County asks province to maintain funding level

By Chad Ingram

Published Jan. 22 2019

The County of Haliburton is asking the provincial government to sustain levels of municipal funding through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund for rural and northern communities.

As previously reported just before Christmas Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli sent letters to the heads of municipal councils throughout the province informing them the overall amount of money the province allots to municipal governments through the OMPF each year would be decreasing.

“While we all will be operating within a smaller funding envelope we want to work with you to return the program to what it was initially intended to do – support the northern and rural municipalities that need it most” that letter read.

Initially intended essentially as equalization payments for the province’s poorer municipalities the program has grown over the years to include funding for most municipal governments. The funding doled out on an annual basis comes with no set criteria and is used by municipalities for general operations offsetting operating and capital costs.

In Haliburton County for 2018 OMPF funding for the county’s four lower-tier townships as well as the upper tier of the county itself totalled more than $7 million.

Minden Hills’ OMPF allotment was $1.73 million; Highlands East’s $1.9 million; Dysart et al’s $1.8 million; Algonquin Highlands’ $1.26 million; and the upper tier of the county received $334000 in its OMPF allotment.

Haliburton County Warden and Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen has penned a letter to Fedeli asking that funding levels for rural and northern municipalities be maintained a letter that is being circulated to the county’s lower-tier township councils for their support.

“The county and its constituent municipalities recognize the fiscal challenges faced by your government and also realize that the OMPF program does not meet all of its original goals” Danielsen’s letter reads.

“We agree the program needs to be reviewed and updated. It is our hope however that the renewed program will continue to support rural and northern municipalities who rely on this funding to provide effective services to our constituents. As you know rural and northern municipalities face some unique challenges.

“For example in rural Ontario there are often five households per kilometre of roadway. This compares with 25 households in an urban setting. The same funding challenge exists with other services such as fire protection policing recreation social housing social services land ambulance and others.

“Simply put there are fewer residents to share similar costs. As well in rural Ontario we are often required to contribute to services that are not funded by our urban colleagues. These include things like broadband and physician recruitment incentives.”

The letter points out the municipal governments of the county collectively received more than $7 million in OMPF funding for 2018.

“Should that funding be substantially reduced or completely eliminated our residents could be faced with reduced services or very large property tax increases that can reach as high as 25 per cent.

When considering significant tax increases one must also consider that our average after-tax annual household income is $62109. This is 21 per cent less than the provincial average. It is also important to note that over 36 per cent of our residents are over the age of 65.”

Total OMPF allotments from the province to municipalities in 2018 were $510 million.