Blue Mountain Ratepayers' Association

Mayor McKean makes his point and Sun Times “gets it”

Sun Times Jan 11 2015.
Blue Mountains says half isn’t enough.
The town’s council recently passed a motion requesting Grey County return to the lower-tier municipalities “100% of all funds” the county has been able to put into a reserve account in recent years thanks to the savings from a provincial upload of its social services costs.
County staff is recommending 50% of the money be returned, but Blue Mountains Mayor John McKean said that isn’t fair.
“My thought is it shouldn’t have been collected in the first place,” he said in an interview.
“But now that it has, why would we settle for 50% when we should be getting 100%?”
The province decided five years ago to upload Ontario Works program costs from the county from 2010 to 2018. Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Drug Benefit costs would also be uploaded.
To offset the uploads, the province said it would cut its Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund social program grant, which saw the county lose about $2 million in 2009.
The county developed a plan to cover the lost revenue, without putting it directly onto the tax base in 2009, by borrowing from its own reserves and repaying the money over time as the savings from the gradual provincial uploads were realized.
The county paid off the money it had borrowed from itself by 2012.
County council voted in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to continue collecting from its member municipalities the money it would have needed for the social services costs had the upload not taken place.
That money — $1.35 million in 2012, $1.98 million in 2013 and $2.32 million in 2014 — was transferred into a reserve account that could be used “in an attempt to reduce the county’s tax rate increases that would be required in the future and to address the county’s growing shortfall in infrastructure spending,” Grey’s director of finance Kevin Weppler said in a report to council.
The balance is now $5.6 million.
The county’s draft 2015 budget recommends Grey stop collecting the money that would be put into the reserve fund, which would reduce this year’s budget by $2.3 million or 4.47%.
It also recommends half of the money in the account be distributed to its nine municipalities, with each contribution being based on assessment.
The other half would be retained by the county.
“This will put funds back into the hands of the local municipalities to provide funding for projects that may have not been undertaken, as projects may have been removed from local budget plans to accommodate the loss in (their) OMPF funding,” Weppler said in his report.
“The recommendation of allocating 50% of these reserve funds would also then provide future county budgets with infrastructure funding to aid its infrastructure deficit and to assist in transitioning budgetary capital increases that are required as per the county’s asset management plan,”
If approved, Blue Mountains’s one-time payment from the reserve fund would be $729,000.
The other allocations would be: Owen Sound, $433,000; Chatsworth, $146,000; Georgian Bluffs, $312,000; Grey Highlands, $323,000; Hanover, $147,000; Meaford, $329,000; Southgate, $141,000; and West Grey, $327,000.
The county’s standing committees will now discuss the draft budget recommendations. The plan is for council to approve a final budget March 3.
McKean said he believes the province’s intention was that lower-tier municipalities would benefit from the upload of social services costs.
He said the county should not be using money that was intended for social services to fund future capital work.
“I don’t think that’s very transparent,” he said. “I think they should rebate it back and if we (the county) have other infrastructure costs, we’ll debate those as they come along in open forum.”