Mayor more than happy to share our best practices with the Province.

News 100 redBy Staff

May 28th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The following Statement was issued by the Mayor of Burlington.

Today I am pleased to acknowledge the Provincial government’s announcement that they will be cancelling the recently announced retroactive in-year cuts to municipalities and maintaining the pre-budget funding levels for public health, child care and ground ambulance.

Ontario’s big-city mayors met in Guelph on Friday (May 24) at a meeting of LUMCO (Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario) along with Mayor John Tory of Toronto, to discuss a joint strategy to respond to the previously announced Provincial budget cuts and downloading on municipalities, after our budgets had already been passed. We were grateful to have the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, The Honourable Steve Clark, also join us for part of that meeting.

He heard our concerns and took our unanimously passed joint statement back to the Premier. The key messages from the mayors meeting as LUMCO were:

• We want to be at the table with the Province to work together to address their fiscal challenges in ways that minimize impacts on our residents.

• If the Province does not change course, or even delay implementation until 2020 so that we can adjust for our next budget cycle, municipalities will be forced to consider tax increases, service cuts, or raiding reserves.

Mayor Meed Ward and Premier - Dec 2018

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward with Premier Doug Ford.

On behalf of the City of Burlington, I commend Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister Steve Clark for listening to the concerns raised by mayors on behalf of our residents across the province.

The cuts, as originally announced, were poised to hurt local communities and put cities’ finances at risk. They were also made without prior consultation with municipal leaders, leaving no time to plan for what was coming and leaving a collaboration gap between our two levels of government. Today’s news shows what can be accomplished when different levels of government listen to one another and work together.

But we are not out of the woods yet.

The delay in these cuts is helpful, but some of these cuts continue to be inappropriate to download to the municipal tax base. The Province cannot balance its own books on the backs of municipal property taxes, especially when they will negatively impact front-line services. Municipalities only receive 9 cents on every tax dollar collected by our governments. We will only make substantial fiscal progress by ensuring savings are found by the levels of government that spend the most (federal and provincial). We encourage the Province to look at their own administrative efficiencies rather than cutting front line services delivered at the municipal level.

On a related note, the Province has asked municipalities to help find additional savings and efficiencies, recently announcing an “Audit and Accountability Fund” to support line-by-line third-party reviews of their operations.

Meed ward looking askance

Mayor Meed Ward advises that “we are not out of the woods yet”.

My fellow LUMCO Mayors and I are fully supportive of balancing our budgets, reviewing all expenditures to look for efficiencies, and supporting the Province in reducing their deficit and debt.

The City of Burlington completed a line-by-line review as part of our 2019 budget process, as we do every year. Unlike the federal and provincial governments, municipalities cannot run a deficit. We must not only balance our books annually, but also share them transparently with our constituents.

As a result of our line-by-line review, our approved 2019 budget saw an initial reduction of $1.15M, with City Council trimming an additional $1.6M while still investing in our infrastructure, local transit, tree planting and community services. The end result was our ability to pass the lowest tax increase at the city level in eight years. We would be more than happy to share our best practices with the Province.

Even with all these savings already found, we are always willing to have an independent review of our books to verify what we already know.

More detail on our commitment to finding efficiencies and managing our budget effectively can be found on my blog at mariannemeedward.ca/finding-municipal-budget-efficiencies.

While we welcome today’s announcement, changes in other pieces of legislation will negatively affect our ability to be financially sustainable and provide for community services. Bill 108 includes proposed changes that would hurt cities’ ability to provide parkland, community facilities and adequate public engagement to inform the planning of our neighborhoods. Changes to Development Charges, paid by developers to offset the cost of growth, could put parkland and community centres in jeopardy. The changes will mean either a reduction in community services or an increase in property tax to cover the shortfall. These changes do nothing to reduce provincial costs but do increase the costs to municipalities at a time we are all trying to find efficiencies.

Additionally, a return to the old OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) rules for planning appeals means that planning matters will once again be taken out of the hands of local municipal councils. There is no evidence to support that these changes would actually increase the supply of affordable housing.

Furthermore, reverting to the old rules will add costs and time to planning approvals and require municipalities to spend more in legal fees defending our planning decisions. Again, these changes do nothing to reduce provincial costs but do increase the costs to municipalities at a time we are all trying to find efficiencies.

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Mayor offers to share Burlington budget practices with the province.

We are heartened by the willingness of the Province to listen to municipalities and reverse course, and we look forward to additional conversations on the outstanding matters that have yet to be addressed by today’s announcement that create costs without benefits to municipalities and our residents.

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