Northern Ontario group lobbies province for increased municipal funding for infrastructure

ONTARIO—While the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) is in support of a funding announcement under the province’s Main Street Revitalization Initiative, municipalities in the province still need a boost in revenues to offset a large deficit in infrastructure work that needs to be carried out. To this end the concept of the province providing one percent of funds derived from the Harmonized Sales Tax to be designated for municipal infrastructure has been called for by FONOM.

“FONOM had a multi-minister meeting at the recent Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference in Toronto, with the premier and eight cabinet ministers,” Al Spacek, president of FONOM, told the Recorder last Friday. “We shared positions and thoughts on a lot of issues, and one we brought forward was the idea of adding one percent from the HST be designated for municipal infrastructure for things like roads, water, sewers and arenas. Currently there is a $4.8 billion infrastructure deficit among Ontario municipalities.”

Mr. Spacek noted that all municipalities would need to increase taxes by eight percent per year for 10 years to make up for this overall infrastructure shortfall. “We as municipalities need another source of revenue,” he said. “As we told the premier and ministers, keep in mind that municipalities deliver the most front line services that people use every day than any level of government; but we get less than nine cents of every tax dollar collected in the province.”
“Increasingly municipalities are being asked to pay for more services that should be responsibility of the province. For example, ambulance services, Ontario is the only province in Canada where municipalities pay 50 percent of these costs,” said Mr. Spacek.

Mr. Spacek said another issue raised by FONOM is that, “we feel that small, rural Northern schools are crucial to have and we know how important they are to our communities. These schools are often the hub of our communities and a main reason why people live in the community. We need more financial resources to maintain and upgrade these schools.”

Mr. Spacek pointed out a $20 million grant was recently announced by the province for education, however the Top Up program of $200 million was cancelled. “One of the nice things about the new $20 million grant is that it is a new rural Northern Ontario-only program.”

On all the issues raised at the premier-minister meeting by FONOM, “all of our issues and concerns were well received by the premier and ministers,” said Mr. Spacek.

Mr. Spacek said the recent announcement by the province that it is providing funding to municipalities toward revitalizing main streets and helping small businesses grow is good news. “The up to $26 million being provided by the province for small municipalities is a positive and significant announcement for our municipalities and businesses.

Jeff Leal, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the minister Responsible for                                                                                          Small Business explained in a January 23 release, “main streets are at the core of small rural communities and are home to thousands of small businesses across the province. That’s why our government is committed to ensuring they continue to remain vibrant hubs where residents meet, tourists visit and small businesses grow and prosper.”

Ronald Holman, chair of ROMA said, “many small communities have downtown business areas that play a special and critical role in building strong local economies. Programs like the Main Street Revitalization Initiative benefit our Main Street businesses which are important to rural Ontario.”

Ontario is helping rural communities attract investment and tourism, create jobs and enhance regional economic growth by supporting the revitalization of downtown and main streets across the province.

Mr. Leal explained, “vibrant main streets help attract visitors, create jobs and increase the competitiveness of small businesses, which are the backbone of small, rural communities. That’s why the province is helping municipalities enhance and revitalize their downtown and main streets through improvements such as the installation of pedestrian crosswalks or landscaping. Municipalities can also direct funding to local businesses to improve the appearance of their storefronts by installing lighting or new signage.”

“Supporting small businesses and communities across the province is part of Ontario’s plan to create fairness and opportunity during this period of rapid economic change. The plan includes a higher minimum wage and better working conditions, free tuition for hundreds of thousands of students, easier access to affordable child care, and free prescription drugs for everyone under 25, through the biggest expansion of medicare in a generation,” continued Mr. Leal.

Ontario is investing up to $26 million through the Main Street Revitalization Initiative, which will be administered by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and its rural arm, ROMA.

This initiative is part of a $40 million investment over three years in the Main Street Enhancement Fund, which will help strengthen small businesses in downtown and main street areas and enhance the digital presence and capabilities of small businesses through increased access to digital tools like e-commerce.

The revitalization initiative expands upon and complements the Downtown Revitalization Program that supports main street revitalization in rural areas, Mr. Leal said. He added that to strengthen Ontario small businesses, the province is providing more than $500 million over three years in new initiatives that include lowering the small business tax rate by 22 percent from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent, investing in youth employment, providing support for downtown main street businesses and reducing red tape.