The Dryden Observer

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Wilson offers look back and ahead

By Mayor Greg Wilson

While the list of 2019 projects is not yet complete (further explanation below), both Council and Administration are pressing on together with considerable enthusiasm.

Dryden Mayor Greg Wilson. File photo

As with last term, we are focused on paying down our debt and maintaining financial stability to get us safely through to 2021. With 2018 in the rear view mirror and 2019 planned initiatives on the horizon, I trust the following is a timely and helpful direct report to our citizens.

We owe it to you, the tax payer, to do this as smoothly and efficiently as possible so we can get back to investing in Dryden the way we should have been if our financial crisis, some of which was self-inflicted, had not happened. Before launching into this review, I would like to take a few paragraphs to attempt clarification of the City’s role concerning service delivery to the community.

Traditionally, a municipality’s role was to use your tax dollars to deliver basic services such as sidewalk, street, water and sewer maintenance and replacement, snow removal, winter sanding, fire and police protection, street lighting, landfill waste management and sewage treatment.

The Government of Ontario and Government of Canada also taxed citizens to pay for education programs, housing developments, health care, new social delivery and large-scale economic development projects.

These invaluable programs and developments have traditionally been the responsibility of senior levels of government (not municipalities) and have come to positively define our Canadian identity and culture. However, government initiatives to expand services have taken a heavy financial toll in our country, eventually causing political leaders to run out of other people’s money, as the saying goes.

As a result, around the turn of this last century, they came up with a way to lower their costs for delivery of programs by giving partial responsibility for running and funding them to the municipalities. Dryden, for example, eventually became involved in social and seniors housing, child care, job creation (Ontario Works), and health care delivery programs (NWHU). All were previously the sole responsibility of the Province.

What are the results after a few decades of such a funding policy shift in Ontario? The City of Dryden now pays $2.4 million per year extra for partial running of these social services out of property tax revenue. In addition to this downloading of costs that has occurred, the Province has also consistently and increasingly cut transfer payments to the City. These cuts have further shifted the financial burden from the Province to the Municipality.

What are the results after a few decades of such a funding policy shift in Ontario? The City of Dryden now pays $2.4 million per year extra for partial running of these social services out of property tax revenue. In addition to this downloading of costs that has occurred, the Province has also consistently and increasingly cut transfer payments to the City. These cuts have further shifted the financial burden from the Province to the Municipality.

The Provincial government announced in December 2018 that they were considering a further reduction in government support to municipalities as a result of decades of overspending, meaning Dryden may have even greater shortfalls in funding our own services going forward.

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To put numbers in perspective, the Province of Ontario would have to find an additional $15 billion in savings this year just to make sure they don’t spend more than they make each year going forward. Then they must find a means of paying down the Province’s $360 billion debt over the next three or four decades. Municipalities will feel the brunt. All this to say offloading by the Province is one big reason why municipalities have been unable to commit proper resources to delivering the core services you depend on or to addressing our infrastructure replacement deficits.

It seems to me a window of opportunity for correcting this injustice has passed. The Province has been living beyond its means for so long it can no longer afford to take back (upload) their responsibilities until they get their own financial house in order, hopefully by the end of this century. Even with these significant senior government downloading issues, through prudent financial management at the local level, there is some light at the end of our own local financial tunnel in 2021.

I want to thank Drydenites for your support and willingness to ride out the storm together. Last year with limited resources City staff have worked hard to stretch our capital dollars as far as they can go.

2018 Successes:

• Limited $2.3 million capital investment program mostly completed:
• The $2.3 million total came from Reserves ($1 million), external sources such as Ontario Community Infrastructure Funds grant, Federal gas tax and Provincial Connecting Link grants ($1.3 million)
• Van Horne Dock Remediation
• New City Welcome/Entrance Signs
• Thunder Lake Road work (surface treatment to be completed in 2019)
• Colonization Road, Curb and Sidewalk work
• Duke Street/Hwy 594 Road work
• Conversion of the Pool Deck lighting to LEDs
• Palker Road Bridge Capital Repairs
• Acquisition of a new Mechanical Street Sweeper
•Arena Lobby/Office Roof Replacement
•Museum Gallery Retrofit

$3.7 million in City revenues went to debt repayment to banks and the Province last year compared to $3 million in 2017.

This left $16.4 million in debt principle at the end of 2018. These heavy debt repayments take money away from infrastructure repairs and projects. The visible effect on our roads and sidewalks, etc., are particular irritants for all of us.

The good news is that through all of these challenges, we started to see some major improvements in 2018 and once our debt payments drop significantly from over $3 million a year to $1 million a year in 2021, we expect to more aggressively reduce our infrastructure deficit.

Although the city will likely never be debt free due to needed capital replacement and refurbishment requirements over time, we should be able to control our debt to manageable levels.

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