‘Tis the season for… municipal budget deliberations.
Short of finding a winning Lotto ticket under the Christmas tree at town hall, this year’s budget talks will not be pleasant. Staff are busy crunching numbers to determine how much revenue is needed to maintain services, do necessary capital work, pay the bills and meet payroll obligations, all of which are going up.
Then comes the challenge – making it balance with anticipated revenue, which is going down, thanks to cuts to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.
With elected officials gearing up for the municipal election, the pressure to hold property tax increases to a minimum is intense.
Meanwhile, the province is trying to get its own financial house in order, with the possibility of a provincial election getting stronger by the day. We can anticipate a rash of funding announcements for big-ticket projects that look good to voters, along with efforts to shed some expenses (political-speak for downloading).
How OMPF cuts fit into the equation long-term is a mystery to most taxpayers and municipal officials, but the immediate result is municipalities like this one will have less money to work with in 2014.
To simply maintain the status quo, municipalities will need to raise more taxes, in some cases a lot more, to make up for the shortfall or cut back substantially on services, staff and capital work.
To use a rural and ecological analogy, sustainability is not achieved by putting all the eggs in one crowded basket. For a vibrant, healthy Ontario capable of moving into a prosperous future, our provincial government needs to support both urban and rural economies.
Perhaps a reminder is in order that rural residents pay the same taxes as urban people, and that rural taxpayers are also voters. There are a lot of farmers with MBAs, and some of the most promising economic innovations are taking place in agriculture-based businesses.
Very few of us are naïve enough to think our local municipal government has piles of cash to spare, or that our municipal government can provide “more with less”, to borrow a mathematically impossible catch phrase that hearkens back to the Harris government.
Municipalities have been cutting back for years, thanks to the exchange of services that went with amalgamation, and turned out to be weighted heavily in favour of the province. There is no more deadwood to trim at the municipal level.
We suspect the same cannot be said at the provincial level, if various spending scandals like eHealth and ORNGE, as well as the cancellation of the contentious gas plants are any indication.
Municipal taxpayers-voters will be watching closely to see who benefits from what the province describes as the restructuring of the OMPF program, and how much our property taxes go up as a direct result of provincial funding cuts and provincially mandated (but not funded) programs.
We will cast our votes accordingly, at both the municipal and provincial levels.
- Special to the Listowel Banner