Some rural Lambton County mayors are looking enviously at Chatham-Kent.
They don’t envy the one-tier government their rural counterparts in Chatham-Kent deal with, but they are shocked at how much provincial funding they get, seemingly at the expense of small rural municipalities.
For the last three years, rural municipalities in Lambton have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Transition fund of the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. It was originally set up to replace the farm rebate system and was meant to help rural municipalities.
But in the last three years, the province has been scaling back funding to rural communities and sending the money to urban areas instead.
Since 2007, Dawn-Euphemia has seen its funding cut in half – losing $645,300. In nearby Enniskillen Township, 37 per cent of the funding has been lost, about $352,000. This year, both municipalities increased municipal taxes by nearly 10 per cent to make up for the loss.
Lambton’s largest urban center – Sarnia – has seen OMPF funding go up 974 per cent – getting $2.2 million more than it used to.
The mayors of the two communities were set to meet with officials from the Ministry of Finance during the Association of Municipality of Ontario conference in Windsor this week. Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad wants some answers.
“This program was originally there to help replace the farm tax rebate, so why are they taking it from the centers that had the farm tax rebate originally? I don’t classify Sarnia as a rural area; it’s urban.”
Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriott is also frustrated by the change. “We have to sit down with the ministry officials and keep the funds that we have in the rural area.”
But Marriott is also concerned about inequities across county lines as well.
An analysis done by Lambton County’s treasurer shows that Chatham-Kent, with a similar mix of urban and rural and a slightly smaller population, receives just under $18 million in OMPF cash. Lambton gets $9.3 million.
He says that doesn’t make any sense to him.
“We’re the little kids in the family of nine that get kicked to the side,” he says.
Marriott says local officials can’t find the rules which would explain why Chatham-Kent would get so much more than Lambton and provincial officials won’t explain either. He has his own theories.
“Its very obvious behind the scenes, that the province wants to give Chatham-Kent more because of the one-tier government…and they want to make it look like it’s working.
“I can see a million more, but double? That makes me so mad and no one can explain why.”
Marriott is hoping for some answers this week. And if he doesn’t get them, he hopes his concerns over funding differences between Lambton and Chatham-Kent will make finance officials sit up and take notice of the problem.
In the end, both Marriott and Broad have one goal; “Our concern, more than anything else, is they don’t continue to chop the funding,” says Broad.