Municipal leaders say no to downloading

Municipal leaders at the MNL Municipal Symposium are clear and united in their displeasure with the provincial budget. At a budget debrief session this morning, speaker after speaker rose to talk about how this budget will impact their hometown. While much of the municipal funding in the budget was maintained, speakers were concerned about the broader impact of cuts to the future of their municipal economies and their residents. Speakers were equally concerned that these decisions seem to have been made with little to no direct consultation with those affected by the cuts.

The downloading of libraries to municipalities galvanized the opinion of the municipal leaders present. Councils across the province are struggling to provide core services like clean, safe drinking water and waste water treatment. It is unreasonable and ill-informed to expect them to take over the funding of a provincial service. Many speakers worried that libraries are simply the first wave of downloading as the provincial government deals with it’s own budget challenges. Simply passing the cost to municipal councils means residents will have to pay for these services through property tax – a tax we already know has its problems.

Cuts to valuable public services like AES offices, courts and health care were raised by almost all of the speakers. Many talked about the capacity these services bring to their towns and how important they are to the economic and social development of their regions. In fact, it was offered that these cuts are the wrong way to go about regionalization. With no consultation, no plan, and no integrated approach these cuts won’t lead to effective regionalization – they will lead to chaos.

Finally, speakers said that municipal operating costs would increase due to higher gas taxes, increased fees across the board, and higher charges for provincially provided snow clearing. These increased costs will eat into the municipal funding that remained in the provincial budget. More importantly, municipal budgets were set last year so none of these increased costs are covered in existing budgets. That money will have to be found by cutting municipal services and raising municipal taxes next year. The buck has simply been passed to councils.

President Karen Oldford and the entire MNL leadership team committed to take these serious concerns directly to the provincial government. We are ready to work with them as they try to solve the serious financial challenges they face.