Ford speech to municipal leaders contained few surprises, Sudbury’s mayor says

Sudbury Star

Mayor Brian Bigger jpg, SU

Mayor Brian Bigger has been in Ottawa this week for a conference organized by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

The conference included a special address by Premier Doug Ford, during which he outlined some of the coming budget cuts.

As of next Jan. 1, all municipalities will be responsible for paying 30 per cent of their public health care costs, with the province pitching in the remaining 70 per cent. Currently, the city pays for between 15-20 per cent of public health programming.

Starting on Jan. 1, municipalities will also have to pay 20 percent of the cost of creating new child care spaces. Ford also announced; however, that he is adding to the land ambulance budget. Funding will increase by four per cent, or $26 million, over the next year, with another increase anticipated for 2021.

According to a Postmedia story of Shawn Jeffords, “the premier said the province would be providing transitional funding to municipalities as they dealt with the cuts, but his office could not say how much that would amount to.”

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath decried the cuts and said they will hurt families.

“Doug Ford confirmed the countdown to devastating cuts is on. He’s slashing things like public health and childcare, things that keep families safe and healthy, and throwing the problems his cuts will create at the feet of municipal councils,” she said. “Municipalities — families — can’t afford to fill all the financial holes caused by Ford’s deep cuts, but the human cost of failing people when it comes to public health, ambulance services and child care is unthinkable. Doug Ford just doesn’t think it’s his job to help people and their cities and towns. Lecturing municipalities about how they spend their money won’t stop measles outbreaks or help parents find an affordable, safe child care spot for their little one. Municipalities need investment and partnership to deliver services without having to charge a Ford tax.”

Nothing will be finalized – and the full impacts of the funding cuts will not be known – until council completes its 2020 budget deliberations

Bigger said the news from Ford was not surprising.

“I was in Ottawa yesterday to listen to the premier’s speech,” Bigger said. “We knew from previous announcements that we should expect the province would be approaching how it deals with municipalities with austerity and financial restraint — and we have been preparing for that since the spring.”

While Ford initially announced cuts would be implemented in 2019, several community leaders spoke out and said their yearly budgets were already finalized. Bigger said he was “relieved” that planned reductions were postponed for a year.

“As we move forward, we are building plans for 2020 that address a variety of service and funding challenges; changes to provincial funding for cost-shared services will be addressed by city council when it debates the 2020 budget,” he said. “This will not be easy, but now we have sufficient time to prepare. The AMO conference is an opportunity to build and maintain partnerships with the provincial government. I can reassure everyone that Greater Sudbury has a long track record of managing costs for taxpayers; we are one of the lowest-taxed municipalities in the province, so we are prepared to handle whatever future constraints may come.”

Bigger said he was happy to hear Ford speak about investing in infrastructure.

“That’s a huge key to our success. I hope this indicates the province’s commitment to completing Highway 69 and further investing in the infrastructure needs of Greater Sudbury,” Bigger commented. “I’ll be engaging to pursue our share of that funding. I will also be meeting with several senior members of the premier’s cabinet this week as I continue to lobby and advocate for Greater Sudbury’s best interests and future funding opportunities. As a council, we will all have to work together to ensure the very best is provided for all of Greater Sudbury’s residents. I am confident in our city staff and my colleagues at council that we will meet this demand.”

Council recently approved  $200 million loan, which would be put into a holding account until it is needed for the arena, other large projects and some other priority work. According to the city’s financial staff, it will only cost about $60,000 annually to hold the money.

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini has long been agitating against that money and many of the projects – including the large projects – that excite his peers. He has been cautioning his colleagues to be prudent with city coffers, since he anticipated cuts to transfer payments.

“I believed cutbacks were coming and last week council approved a motion to go borrow $200 million at approximately 2.86 per cent interest on a 30-year term,” he said on Facebook. “I was totally against it and there were only two of us that voted against it. With the greatest respect to the rest of council, this was a big mistake in my mind.”

mkkeown@postmedia.com

Twitter: @marykkeown

705 674 5271 ext. 505235

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