The Ontario Green Party is advocating strongly for the province to aid municipalities, and Kawartha Lakes CAO Ron Taylor sees value in some of what’s being proposed.
The pandemic of 2020 has negatively impacted almost every municipality in Ontario. The Green Party’s “Municipal Response Plan” was rolled out earlier this month and is multi-faceted in its approach towards assisting Ontario’s struggling municipal governments.
The plan begins by offering to restore the previous Liberal government’s funding formula for public health. It then goes on to provide a $350 million operating grant to cover operating costs of municipally-run long-term care homes.
The plan promises to restore provincial funding for community housing and increase emergency stabilization funding for shelters, food banks and other non-profits.
Schreiner proposes to fast track funding for already-approved infrastructure projects; create a multi-billion dollar active transportation fund for municipalities to build walking and bicycle paths and provide space for social distancing; fund 50 per cent of local transit operating costs for municipalities; and restore the previous funding formulas for child care.
To raise more revenue the Green plan suggests doubling the municipalities’ share of gas tax funding which would raise $642 million a year for programming and spending. The Green Party plan also proposes that to enable municipalities to raise more revenue new revenue generating tools including road tolls, parking levies and land value taxation be considered.
Kawartha Lakes CAO Ron Taylor responded to the highlights of the plan in an email to The Lindsay Advocate.
Taylor thought it was premature to suggest specific funding for public health without a systems review (post-pandemic) first.
The CAO feels a review of public health is necessary to determine lessons learned and best structures for the future.
As for additional financial resources for long-term care homes, Taylor says that, “The province has provided $75,000 to (Kawartha Lakes) for emergency response funding for Victoria Manor to date. I suspect we will incur costs beyond that amount for staffing and PPE supply costs. These costs are being calculated now and changing every week. Relief would be welcome.”
Taylor adds, “We, along with many other municipalities, are most interested in a post-pandemic review of regulations and lessons learned for all long-term care homes. This would include cost relief for future builds, expansions and/or retrofits to existing facilities and protocols.”
With regard to additional funding for community housing, Taylor says that additional monies would be welcome even though the province provided emergency relief of $1.2 million early in the pandemic.
On the possibility of fast-tracking infrastructure projects, the CAO said, “I understand both federal and provincial governments are reviewing infrastructure stimulus funding through fast-tracked/expanded grant funding programs.”
He says Kawartha Lakes would capitalize on immediate or expanded funding for projects and for any kind of economic construction stimulus.
Regarding Schreiner’s proposal to fund half the cost of running municipal transit, Taylor guesses transit ridership will be down, at least initially, and retrofits to buses may be required. He adds investments in public transit are needed to fully realize economic recovery and encourage rapid back-to-work options.
The Green’s Municipal Response Plan plank on restoring the Liberal’s previous funding formulas for childcare was welcomed by Taylor.
“Increased investment in childcare is always supported. Particularly for pandemic recovery, it is anticipated that there will be additional costs” to operate childcare facilities and resource it properly.
On the Green proposal of doubling the municipalities’ share of the gas tax Taylor thinks that doubling of the gas tax funding would be one effective way to address municipal infrastructure funding that already exists, and is compounded by pandemic recovery.
The Green Party leader’s call for a Municipal Response Plan in a letter to Premier Ford on May 4 seemed to set the table for a remarkably similar request from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), of which Kawartha Lakes is a member.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario is hoping for a more robust bailout plan from both the province and the federal government. AMO wrote to the premier and the prime minister on May 14 laying out their situation in stark terms.
Jamie McGarvey, the president of AMO states that municipalities in Ontario are struggling to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and to play their “indispensable role” in rebuilding the economy. He said that municipalities cannot succeed without immediate federal and provincial assistance.
He continues that the only financial tools available to municipal governments to address COVID-19 costs and shortfalls are property tax increases or service cuts on massive scales, or the deferral of capital investments. McGarvey suggests that any of these options will harm, rather than support, the economic recovery in Ontario and Canada.
He concludes his letter to the premier and prime minister asking for the immediate provision of essential financial assistance for municipalities.
Currently, Ontario is offering a $250 million bailout package to the province’s municipalities. While municipalities have been appreciative of Premier Doug Ford’s initial offer of cash assistance, many hope the proposed amount is merely the first installment of many to come.