While Premier Doug Ford is taking away funding for municipalities and downloading services for 2020, he is also handing out money for recreational facilities.
At last week’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, he spoke of funding cuts for public health and child care, telling municipal representatives he put off the cuts, necessary because of the provincial deficit, until 2020 because he was listening to their concerns. That will make next year’s budget deliberations “very tough,” said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
The good news, she said, was the announcement of his commitment to fund projects that fall within the community, culture and recreation description, in which he has promised to invest up to $1 billion for projects such as community centres, and sports and cultural facilities.
That program begins Sept. 3, said Disero, who has also heard of the window for grant applications closing sometime in November, although she has no official details.
She attended the two-day AMO conference in Ottawa last week with Coun. Erwin Wiens, interim CAO Sheldon Randall, planning director Craig Larmour, and Brett Ruck, manager of environmental services, participating in several delegation meetings.
With the tight timeline to apply for up to 73 per cent of funding for a new St. Davids Pool, she encourages residents who want to comment on the design to do so on Join the Conversation on the Town’s website.
“I don’t know the exact details of the funding,” she said. “I haven’t seen the rules of the application. It’s a welcome announcement, but we’ll see what happens on Sept. 3.”
Once commenting has closed on the St. Davids pool design and the information gathered, studied and included in an updated design, a second public meeting will be held, hopefully to have a final design in time to apply for funding.
That was the good news, she said.
On the flip side, the cuts to municipalities will make finalizing a 2020 budget even tougher than it was for the new council to keep the 2019 tax increase down to 4.5 per cent.
“We’re going to struggle with the 2020 budget,” she said. “It’s already started.”
There are only two ways to go, she said — cut capital projects or raise taxes.
A large portion of the budget is already determined by staff increase obligations that are already in place, she added.
Last year, the Province gave municipalities funding to increase efficiency by modernizing systems and improving communications, without the Town having to go to the property taxpayer, Disero said.
“I’m grateful for that, but we’re still going to be looking at savings through cuts or by raising taxes. We have to look at what we can afford, what we can’t and what we must do.”
She has a “wish list” that she keeps in the town hall boardroom so that when someone says “wouldn’t it be great if . . .,” she can add it to the list.
“We’re already up to $4.5 million.”
Suggestions such as the deferral of development charges, hiring three new bylaw officers, instituting the heritage tax rebate, installing traffic-calming measures and buying expensive equipment to battle phragmites are all items that have come up for the wish list, she said.
Discussions, including what takes priority on the wish list, begin in the fall for next year’s budget.
While attending the AMO conference, Town representatives also lobbied the Province to consider allowing irrigation systems to qualify for infrastructure funding, and asked for assistance with shoreline erosion and flood protection on public and private property.
They talked about the importance of heritage in town and the protection of historical spaces and places which are under threat with the removal of the authority of the Provincial Heritage Conservation Board.
Lastly, Town officials asked for assistance from a senior policy analyst to guide NOTL through a permit process that allows for spraying of invasive species in watercourses near specialty crop production to rid the irrigation system of phragmites.
Disero also represented NOTL at the Southern Ontario Municipal Aerospace Council to discuss the aerospace industries in Canada, a growing economy that can be an asset to the Niagara Region. She also discussed programs available to municipalities for older adults, Airbnb and Enbridge, regarding NOTL issues and solutions.
Disero said the discussions were productive. She is encouraged that NOTL representatives left Ottawa with newly-formed relationships with Provincial officials, and “a great potential for positive change in NOTL as a direct result of our delegations.”