Comments on Muskoka Lakes 2019 Budget

DON’S DIALOGUE Feb 5, 2019 at TML Public Budget Mtg.

I want to talk about the “Writing on the Wall” and I am not talking about graffiti.

The Ford Government has committed to a massive overhaul of the government in this province, to make it work for business and the people. They need to eliminate a $15 Billion annual Operating Budget shortfall and trim the largest non-sovereign debt in the world. The major strategies entail:

1. streamlining government (read making it smaller and cheaper),
2. stopping the strangulation of businesses with unnecessary government red tape and
3. improving the competitiveness of Ontario in North America to attract new business and encourage the growth of existing ones.
All of this is being done to provide good jobs to Ontarians and leave more money in peoples pockets.

Before Doug Ford was elected Premier, he conferred with Mike Harris. Mike advised Doug that he had one major regret; it was, that he did not do twice as much, in half the time when he was Premier. Doug certainly is taking this comment to heart.

Take a look at some of the changes in the first 6 months:
A drastic reduction in the number of LHIN’s to perhaps one super agency,
Pending increases in pupil/teacher ratios, major changes to tertiary education fees.
Cancellation of green energy projects,
Elimination of a carbon tax along with less restrictive environmental regulations.
Oh, did I mention reducing the size of council in Toronto?

The big one that is underway that will impact this Council and 81 others in Ontario is the review of nine Regional Governments. The review committee has been formed, public consultations will be held this Spring, ( Mississauga is being done this week) the final report will be released in early Summer and my estimate is
legislation will be introduced this Fall. The “writing is on the wall”. Elimination of the lower tiers is all but assured.

It fits the Ford governments’ model for streamlining and elimination of red tape.  It simplifies planning, public transportation and social services, especially for the 7 Toronto Feeder Regions and it should speed up the decision making processes.  Muskoka and Oxford will not escape consolidation or maybe even a reconfiguration.

Make no mistake about it, the Province is your master and municipal councils are its’ indentured servants.

What does this mean for TML and the District of Muskoka? If you want a template, look no further than our neighbour to the east – Kawartha Lakes. There are no Bobcaygeon or Fenlon Falls Councils today. These towns are local service
centres for public works yards, local building permits, payment of taxes etc.  Council sits in Lindsey and I might add Kawartha lakes recently reduced their council size by 50% .

Watch the legislation, I would not be surprised to see interim elections in 2020, to establish the new structure and eliminate 73 lower tier councils. Ford won’t wait four years. Remember Toronto in the last municipal election.

What are the implications for future property taxes in Muskoka Lakes?  The local portion of property taxes for the 3 townships will double and the towns will be halved. There may be a phase in period, but long term the Writing is on
the Wall – mill rates need to be standardized.
All the lower tier debt will be consolidated. Bracebridge and Huntsville pay about $1.1 million each per year to service their long term debt. Gravenhurst paid an astounding $3.6 million (a quarter of the taxes levied and the balloon
payments have yet to kick in). In 2019 Bracebridge will start to pay an additional $800,000 per year to service debentures for the purchase of Tim Br Mart property and the new fire station. New ice pads and a library are on the drawing board.

Muskoka Lakes is paying a paltry $135K per year, about 1% of our levy (the 3 Townships collectively paid $ 625K). So, the 3 Townships will be rewarded for their frugality by seeing debt service charges increase by more than 10 fold.
What to do!   I suggest this council needs to re evaluate our 10 year capital plan during this budget cycle – you may never have another chance.

We have a fire station in Minett that was identified 30 years ago as being in needof replacement. The Milford Bay Fire Station was also identified and planned for replacement.  The third leg of the Wellness Centre – the retirement home needs a financial jump start.  There are dilapidated boat ramps and public docks that need major attention and upgrades.  We have a bridge in Bala that needs to be rehabilitated.   We have a sole access bridge in Beaumaris that was identified two years ago, as having major structural issues and confirmed this summer. God forbid we have another Hwy 169 Bass Lake collapse and human life is compromised.  Community Centres, Arenas , Trails and Key Roads must be examined and  provisions made for rehabilitations and upgrades.

The costs need to be tabulated before this budget is set and concrete plans for upgrades prepared in 2019.
Financing should be done via debentures over 20 years, NOT in this years’ levy.
These are long term improvements for the benefit of our citizen.   The towns have made and continue to expense infrastructure  improvements for their citizens, while the frugal townships have kept taxes low by poor manning capital expenditures and services.

I suggest you be prepared to start spending before you lose control – the Writing is on the Wall.

Today it cost you nothing, but the staff time to identify and liberally estimate costs.  Be prepared  and be proactive.  Debentures are next years costs.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my input during your budget deliberations.