Anger, disappointment but no shock as rural Lambton County learned how much of a hit it would take in 2016 as Ontario continues to cut funding.
For the third year in a row, the provincial government has reduced the amount of money it gives municipality in the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund’s transition program. The Liberals vowed to cut $150 million from the fund which has mainly supported rural municipalities.
Over the past two years, Central Lambton’s rural municipalities were forced to accept cuts of over $100,000 per year.
And 2016 will be no different.
Dawn-Euphemia is losing $111,700, Brooke-Alvinston $137,000, Enniskillen $104,800, St. Clair $96,100, Oil Springs $6,600 – it actually gained money last year – and Warwick $115,100.
Warwick Mayor Todd Case says politicians were told this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. “It still makes me ill. This is an eight to nine per cent tax increase across the board. Warwick Township has lost $600,000 and change in the last three years – it is absolutely asinine.”
He adds the move is bound to hurt Ontario’s agriculture industry as municipalities are forced to raise taxes or cut services to deal with the funding cut.
That may not garner much sympathy from the province. Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriott and Brooke-Alvinston Mayor Don McGugan have both been told by provincial officials to “raise taxes” to make up the difference.
Marriott says his council will likely consider “a combination of roads and some tax increases” to make up for its $104,800 hit. “We can’t keep taking out of our roads budget and we just don’t have any other choice – it’s one or the other.”
McGugan agrees saying services have already taken a hit since the funding cuts began in 2012. But he says there will have to be some more cuts since a seven to eight per cent tax increase would hurt area taxpayers.
“We need to make some upgrades in our municipality – chances are that’s can’t happen,” he told The Independent.
There were a few bright spots in the funding announcement in Central Lambton. Petrolia received an additional $81,600 this year from the OMPF grant and Plympton-Wyoming will get $37,300 more.
The clear winner was Sarnia, which will receive another $752,000.
Lambton County Treasurer John Innes says while the cuts are difficult – this should be the end of the reductions in the OMPF grants. And he says municipalities may even begin to see some of the funding return to them in 2017.