By Kristen Frisa
Ontario Construction News staff writer
At a recent conference between Ontario officials and representatives from municipal governments around the province, Ontario’s premier Doug Ford made several announcements regarding finances in the coming year.
The province will provide municipalities with ‘transitional funding’ to help them cope with changes to funding that have been announced earlier this year, in public health and childcare, for example. Ontario officials are also offering $7 million to help go over municipal budgets to help cut costs there in a “line by line review.”
Starting on Sept. 3, municipalities are also welcome to apply for grant money through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), to help build community centres, sports arenas, and cultural centres. Applications for the federal-provincial-municipal cost-sharing program are due November 12.
“We welcome the Ontario government’s commitment to work with municipal governments and AMO,” said Jamie McGarvey, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in a news release following the conference. “As frontline service providers, municipal expertise and experience is essential if we want to achieve solutions to our shared challenges. After all, we serve the same people, taxpayers and communities.”
Good news for municipalities and the construction industry alike, $90 billion will be available over the next decade through the provincial government’s strategic infrastructure capital plan, and the $315 million is going to expand broadband and cell phone connectivity in rural and remote communities.
After a series of announcements that rocked the boat with municipalities earlier in the year, reactions to the help from the province are mixed.
According to MyKapuskasingNow, local councilors are choosing to take a wider lense when it comes to building new amenities for residents. The paper says that council recognizes the money may help to pay for a new community pool, but the town will still have to pay for its operation and must consider those long-term costs before forging ahead.
Meanwhile, the money offered for helping municipalities with budgets came off as heavy-handed for some councilors in Strathroy-Caradoc.
Ford’s news that the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) grant will continue on at its current levels will be welcome news to councilors, who feared that funding would be cut in early 2020. Back in June, when Ontario’s government sent communication to municipalities that the OMPF would continue at 2018 levels until 2019, councilors feared the possibility of cuts in the new year.
“We have six months to try to convince the provincial government that they should not compel municipalities to pay the price of delivering and preserving local services in the face of cost-cutting while that same provincial government chooses to reduce its own revenues,” Strathroy-Caradoc councilor John Brennan said at a June municipal meeting.
“If we don’t we will be forced to either cut essential services, defer necessary capital expenditures, postpone contributions to dedicated reserve funds, or raise local taxes, or some combination of these undesirable alternatives,” Brennan said.