Downloading troubling for NOMA

Sam Odrowski

The Ford government’s continued cuts and downloading of provincial costs onto municipal taxpayers was an area of concern for township representatives at a recent executive committee meeting in Thunder Bay.

Coun. Wendy Brunetta told town representatives at a council meeting on Monday evening that attendees of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) executive committee meeting were worried about the coming costs that will be downloaded onto townships by the province.

“We wondered how we’re going to explain them to our constituents because with continued cuts and downloading, there’s no alternative but to raise taxes,” she remarked.

“The province is really putting that burden squarely on municipalities shoulders and making them look like the bad guys.”

Fort Frances doesn’t currently state in its tax bills how much taxpayer money is spent on uncontrollable, provincially-mandated costs versus local, controllable costs, but it was proposed at the NOMA meeting that townships should implement this practice.

Coun. Brunetta said it’s something Fort Frances should consider to help residents better understand where property tax increases are coming from.

Locally, uncontrollable expenses make up 44.9 percent of the town’s budget each year and this number will soon increase as the province reduces funding for the province’s health units and child care spaces, starting on Jan. 1 of next year.

Transitional funding will be provided to municipalities as they endure the downloaded costs in the new year but details around the amounts being provided remain unknown.

The transitional funding ends in 2020, delaying a portion of the financial burden for municipalities until 2021.

Meanwhile, discussions around the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), which is the province’s primary general assistance grant for municipalities, were had at the NOMA executive committee

Attendees also discussed coming changes to non-urgent patient transfer and ambulance services in the region.

“There is some concern that the province wants to transition to one single provider [of ambulance services] for all of Northwestern Ontario,” she explained.

“Again, this is very concerning because it would give local municipalities less say and possibly more cost,” noted Coun. Brunetta.

“Many of these issues are still evolving but NOMA will continue to monitor them and report back to the region as more information is received,” she added.