Mayor Vic Fedeli said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the new Ontario budget, particularly the items in it directed toward municipalities.
Fedeli said he pent several hours going over the document with budget chief Peter Chirico, city administrator David Linkie, chief financial officer Brian Rogers and city solicitor Mike Burke.
“We feel if this is real dollars, that is to say not giving it to us with one hand and taking it back with other through program cancellations, then the province has a success story on its hands,” Fedeli said.
He said he was pleased to see the province would increase its funding of public health units from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.
“The health unit has been a real financial burden on the municipality, so if they take 25 per cent more of the funding themselves, if they do that, then it’s great, and a savings to North Bay of several hundred-thousand dollars,” Fedeli said.
“But if they turn around and reduce our Community Reinvestment Fund grant by the same number, then it’s just trading dollars.”
Pleased to see
Fedeli said the same thing applies to the $135 million the province said it would put into the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund for infrastructure.
“That’s great, but what was in the Heritage Fund before and are they just going to move it there from other Heritage Fund programs and make it strictly for infrastructure,” Fedeli said.
“If so, then it’s not going to be so great.”
Another budget item Fedeli was pleased to see was the pledge to give municipalities two cents per litre of the provincial gas tax.
“That’s a great thing and it will go toward public transit infrastructure, so we would take their money, put it into our transit and then take our money out and use it for things like road improvements, or whatever,” Fedeli said.
“So I hope they’ll allow us to do that because they didn’t it would not be a good thing.”
Chamber of Commerce president Derek Shogren has mixed views about the budget, but gives it a ‘B’ overall.
“Certainly from the chamber’s point of view we would have liked the government to have balanced its budget earlier than its timetable of 2007-08, and we would have liked to have seen some plans for debt reduction, which is essential for the economy to keep growing,” Shogren said.
“There was no talk of any kind of tax decreases, and a few new taxes, and certainly the chamber is concerned about that from a growth standpoint.”
Commitment is there
Shogren said the government had been elected on a mandate to boost health and education, and he believes the Liberals have come through that way.
“We certainly see the commitment is there for education and health care funding at greater levels, and we’re also happy to see two cents of the gas tax coming to municipalities for infrastructure,” Shogren said.
He’s also pleased with the Northern Ontario initiatives in the budget.
“That shows they believe Northern Ontario is an important part of the economy and an important part of overall future growth for the province.
So I’d so it’s an overall decent budget and give it an overall rating of ‘B.’”