Editorial – Downloading services by stealth

Last week, SDG Counties councillors agreed to spend money from operating reserves to fund requests from two non-profit organizations in the region. The requests granted, $130,000 for the United Way Last Resort Fund, and $66,979 for the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area, are important programs supporting the community. The two have had municipal support from other area governments. Both are also examples of a recent trend relating to the provincial government – downloading services by stealth.

The SDC’s funding request to the counties and the city was specifically to make up for a long-term funding program that the Ontario government ended in 2023. Up until 2023 the City used Provincial Ministry provided money to fund the SDC to address community issues. The Last Resort Fund aids families in precarious situations with one-time funding to help with a financial challenge to remain housed. The program was started in 2023, with one year funding from the province. That funding ended: the need is still there. This is just one example of an organization tapping the municipal taxation well, because provincial funding ended.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, downloading assets and services from the province to municipal government was completed to balance the provincial budget. The difference between then and now is how it was done. As roads and services were downloaded, a transfer agreement was made. Transitional funding in some cases was provided, then the downloaded entity became the municipality’s obligation. While downloaded services like land ambulances, and the dearth of former provincial highways continue to plague municipal budgets to this day, the process was transparent. Eliminating long-standing funding mechanisms and having established organizations twist in the wind to seek new new funding elsewhere is a stealth method of downloading. It is especially inappropriate given the fiscal challenges that all levels of government face, and the financial challenges many taxpayers must handle.

It is interesting to note that the SDC Cornwall asked for, and will receive, $66,979 from each the SDG Counties and the City of Cornwall to make up a $60,000 loss. It is also interesting that SDG Counties can fund both of these programs from operational reserves, yet also choose to increase property tax bills by nearly 4.5 per cent. Regardless of the lack of coordination/communication between municipalities or how municipal councillors decide to allocate their funding priorities while taxing residents – programs like this have a place and fulfill a need.

Municipalities in Ontario exist at the will and whim of the provincial government. What those municipalities provide for services is entirely based on what the province determines. When the province changes who funds those services, the province should be up front about it, and not use stealth to pawn off its funding obligations.

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