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Dollars and sense: Three questions for the mayoral candidates

Dollars and sense: Three questions for the mayoral candidates

in Community/Local News by

We will not know before the upcoming municipal election, what, if anything, the provincial government plans to do with the levels of provincial funding it currently gives to municipalities.

There have been hints, one of the most telling, perhaps, found in comments made by a former Mike Harris cabinet minister, when he commented on current Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s speech to the Toronto Economic Club on Sept. 11. Snobelen, in an article he wrote for The Sudbury Star described the speech as such: “It was left to the new finance minister, my old friend Vic Fedeli, to serve a bitter stew of fiscal realty.”

Many residents will remember the cuts and downloading that was a hallmark of Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution. Part of that plan included the Local Services Realignment (LSR, 1999) — which made municipalities responsible for 20 per cent of the Ontario Disability Support Program, the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan and child care amongst others. One hundred per cent of the responsibility for ambulance and social housing was transferred to municipalities. Certain provincial highways were also downloaded (anyone remember taking Provincial Highway 121 to Fenelon Falls?) amongst several other services.

What exactly the coming “bitter stew” will entail for Ontario municipalities will be important for the City of Kawartha Lakes to know in the coming months and years.

According to City of Kawartha Lakes Treasurer Carolyn Daynes, “in 2017, the City received almost $54 million in provincial funding. Approximately 64 per cent ($34 million) of this was to support Human Services programs. Other significant funding includes the OMPF grant of approximately $7.4 million, and funding to support land ambulance services of approximately $4.8 million. The total revenues derived from Provincial sources is approximately 24 per cent.”

With those figures in mind, The Lindsay Advocate sent written questions to the four mayoral candidates, asking them to flesh out their economic platform. All four candidates responded, and the questions and their answers are provided in full, alphabetically by last name.

Question 1: Please outline your basic economic platform. If your campaign platform includes expenditure increases in some areas please indicate how you would fund those. If your campaign platform calls for tax decreases, please indicate what items or programs you would cut from the current CKL long-term budget and business plan to make those tax cuts possible. Please include any major assumptions included (property values/tax base, economic growth/etc.), if applicable, in your plan. (150-200 words.)

Gord James: Our plan calls for a re-structuring of City Hall to allow for public involvement in all decisions including budgets to provide an open, transparent accountable government. We would appoint a councillor to sit as chair on each of our divisions, appoint three volunteer members of the public and your mayor to each standing committee. Council will approve a budget for these standing committees and their responsibility will be to provide all existing services within that budget. Our new public works standing committee will be one example of where savings can be found. We will be opening all 11 City-owned aggregate quarries, utilizing our own aggregates to provide base material for hardtop roads and good quality gravel for all our rural roads. There would be an additional million dollars in savings by filling our winter operation sand domes with our own sand and an equipment maintenance plan to reduce new equipment purchases. This one division will save taxpayers over $2 million dollars annually.

Brian Junkin: If you look at the municipalities around us they are all growing and thriving and we are standing still with little to no economic growth. We need to stop competing against ourselves. Fenelon Falls is competing against Bobcaygeon, the north half of Bobcaygeon is competing against the south half, the east side of Lindsay is competing against the west side of Lindsay. We need to decide who our competition is and compete against them. There are many successful businesses in Kawartha Lakes that would like to grow and expand but find the City hard to deal with. We need to provide all the support and help possible for business growth and expansion. To attract industry we need to have 50 to 100 acres of land serviced and zoned industrial-ready to go for that large company to come and set up shop in Kawartha Lakes.

Andy Letham: My economic plan is based on the recent council-endorsed 10-year financial plan. This budget forecast calls for reasonable budget projections with a decreasing trend over the next nine years. It is important to note that these are forecasts that allow our staff to build future budgets around. Then they come to council and we go through them to prioritize, delete or add budget items at that time. It is a starting point and allows our staff to recognize future needs and budget accordingly. Staff have been given direction to plan on catching up with neglected infrastructure within this long term plan. When this fixed loan is paid off in nine years, we can look at where we go from there, but we will be doing it with up-to-date infrastructure and healthy reserves. Plan your attack and attack your plan!

