Ontario municipalities may be forced into large property tax hikes, user fee increases and service cuts without financial help from higher levels of government, mayors say.
In a joint statement Monday, mayors and chairs said they are speaking as one voice to provincial and federal governments, seeking funds to replace hundreds of millions of dollars in extra spending and decreased revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario’s share of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ cross-country request would be $4 billion in assistance.
“Time for a commitment is running out,” the statement said. “Now, halfway through the budget year, municipalities have no choice but to consider plans to balance the budget by raising property taxes, user fees and charges or cutting services.
“Difficult conversations about cost-saving service reductions are taking place at council meetings across the province.”
Without more funding, municipalities could cut supports to families and seniors, reduce or cancel transit services or layoff staff, the statement says.
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said he called on Premier Doug Ford in early May to address this issue.
“Because of provincial inaction, our municipal leaders will be forced to make drastic cuts to local services like public transit, youth job training or public health,” Del Duca said in a statement Monday. “Their only other option is to introduce massive, unaffordable property tax increases.
“Either of these approaches will only hurt those already hit hardest by the pandemic, including women, youth and low-income Ontarians.”
Last week, Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announced $150 million for homeless shelters and longer-term housing.
“We have been working in partnership with our municipal partners through our technical tables to track COVID-related expenses — so we can help them get back on their feet to continue delivering strong, sustainable local services,” a statement from Clark’s office said. “We’ve also joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in calling on the federal government for emergency funding.”
The provincial government provided municipalities with $350 million though the Social Services Relief Fund to ease financial pressure and maintain front-line services, the statement said.
“Given the national scale and magnitude of the shortfalls facing Canadian municipalities, it is imperative that the federal government step up and join us in developing a plan to help our municipalities recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” Clark’s office said.