With the provincial vote less than two weeks away, the leaders of the three main parties have promised billions of dollars in goodies to entice voters.
Trouble is, there is a real lack of detail forthcoming on how these enticements will be funded.
As a ratepayer, that should be a concern for you and when considering which candidate will receive your vote, ask them first who is picking up the tab.
As Lynn Dollin, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, correctly notes, “The provincial government dictates and regulates municipal services. At the same time, municipal governments deliver and help fund key provincial programs, like social housing and child care. Our fates are deeply intertwined.”
In a release issued this week, Dollin continues, “no party has offered a clear plan to support municipal governments. All have made expensive promises. And all have remained silent when asked if municipal property taxpayers will have to pay for them.”
It’s worth quoting further from her release.
“For small and rural communities, which often serve large geographic areas on a small tax base, this is a critical question. In some communities, a 1% property tax increase raises less than $50,000. Property taxpayers can barely keep up with inflation and other pressures, let alone afford any more provincial responsibilities. In fact, we need a meaningful plan to help us make ends meet.”
Here’s something to ponder carefully.
“Municipal governments collect just 9-cents of every household’s tax dollar, with the federal and provincial governments collecting the balance,” informs Dollin.
“On less than a dime, municipal governments deliver a wide range of critical services. We also chip in for hospital expansions and equipment. Some small and rural governments pay to help recruit family doctors. We care about the wellbeing of our hometowns, but 9-cents on the dollar is no prescription for healthy and thriving communities.”
Dollin continues, “Local infrastructure poses yet another challenge. Roads and bridges are the lifeblood of local economies. But the cost of paving just one kilometre of road may be shared by just five rural households, compared to 25 households in an urban centre. To understand the scale, consider that in Ontario, there are 12,000 local bridges, and enough kilometres of local roads to wrap around the earth nearly eight times.
“Taxpayers expect governments to work together and respect their money. We need an approach that considers the impact provincial decisions have on municipal costs and property tax rates. It is time to stop passing down costs and piling them onto the municipal tax bill.”
Dollin closes with a warning. “In the absence of an effective partnership with Queen’s Park, many municipal councils will face a stark choice: raise property taxes or make deep cuts to municipal services.”
Now you see the need to ask candidates, will municipal property taxpayers will have to pay for these expensive promises?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING?
Last week, we noted the city is looking at a bylaw to deal with non-licensed residential care homes in St. Thomas. The move is prompted, in part, by the situation at Walnut Manor, operated by Niagara Supportive Living out of Welland.
In a lengthy conversation Thursday (May 24) with Elizabeth Sebestyen, director in the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department, she was able to fill in some of the back story to the proposed bylaw.
Tim Welch Consulting, out of Cambridge – who undertook the city’s 10-year housing and homelessness plan – is researching what would be involved in crafting and presenting a workable proposal to council for approval.
Sebestyen noted, “There is a gap in the current standards, because they don’t apply when there is no agreement with CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association).
Such is the case with Walnut Manor and there are 10 other non-licensed facilities Sebestyen’s department deals with.
“They’re looking at what London has done. They had a fire and someone died, so they have come up with a solution for that and I asked the consultants to see what London did. I think they have a licensing process there and maybe that’s what it would be (in St. Thomas). That they would all need to be licensed by the city.”
Sebestyen added there is still the issue of whether the licensing process would entail a fee to be paid by the facility operator.
“The report (from the consultants) will just say this is what they recommend, but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen. The next step would be a separate report with recommendations for council’s approval.
“We just need to know there is no gap in the system that somebody could continue to provide less than good service to residents. We need to know there is a solution there the city could take action if that’s the case.”
The homes in question are not retirement homes or homes for seniors.
“Most of the people who live in the residential care homes are not seniors,” Sebestyen stressed. “But they have some kind of disability or they need help with their daily living activities. They can’t live independently, in most cases. Some of them could eventually, but for most its their permanent home.
“We just have to make sure they are well looked after when no one is keeping an eye on them. The homes like Walnut Manor have no funding attached to it, and they are just kind of on their own to do whatever they want. Those are the homes we are concerned about.”
Walnut Manor did have an agreement with the CMHA, but according to Sebestyen, “because they weren’t in compliance with the standards, the CMHA cancelled the agreement and that’s when we realized there’s a problem, because now there is no one watching.”
Probing the ins and outs of such a bylaw is just part of the big picture, long-term affordable housing strategy being undertaken by the city.
“We wanted to make sure we took a long at all of the various types of housing that we have . . . to make the sure the housing is adequate for people, no matter what type of housing they need,” explained Sebestyen.
St. Thomas and Elgin is unique in the number of domiciliary hostels located in the area.
“The CMHA has told me that we have the highest per capita number of homes for special care and residential care homes because we had the psych hospital here.”
The consultants will have a final report for council on June 11.
“They will have an executive summary that will highlight their findings and then their recommendations. And in that package of recommendations will a section dealing with the residential care homes. The next step will be to come up with a bylaw or whatever the recommendation says and take it to council for approval.
MUNICIPAL ELECTION UPDATE
A pair of quality candidates this week declared their intention to serve as councillors in St. Thomas.
Serge Lavoie and Jim Herbert join Petrusia Hontar, Steve Peters and Mark Tinlin in their quest to capture one of eight councillor positions up for grabs in the Oct. 22 municipal vote.
Lavoie took a run at provincial politics in 2014, coming in third as the Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London with 20 per cent of the vote at 9,183.
He is now the driving force behind the St. Thomas Elevated Park and has sat on several municipal committees and says he has always been interested in politics at the municipal level.
Speaking to Lavoie Friday (May 25) he notes, “Quite frankly I really like the direction the city has been in for the past couple of terms (of council). It’s been progressive, it’s been investing in the community. You can see the growth, you can feel the growth. And I just want to be part of that and make sure we stay on course.”
Quality of life issues are important to Lavoie, who notes “I’m interested in the arts, culture and heritage. I believe that communities that invest in those, always succeed more than others.”
We’ll have a full interview with Lavoie in the coming days.
Meantime, Herbert has long been associated with St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and was chairman of the board of directors of St. Thomas Energy and Ascent Group. He’s also past president of the St. Thomas Curling Club and YMCA and most recently was a manager at Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital.
“I had a multi-million dollar budget in St. Thomas, so financial things are not strange to me.”
Besides that, he’s a heck of a basketball referee and baseball umpire, supervising 19 Canadian national tournaments across the country, including behind the plate for the gold medal game in Saskatoon in the late 1980s.
“I’m a firm supporter of all the emergency services,” advises Herbert. “I think when they come to the table and say we need this new technology, I think we have to take a step back and make it work for them. But, that’s just me.
“I’m also a great person for children and childcare. And I like the direction St. Thomas is going in.”
Again, we’ll talk further with Herbert in the coming days.
Still only one candidate – Steve Wookey – in the mayoral race.
And, the final day for candidates to file nomination papers is July 27.
JUST IN TIME
The splashpads at Pinafore Park and Waterworks Park are now open for the season. They will be open daily until 8 p.m.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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