Peter Weygang: There is only one law in economics. Demand drives growth. No-one starts a business to supply a non-existent market. Demand only exists if people have some cash left after they have paid for the bare essentials of life. In Lindsay, the poor have no money, and the middle class have very little. People cannot suddenly increase their disposable income, and thus drive demand. But, a decrease in taxes will do that. We decrease taxes by doing more with less – a survival strategy for all corporations. The city bureaucratic staff staff must be reduced. I agree with Hamel, who says that “Bureaucracy must Die.” We do more with less by changing the administrative structure to a more efficient one, which maximizes the potential of staff to act as free agents. Chop down the bureaucratic flagpole, and break apart the chain of command. These changes can improve productivity by 30 per cent or more.

Question 2:  According to data provided by the City of Kawartha Lakes, in 2017 the City received “almost $54 million in provincial funding. Approximately 64 per cent ($34 million) of this was to support Human Services programs. Other significant funding includes the OMFP [Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund] grant of approximately $7.4 million, and funding to support land ambulance services of approximately $4.8 million.” As you aware, the $7.4 million OMPF is not tied to a specific program, like much of the other monies in that transfer. What does your plan call for in the event of a decrease in provincial transfers? In a hypothetically-significant decrease of provincial support (using a 10 per cent reduction as an example), how would you propose the City deal with that shortfall. Please be specific. (Under 75 words.)

Gord James: The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) is our provincial government’s main funding transfer to municipalities and we use it to supplement many City responsibilities including emergency services. As chair of the Kawartha Lakes Police Service we lobbied for and were successful in getting the Province to cover our costs relating to court security, prisoner transportation, etc. As mayor I would continue to lobby for increased funding support and lessen the load on our municipal property tax base.

Brian Junkin: You never know from one year to the next what the level of provincial funding will be and the programs that might be impacted. I would like to increase the level of funds in our reserves. This would give us a cushion from any sudden decrease in provincial funding until a plan could be developed to deal with the shortfall.

Andy Letham: It is very hard to try and account for possible funding cuts in the future. Uncontrollable pressures are always a reality at the municipal level when you rely on other levels of government for funding. The best way to plan for these unknowns is to have healthy contingency reserves to fall back on when needed. The plan mentioned above does exactly that.

Peter Weygang: This problem must not be solved by increasing debt. We are already too far along that path. The shortfall of about $1 million cannot be solved by increasing taxes. They are too high already. If the province tightens its fiscal belt, so must the municipality and unfortunately, so must the people. That always means that jobs and services are on the chopping board. This must be done with surgical skill, not road-kill with a semi.

Question 3: Again, according to CKL staff, “The long term financial plan does not assume any significant provincial supports will be eliminated.” In light of a new provincial government that has promised “efficient government” and is concerned with deficit levels, should the plan be changed to reflect a new provincial reality? (Under 50 words.)

Gord James: In my opinion, the present 10-year financial plan is a recipe for disaster. It calls for extremely high taxes and high water rates that are beyond our community’s ability to pay. We would use our transparent, accountable City structure to lessen the financial impacts. We don’t have an income problem, we have a spending problem.

Brian Junkin: I don’t think we need to change our plans until we find out what the provincial government’s plans are for “efficient government.” I would think they would look for efficiencies in provincial programs before they impact municipal governments.

Andy Letham: I do not believe the plan should be changed. We deal with issues when they happen and having a plan was the first real step we have taken to secure our future financially in a long time. We are ready to push back should the (provincial) government start getting their house in order at our expense.

Peter Weygang: A change is imperative. But this time the public must be directly involved in selecting the changes. We want no more unicorns, and fairy castles, slipping through. Basics, basics, basics, is our only way to survive.

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A graduate of the University of Toronto, Trevor Hutchinson is a songwriter, writer and bookkeeper. He serves as Contributing Editor at The Lindsay Advocate. He lives with his fiancee and their five kids in Glenarm, Kawartha Lakes.

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