Cost of downloading still blurry

It was supposed to provide clear answers to all their questions but district municipalities are still scrambling to find out what the downloading of responsibilities from the province will mean to their pocketbooks in 1998.
Only Dawson, McCrosson-Tovell, and Morson were able to give estimates on what it would mean for them–and Clerk Pat Giles was convinced the three townships would be behind the eight-ball.
Dawson would see about a 500 percent increase in taxes to cope with the $456,000 loss of provincial grant and the $69,000 bill for policing.
The other two weren’t hit quite so hard. Giles said McCrosson-Tovell would see about a 400 percent tax hike and Morson just an 86 percent one.
But he also stressed those numbers were just to compensate for the grant loss and policing bill. What still has to be calculated is the bill for district-wide services–estimated at $3 million.
Even if those townships are only responsible for one or two percent of that, Giles noted that meant another $30,000 for taxpayers there.
“We haven’t heard the revenue side yet,” Giles admitted.
And while he wanted to be optimistic about whether downloading would end up being cost neutral, as the province claimed, Giles said people had to be realistic.
“We’re certainly going to be crying hardship,” he admitted.
Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Al Leach handed down figures last week as to what the “Who Does What” panel recommendations would mean for municipal taxpayers starting Jan. 1.
“By finding new efficiency savings of about two cents on the dollar per year over the next three years, municipalities will be able to lower their residential property taxes by the year 2000,” Leach said.
While this announcement is on the agenda for many district councils this week, Fort Frances CAO Bill Naturkach noted there was little new information in what the ministry announced–except now the figures are calculated by district rather than province.
And the figures show $5.5 million will be passed on to district taxpayers as the province downloads responsibilities to municipalities.
“We were hoping to get specific municipal numbers,” admitted Morley Clerk Anna Boily, adding the only exact figure they were given was the cost of policing.
“We don’t have a whole lot of detail yet,” echoed Emo Clerk Brenda Cooke.
In fact, last week’s announcement has spurred even more questions as municipalities don’t know if the figures include First Nations and unincorporated areas. And they’re still in the dark as to whether the ratios will be calculated by population, assessment, or household.
“You don’t really know where you’re going but I think everyone’s preparing for the worst,” noted Emo Reeve Brian Reed, pointing out municipal councils were trying to lay the framework for their 1998 budgets. “But it’s even tougher not knowing what the variables are.”
“That phrase ‘more information is coming’ is spread throughout this document,” Naturkach told Fort Frances town council at its regular meeting Monday. “But I have not prepared a report considering how the last report was dealt with by council.”
Fort Frances Coun. Deane Cunningham stressed they should wait until they had more answers because there was no point giving people the wrong number.
“You can guess and then it comes in higher, or you can guess and then it comes in lower,” agreed Cooke. “We’re going to have to wait.”
Municipalities and/or upper-tier governments now will be totally responsible for local fire, land ambulances, municipal airports, municipal transit, police, property assessment services, public health programs, public libraries, septic system inspections, sewer and water, and social housing.
The cost of child care, the proposed Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and Ontario Works will be split 80/20 (provincial/municipal) while administration of the ODSP and Ontario Works will be split 50/50.
A new justice partnership also will be formed with municipalities to administer and prosecute more Provincial Offences Act matters and to keep net fine revenue. Details of the $65-million revenue sharing is to be determined.
A permanent $500 million per year Community Reinvestment Fund, with another $70 million for communities with special needs, also will be put in place.
Other money will come from the Municipal Capital and Operating Restructuring Fund ($800 million over four years), capital repairs and upgrades to the Ontario Housing Corp. ($42 million), and the transferring of provincial highways to municipalities ($225 million).
The farm tax and the managed forests and conservation lands tax rebates will be eliminated and replaced by new property classes with reduced tax rates (conservation lands will be exempt).
The Gross Receipts Tax will be transferred to the province.