Rural municipalities ‘beyond frustrated’ by more cuts

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“Thank you Doug Ford.”

That was the sarcastic comment from Dawn-Euphemia’s mayor after finding out despite a promise to municipal leaders, the province has once again cut the amount of funding coming their way through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.

The former Liberal government started reducing the amount of the replacement for the farm tax credit system about five years ago. Instead of farm communities getting funding to run their municipalities, grants for urban centers began to grow.

During the 2018 election, then Conservative Leader Doug Ford, promised to freeze the cuts and change the funding formula to give rural and northern municipalities more cash.
But when Ford won, the cuts continued. The first year, municipal leaders went to the government and pointed out the problem and were assured their funding wouldn’t change. But 2020 came along and small, rural municipalities continued to lose money while urban centres funding increased.

Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad was among those frustrated in 2020. Now, in 2021, he’s not masking his anger.

Dawn-Euphemia’s 2021 OMPF grant will be $48,000 less than 2020. To recover that money, the township would have to raise taxes by two per cent.
“Obviously, this government isn’t listening any better than the last one,” he tells The Independent.

“Thank you Doug Ford and the Conservative government,” he says.

Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriott is “beyond frustrated” the government is again taking an axe to the OMPF grant.

Enniskillen is losing $31,700 of its funding this year. The municipality will receive $279,300.

Marriott is particularly frustrated because the first year the Conservatives were in power, he went to a consultation on the budget and explained the problem to people from the treasury board. The official said he understood the issues and promised to “go to bat” for rural municipalities.

And still, each year since the Conservatives took office, more of the OMPF grant has been taken away forcing municipalities to either raise taxes or reduce services.
“It’s really disappointing,” he says. “With the amount of money they have been throwing around (for COVID-19 programs) this is a measly amount of money in the scheme of things.”

While the funding cut is frustrating, the rub is many urban municipalities receive cash from the fund as well even though this was originally a replacement for the farm tax credit system.

For example, Windsor receives $22,291,700 from the same fund. The municipality has almost 100,000 homes, with little farmland in the area.

Chatham-Kent will receive $19,696,900 in 2021. That’s $341,400 less than last year.
The way the province awards the cash has never been very clear.

Windsor receives $224 per household while Chatham-Kent gets $409 per household.
Dawn-Euphemia receives $322 per home.

Broad says the process to get to the final figure is confusing. For example, the province estimates the average home in Chatham-Kent around $231,900 while Dawn-Euphemia’s 886 homes, in the province’s estimation, are worth $647,565.

Broad believes provincial officials are using the value Union Gas property in the figure which inflates the number and calls into question exactly how the grants are given out.
“We can’t do anything about it,” says Broad. “We can keep after the provincial government and hopefully they will do something.”

Marriott expects the province will be reluctant to make any changes now because the large urban municipalities would then complain and he says, there are more voters there.
So without a prospect of changing the government’s mind – at least this year, rural municipalities are again going to have to find a way to make due with what they received.

Broad says with $48,000 less in provincial funding, and the costs relating to COVID-19, it could be an interesting budget deliberation in 2021.

Here’s what other Lambton municipalities received from OMPF this year:
Brooke-Alvinston; $84,00 less; $594,100
Lambton Shores; $14,000 less; $1.68 million
Oil Springs; $1,900 more; $188,300
Plympton Wyoming; $30,000 more; $862,200
Petrolia; $3,000 more; $900,400
Sarnia; $186,200 more; $3.601 million
Warwick; $27,200 less; $386,400