The mayors of the 28 largest cities in the province are asking an Ontario cabinet minister to take their message of solidarity to the premier in the face of retroactive cuts expected to cost municipalities millions of dollars and threaten the cutting of valuable services.
Premier Doug Ford was not in attendance for Friday’s meeting of the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) in Guelph, but he did send Steve Clark, Ontario’s minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
A few weeks ago, Ford was formally invited to attend the May meeting of LUMCO by its chair, Mayor Cam Guthrie of Guelph.
Guthrie said every city represented at the meeting is feeling the same pain in regards to cuts being made by the province after each city has already approved its 2019 budget.
“There was nothing discussed where one city wasn’t feeling a similar impact as the others,” said Guthrie. “Our messaging is that we continue to have the exact same concerns and that we are united.”
LUMCO mayors understand the fiscal position the provincial government is in, said Guthrie, and they want to be a partner in efforts to bring the budget deficit and debt under control. They are asking the Ontario government to defer the implementation of funding cuts and work together on ways to minimize the impact on the people living in cities across the province.
Finding an additional four per cent in budget reductions, as Ford has suggested, will force cities to consider increasing taxes or fees, cutting services, raiding reserve funds or deferring infrastructure and capital projects.
“Unlike the provincial government, municipalities must balance their budgets annually — we are not allowed to run a deficit,” said Guthrie by phone after Friday’s longer-than-usual meeting of LUMCO. “We are standing our ground on the issues of the cuts that have been imposed on municipalities retroactively, after our budgets have been passed.”
Guthrie said he is thankful that Clark made the trip to Guelph to hear the concerns of Ontario mayors.
“We have asked the minister to take our concerns back to the cabinet and caucus table at the province on our behalf,” said Guthrie.
LUMCO mayors are also concerned about Bill 108, said Guthrie. The proposed legislation would change the process for provincial funding to municipalities for projects like providing parkland, community centres and other capital projects.
“We have a lot of concerns about the financial sustainability that is unknown at this time through the proposal of Bill 108,” said Guthrie.
Upcoming projects in Guelph that could be affected by Bill 108 if it passes include the proposed South End Community Centre and the construction of a new downtown library.
Guthrie said LUMCO mayors have asked the provincial government for more time before the proposed changes are made. They are requesting an extension on the deadline for comments on Bill 108 from June 1 to September 30.
“We specifically asked the government to give cities in Ontario more time to consult internally and externally so we can work on this proposal of Bill 108 and not have it rushed through,” said Guthrie.