Reading between the (funding) lines

OPINION

Wednesday was the first day of spring and it was met with weather appropriate to the occasion. Walking around town one could not help but notice a collective lifting of the spirits. On the same day there also came the news of the $620,000 windfall payment to the Township’s coffers from the provincial government. Those who read The Current’s announcement of this sudden largesse courtesy of Doug Ford possibly felt an added buzz. Judging by some readers’ comments to date, it appears that there will be no shortage of suggestions of how to spend the money.

Before getting too carried away, however, it is important to take a closer look at the strings that have been attached to the funding. The first clue is contained in the following sentence in the Minister’s media release: “The province undertook a line-by-line review of its own expenditures, and we have been clear that we expect our partners, including municipalities, to be taking steps to become more efficient. Examples could include service delivery reviews, development of shared services agreements, IT solutions, capital investments or other projects.” This sends a clear message that the funding must be used to achieve costs savings and efficiencies at the municipal level.

Is it significant that Wednesday’s announcement came hot on the heels of the Ford government backtracking on its previously-announced intention to reduce Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) payments? MV Council had previously anticipated a 10 to 15 percent reduction from that source this year. This sounds very much like the province is now putting down a marker by saying in effect: here’s some money now to help you reduce your reliance on us later.

Councillor Mark Willmer told The Current today that he agrees with this interpretation. He said he also has received suggestions about how the money should be spent which do not fall within the parameters set by the province.

With this in mind, municipalities who will benefit from yesterday’s announcement should ensure that they do not leave themselves as hostages to fortune when they decide how to spend the money. If they cannot demonstrate compliance with the strings attached to it, then they risk receiving reduced funding down the road.

For example, allocating some or all of it to the bottomless purse which is road maintenance would not fit the bill — something former councillor Linda Neuman told The Current she is concerned about. It might therefore be advisable for municipalities to arm themselves with independent consultants’ recommendations to identify the most appropriate targets for costs savings and improving efficiencies. Doing this may insulate them from criticism of whatever decisions they make, at the same time satisfying the province’s objective through identifying “smarter, more efficient ways to spend money.”

 

Image courtesy Internal Auditor – IIA

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