MUSKOKA - The province needs to pony up its fair share of district costs, according to CAO Jim Green.
In an administrative service review on Friday he said broader range issues that, if resolved, could contribute to a better bottom line for taxpayers include addressing a provincial funding shortfall.
He said inequities at the provincial level are costing Muskoka taxpayers an extra $412,650 a year.
According to Green the province is supposed to split administration costs associated with Ontario Works and land ambulance services on a 50/50 basis with the district. But we’re currently paying 100 per cent of the bill.
The administrative portion of Ontario Works costs Muskoka taxpayers $614,100 and for land ambulance services it’s $211,200 and half of that should be paid by the province, according to Green. This represents 0.7 per cent of the total tax levy.
Green said he has requested a review on the issue from the province, but has received no response. He asked for a resolution of council to devote energy to raising the profile on this matter.
“This is money that should be coming to Muskoka for the benefit of all ratepayers,” said Green.
Other measures he suggested to better balance the books included reviewing revenue options for municipalities.
He said the system of municipalities relying on property taxes as a sole source of funding is out of date, and based on providing services to property only.
“Now services to people also drive budgets,” he said, calling this role at the municipal level unique to Canada. “We’ve got huge pressures to provide services to people.”
He said the Municipal Act needs to be reviewed and reformed to account for the costs that have been downloaded from the province to municipalities.
“It seems to be something we need to put back on the table,” he said. “If you don’t continue to raise these issues before the province, they won’t get any attention.”
He said the district is governed by what the province allows it to do, but in his opinion municipalities, as a mature level of government, should have the authority to make decisions as they feel best for their community and not continue to rely on “property tax, property tax, property tax.”
He said the province also demands excessive financial and statistical reporting from the district, often duplicated and unnecessarily complicated, that results in huge staff costs.
He said while oversight and accountability are important, reform is needed.
“Somebody needs to push it (reform),” he said.
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Green suggested that the district offers to have a case study done in Muskoka so the province can take advantage of staff’s experience and look at how reporting could be streamlined.
Next on his list was stable and predictable infrastructure funding from the province. At this point funding opportunities come from the province in a haphazard manner.
Green said they can’t do major infrastructure projects without senior levels of funding and it is inefficient to have to plan without knowing when your funding partner is going to provide the dollars.
“In the past we’ve seen windows of opportunity … that have come out of the blue,” he said, adding that because of the current application process projects are sometimes done in the wrong sequence.
“It’s important for Muskoka to continue to voice (this) … we would benefit from a stable and predictable funding formula.
Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy commented that the average person would be “appalled at the inefficiencies between the province and municipalities. She said the problem seems embedded and generational and was the biggest shock she had in going from the corporate world to the world of municipal governance.
Green added that with the province funding similar projects in many municipalities at the same time there ends up being a short-lived demand for the supplies needed to do the same kind of infrastructure project.
“Market forces occur when you’ve got everybody trying to purchase major goods and services at the same time — prices goes up,” he said.
Other suggestions from the CAO included investigating shared services pilot projects.
He said there is a plan for a potential amalgamation of Child, Youth and Family Services that would see Muskoka programs delivered out of Simcoe. The move is not going to result in better services to the children of Muskoka, according to Green.
He also said the marching orders coming out of the local health integration network are toward more community delivered home care, which means more services will need to be provided.
Green advocated for a continued Muskoka-wide concerted effort to get fair treatment for Muskoka from the province on all fronts.
“In the absence of any noise things will continue to go the way they go. We need to make some noise,” he said.
Murphy suggested that Kathleen Wynne, minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, be invited to discuss Green’s concerns.
Lake of Bays Mayor Bob Young said he recently met with Wynne and raised the fact that Muskoka is currently excluded from all provincial infrastructure funding zones.
“I was appalled that she was unaware of it,” he said. “It was frightening that it came as a big surprise that Muskoka is sitting in no man’s land.”
Murphy said Wynne is a frequent visitor to Muskoka Lakes. “I am reasonably confident I could deliver the minister,” she said.