Wardens caucus reports paints sobering portrait of Eastern Ontario Eastern Ontario

Many municipalities face increasing hardship with budgeting for both future improvements and trying to maintain existing services and infrastructure if they cannot either increase their population and so increase the residential tax base or attract more commercial and industrial development which would ease the tax burden on homeowners. The fourth and final conclusion is that all municipalities face the problem of having limited financial resources available to deal with aging inftrastructure, including both paved and unpaved roads, and water and sewer systems that need upgrading. The United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) council and its member municipalities are all reviewing the EOWC report to determine how its information and conclusions relate to their situations. “It just shows that in Eastern Ontario more and more of our (tax) revenue for municipalities is residential,” said Fran- çois St-Amour, UCPR warden, during a phone interview. “We don’t have the industry and the commercial business (tax base) that central Ontario or western Onta- rio has. "Will it (EOWC report) have any impact on the provincial budget? We’ll have to wait and see.” One point made in the EOWC report is the budget impact, both at the counties level and the municipal, from a past Progressive Conservative government decision to change the farm tax funding formula. The current Liberal government has so far given no sign that it will alter the situation. Right now farmland owners pay one- quarter the actual property tax value on their holdings to the municipalities and

counties. The province is supposed to reimburse local governments for the other three-quartersbutruralmunicipalitieshave a longstanding complaint that they are shortchanged on the amount they do receive. “We’ve lost revenue and it’s never comingback,”saidSt-Amour,whoismayor of The Nation, a rural municipality made up of farmland for the most part. “Just getting some more money back would be a sign that the province does understand our situation. We’ve spent money proving our point. The question is whether the province is listening.” “It paints a sobering picture of what is coming for all of us in the next few years,” said Stéphane Parisien, UCPR chief administrator, regarding the EOWC report. “This is pretty much what we’ve always been saying for years. There is (tax) fatigue on our ratepayers.” Parisien also noted that the picture is “not as bleak” as it could be for the UCPR. He said the counties council and staff have been able to make “good choices” over the past few years for managing short-term debt and saving money on budget needs.

KIM’S GROOMING Dogs are my passion! “What should we do in the next five or 10 years?” he said, prior to the start of the March 12 city council session. “The report is saying bluntly that we’re going to be having some tough years. How serious is it going to be is the question we need to answer.” The report is available online at Alfred-Plantagenet Mayor Jean-Yves Lalonde described the EOWC document as “an exhausting report” and that Eas- ternOntario“haslotstodotokeepup.”But he also noted that the situation is not grim for every municipality in the region. “It depends on where you are situated in Eastern Ontario,” he said. “For us, in Alfred-Plantagenet, we are in a good situa- tion. Each year we have been able to add on to our infrastructure work, plus we do not have as many bridges and other infras- tructure to maintain as others.” Clarence-Rockland Mayor Marcel Guibord noted that the task for municipalities now is to try and figure out to work with the senior-level governments to address the issues raised in the EOWC report.

As the words “restraint” and “economizing” become the popular buzzwords on The Hill and at Queen’s Park, municipal governments are trying to figure out how to either do more with less or at least not end up cutting back on their services and infrastructure improvement plans. ArecentreportfromtheEasternOntario Wardens Caucus (EOWC), now available to the public, provides a picture of the problems that many municipalities in the region face and it is not a pretty one. The 93-page document, Facing Our Fis- cal Challenges , is the end result of a year-long review that the EOWC commissioned during the past year to evaluatetheoverallfinancialsituationlocal governments in Eastern Ontario face now and in the future with their infrastructure, social program, manpower, and other community needs. “The Eastern Ontario Financial Sustainability Update Project paints a sobering picture of the road ahead for local governments in the region,” states the report’s executive summary, “and adds a senseofurgencytofuturebudgetandpolicy deliberations at the local level as well as to discussions with provincial and federal levels of government.” The report includes analysis results of the changing fiscal and other concerns for municipalities over a 10-year period from 2000 to 2010 and also one-year “snapshot” analyses of particular issues based on 2010 data for municipalities. The results are broken down by categories for rural Eastern Ontario, single and lower-tier municipalities, larger separate towns and cities, and for the City of Ottawa. The report presents four main conclu- sions. Most, if not all, municipalities in Eastern Ontario have a limited tax base to draw on to cover the costs of local services and programs. Many have budgets that depend on residential property taxes for their munici- pal levies because they are either large rural townships with little commercial or industrial development or because they arelocatedwithinclosecommutetoalarger urban centre where most residents do their main shopping. This means there may be little flexibility in budget planning for municipalities, along with problems in creating and maintaining reserve funds for emergency needs, and a reliance on debt-financing for major infrastructure projects, both those where senior government funding aid is available and those where the municipality alone has to cover the cost of the project.

Louise Pronovost, esthéticienne 613 446-2843 2971PlaceFontaine Rockland,Ont.

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