The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is taking municipalities to task for requesting billions of dollars from senior levels of government.
In a media release, Jasmine Moulton, the CTF’s Ontario Director is quoted as saying; “Municipal governments are peddling a false binary to deal with the holes in their budgets: raise taxes or cut services.”
Moulton goes on to say; “There’s a better option for struggling taxpayers: municipalities should tighten their belts, stop wasting taxpayers’ money and bring spending under control.”
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald defends council’s decision to support a request put forward by the Federation of Canada Municipalities (FCM) asking the federal government to support communities with a minimum $10 billion in funding for emergency operational support.
Council unanimously supported the motion put forward by Councillor Mike Anthony.
“Right now, we’re estimating a shortfall of about $400-thousand to the end of June. We will have an update on where our situation is in early August,” said McDonald.
“The federal government had said there was going to make money available for municipalities. If we just arbitrarily say we won’t take the money, that just means our taxpayers won’t get the benefit of it, it will just go to other cities.”
McDonald called Anthony’s motion both prudent and timely.
“We have taken all the steps we can to mitigate any budget shortfalls. I’m proud of what council and staff has done on the fiscal front. But to say COVID didn’t impact municipalities, it really did.”
McDonald says the city aggressively looked for savings early on as the COVID situation began to worsen.
“Unfortunately, we laid off about 80 people and we suspended the summer student program, so we weren’t hiring summer students. We did freeze hiring in the city so we could find savings through that,” said McDonald.
“So, we have taken all the prudent steps as a city to find savings wherever we can, including the cancellation of discretionary spending.”
McDonald says the challenge the city is facing is from reduced transit revenues and loss of revenue from arena and playing fields rentals due to COVID-19.
“Transit was costing us about $18,000 more dollars per week to provide the services because it was an essential service we had to continue to provide. And we could only put 10 people on the bus to ensure that we followed all the COVID protocols. So, that was a significant hit to our budget. Also, we stopped enforcement of parking, so that was another hit on our budget,” McDonald pointed out.
“Some of what we did to assist our citizens was cancelling penalties and interest on overdue tax bills and water. So that took a hit, but that was a way to help our citizens. We’re not in as bad a situation as a lot of the municipalities, but if the federal government is going to distribute money across the country, we want the North Bay ratepayers to receive some of that instead of it going to other cities that maybe didn’t take steps as early as we did.”
Using Toronto’s proposed Rail Deck Park project as an example, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is encouraging municipalities to cancel “pet” projects.
“If municipalities were truly desperate, they would cancel pet projects and reduce the size and cost of government-including their own salaries which are grossly out of line with reality,” said Moulton.
McDonald responded by saying; “We haven’t gone ahead without the twin-pad community centre. All we were doing was completing the design. The other pet project that we might have that they are is referring to is Cassellholme. It is on the books. We’re not sure when it is going ahead. The rest of it is just plain infrastructure,” said McDonald.
“It is not like all of a sudden we’ve thrown all this money on different projects. The community centre is basically on hold now until October until we know more. And Cassellholme, we’re hoping that it goes forward, but the rest of it is planned infrastructure spending. We could stop infrastructure spending but it just means that this work won’t get done. It is critical infrastructure work and it is going to cost more down the road.”
McDonald further elaborated saying, “The community centre and Cassellholme, they’re more than likely not going ahead this year anyway. So, it is not like that is affecting our budget.”
The North Bay Mayor also commented on the CTF’s call for government employees to help shoulder the burden of the economic crisis citing high politician pay, again with a direct reference to the city of Toronto.
"I get paid $66,000 a year and councillors on average receive $25,000 to $30,000. I don’t know if I would classify that as excessive,” said McDonald.
“You don’t do it for the money anyway.”