good to know that we have a partner who listens to us and chooses to work with us to make Ontario municipalities better for all.

Gord McKay

Mayor, Midland 

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