“ BMRA serves in an advocacy role with Town Council and staff on behalf of ratepayers to ensure and enhance our community’s quality of life.”
“Keeping the BMRA membership informed”
It Can’t Be Business as Usual
The Post Pandemic Challenges Our Municipal and County Governments Must Face
By Jim Torrance
President – Blue Mountain Ratepayers Association
It may seem premature to be talking about what will be needed post the Covid-19 lockdown while we are just approaching that period, but the reality is that it can’t be too early to begin contemplating how best to navigate the looming challenges, financial and otherwise, we will be facing.
How do we ensure that the economy and individuals receive the assistance they will need to stay afloat as things slowly return to some version of normal, while also recognizing that the massive debt being incurred to fight the pandemic must ultimately be addressed?
What is urgently required is for all levels of government to develop strategies to balance the competing needs of generating growth while reducing debt.
As Marcus Gee wrote in the Globe and Mail on May 16;
“Someone will have to pick up the tab. Cities won’t be exempt either. Even if they get their emergency funds, the transfers they get from above are bound to shrink as higher governments wrestle with their debts. There is only one taxpayer. Like it or not, we are all going to have to pay.”
For us to succeed, governments must realize that it cannot be business as usual going forward!
We can no longer accept inefficiencies and redundancies. We clearly can’t afford to see our tax dollars (and as stated there will be many demands on our tax dollars) spent ineffectively.
It is a positive sign that the Town of Blue Mountains has formed a Community Recovery Task Force with private and public sector representatives. This suggests that our Council understands the need for collaborative approaches to finding new and better ways to function.
However, the Community Recovery Task Force will need to focus on more than just getting local businesses prospering again. TBM Council and Staff must take a hard look at the services they offer, how they are delivered and whether they should be maintained.
We know they are revisiting the 2020 budget to get a handle on how to adjust to the seismic changes that have occurred, and ensure our finances stay in line.
A critical question is whether Grey County has the same mindset.
As we’ve indicated before, fully 40% of our tax dollars go to the County, and that number has been increasing. There are also significant Development Charges (DCs) for TBM projects that the County collects.
In neither case, for tax levies and DCs, do we feel that the County provides the kind of transparency, accountability and support that has always been demanded of our elected officials.
This will be even more important in the future, as the County must evaluate how it operates, to identify, capture and transfer financial efficiencies – simply stated, to work cooperatively in the interests of all municipalities.
This urgency was reflected in a statement from Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, related to funding being provided to County and Municipal governments to find better service delivery models:
“Taxpayers need their local government to deliver modern, efficient services that show respect for their hard-earned dollars,” Clark said in a news release. “This funding will help small and rural municipalities improve how they deliver services and reduce the ongoing costs of providing those services.”
Currently, we are unaware of any substantial efforts having been undertaken by Grey County to find efficiencies, and to our knowledge they have not created a recovery task force as we are seeing at TBM and other municipal / regional governments.
The County CAO and Staff have just recently been able to provide an initial response to our late February request for more visibility into their operations and budget management. This must only be the start of the BMRA’s efforts to push for the data that can shed a light on how they are sourcing and spending their revenues, including our contributions.
If this cannot be achieved, or the numbers tell us that our ability to effectively deliver the investment required to fund TBM’s growth is being compromised by our financial obligations to the County, we must then seriously question whether the current County structure works for TBM.
At that point, we would begin to evaluate alternative governing structures with the Province and other potential regional partners, to ensure a positive future for TBM. Such an approach was in fact contemplated within the TBM Sustainable Path document, which established the goal of exploring the option of a future amalgamated single tier community. That may yet prove to be a viable consideration for us.