Mar 27, 2019

Funding announcement comes as ministry contemplates changes to the municipal landscape in Ontario.

Local politicians were caught by surprise by the announcement last Wednesday (March 21) from Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark of a one-time grant program for small rural municipalities across the province.

The grant is a one-time payment that can be spent on whatever priorities local municipalities deem appropriate. According to the Ministry, the money has been “allocated based on the number of households in a municipality and whether the municipality is urban or rural.”

However, even though the populations of Frontenac county townships varies significantly, the grant amounts fall within a narrow range. Central Frontenac is receiving $498,191, North Frontenac $486,144, South Frontenac $517,129. Tay Valley is getting $598,304, and Addington Highlands $495,000. At the county level, Frontenac County will be receiving $725,000, the same amount as the other Counties in Eastern Ontario. All told, Frontenac County has received over $2.5 million in one-time funding, including a grant of over $350,00 to Frontenac Islands.

“A key part of this announcement is that municipalities will decide how to best target funding to benefit their local communities,” said Clark. “They know the needs of their local taxpayers and we’ve provided them with the flexibility to make those individualized decisions,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and MPP for Leeds Grenville, in the media release accompanying the funding announcement.

However, Clark also pointed out that the province had a specific intention with this funding allotment and that is for municipalities to spend the money making themselves more efficient, not necessarily for local infrastructure projects.

“Taxpayers need their local governments to deliver modern, efficient services that show respect for their hard-earned dollars. This funding will help small and rural municipalities in Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston and across Ontario improve how they deliver services and reduce the ongoing costs of providing those services,” said Clark. “I look forward to continuing to work together with our municipal partners to help people and businesses thrive in communities across our province.”

“Municipalities will receive the funding to improve service delivery by finding smarter, more efficient ways to spend money that help those who need it most while respecting taxpayer dollars.”

The mixed messaging from the Ministry was not lost on North Frontenac Mayor Ron Higgins.

“Our Council isn’t meeting until this coming Friday,” Higgins said in a telephone interview on Tuesday (March 26) “so we haven’t discussed what we could do with this funding, but I will recommend that we hold it in reserves for now.”

Higgins said that it is not immediately clear how the township can spend that kind of money to reduce the cost of delivering services, so he wants to take a cautious approach. North Frontenac has already completed work on their 2019 budget.

Addington Highlands Reeve Henry Hogg was also surprised by the funding announcement, but he said he thinks “it is good news for us.” Addington Highlands is meeting about their budget this week, and Hogg said he is sure they will decide to spend the money on a project this year.

“It’s a one-time grant so it obviously wouldn’t be viable to use it to save on taxes because we would just have to have an increase next year. We’ll look at what the ministry says, and find something to spend it on. I do wonder if this good news will be followed by bad news later on, when we hear about our funding for 2020.”

Addington Highlands , like many other small municipalities, receives a significant amount of support from the Province of Ontario through an annual grant from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF). For 2019, the OMPF grant amounted to over $2 million, only 7000,000 les that the township raised by taxation last year.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is reviewing the OMPF program. They informed municipalities that the 2019 OMPF program was not be changed for the 2019 budget year but that municipalities could expect changes for 2020. The announcement of a re-vamped OMPF program is expected later this year. In their communications about the OMPF, the ministry makes sure to point out that the Provincial budget is in deficit and needs to be trimmed.

This new one-time grant comes about as the Minister is also involved in a review of how regional government operates in larger communities close to the City of Toronto. And the language Minister Clark is using to talk about that process is similar to the language that accompanied the small and rural communities grant announcement last week.

“Our government is putting people first by seeking local input on how to improve governance, decision-making and service delivery for regional governments and their member municipalities,” Clark said in a statement accompanying the launch of a website design to gather public comment on that process.

Premier Ford has made it clear that his government intends to “reduce the size and cost of government throughout Ontario.”

He talked about the Niagara region last week, pointing out that it is a region with “500,000 people and 118 politicians”.

Frontenac County has population of 27,000, and 31 politicians.

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