A meeting of the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark today in Guelph seems to have lead to nowhere in term of answering LUMCO’s concerns about funding cuts. At least that’s the impression from a LUMCO statement signed by its chair, Guelph Mayor, Cam Guthrie.
“Big-city mayors from across Ontario continue to be alarmed about the Province’s unilateral, retroactive cuts to municipal funding after cities have already passed our budgets,” the statement reads. “We are also united in concern about Bill 108, which could put at risk cities’ finances and ability to provide parkland, community facilities, and well-planned neighbourhoods.”
The recently announced Bill 108, called the “More Homes, More Choices Act”, has many provisos that LUMCO mayors believe will have a negative impact including new limits on development charges and tighter deadlines for planning applications. There are also proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, which could allow developers to pay a charge to build on a protected area if an endangered species still has habitat elsewhere. Cynics have called the measure “pay-to-slay”.
This is on top of a steady stream of cuts to provincial funding including cuts to public health units, libraries, legal aid, conservation authorities, and a cut to the provincial gas tax, which many municipalities depend on to subsidize public transit.
“[Bill 108] could put at risk our cities’ finances and ability to provide parkland, community facilities, and adequate public engagement to inform the planning of neighbourhoods. Changes to Development Charges, which are paid by developers to offset the cost of growth, could put already-approved parks and community centres in jeopardy,” the statement said.
Then, to add insult to injury, Premier Doug Ford announced earlier this week that in lieu of withdrawing the proposed budget cuts, the Provincial government is making $7.35 million available for municipalities and school board to conduct third party audits.
“LUMCO has made its views clear. I have heard their concerns about some of the decisions we’ve made and as a former mayor and CAO, I understand them,” Clark said in a statement he posted to social media. “That said, all that is being asked is to find roughly one per cent of their overall budget in efficiencies.
“My hope is that our municipal partners choose not to raise taxes on the people of Ontario and cut vital services and instead take us up on our offer and have independent experts assist them in finding efficiencies,” Clark added.
The LUMCO mayors still seem unsatisfied with the progress made at Friday’s meeting at Guelph City Hall.
“We call on the Province to engage with Ontario’s cities on Bill 108 in order to meet the goals of housing choice and affordability, while respecting the role of municipal Councils in planning decisions and protecting the financial sustainability of cities,” the statement requested.
“In the immediate term, we call on the Province to extend the deadline for comments on Bill 108 from June 1 to September 30 to allow municipalities adequate time to comment,” it added.
Clark, in his statement, tried to reassure mayors that when it comes to the changes proposed in Bill 108, they and the Province are in it together.
“Let me be clear: the plan that I announced earlier this month included our government’s intention to consult with our municipal partners on the development of a community benefits charge that takes the politics out of planning,” he said. “It is important that municipalities have the resources to support complete communities and give the public at large the opportunity to provide input into a strategy through public consultation.”
The mayors hope this is true. “LUMCO mayors are asking the Government of Ontario to sit down with cities to work together on the issues that concern us all – financial sustainability, housing that people can afford, prosperity and quality of life.”