Bigger bills and fewer services.
That’s the situation for Haliburton County and numerous other Ontario communities when it comes to their relationship with the provincial government.
It’s been an ongoing trend for several years, the province downloading responsibility for roads and other infrastructure it once controlled into the laps of Ontario municipalities, all the while rolling back funding for struggling communities like Haliburton County through streams such as the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.
A couple of years ago it announced health units would stop performing septic tank inspections, passing that task – and the associated resource costs – along to lower-tier municipalities.
Then there was the provincial government’s OPP billing formula, the one introduced last year and which will double the size of the county’s collective policing bill from $3 million to $6 million during a five-year period. The formula redistributes total OPP costs on a per-household basis throughout Ontario and because the government decided that cottages will be weighted the same as year-round residences, the townships of the county and other cottage communities are experiencing gargantuan increases in their bills, with no increase in service.
It’s common to hear people say the Liberal government doesn’t care about the small communities north of Highway 7 because it has little political support here and sometimes it certainly feels like it.
Take last month, when it was discovered (discovered, not announced), that the province would close Service Ontario offices in nine communities, one of them Minden. The government said that decision was based on cost effectiveness, operational logistics and other buzz phrases.
While it stressed all the services available at the office can be found online and the big ones – vehicle, licence and health card stuff – at the nearby Haliburton Village location, the reality is Minden has a high senior population, many of those seniors non-Internet savvy and with transportation and mobility issues.
After residents in Minden and other affected communities such as the metropolises of Kemptville (population 3,500), Blind River (population 3,500) and Embrun (population 8,600) voiced their anger at the decision through petitions, the province announced early this month it was reviewing the decision to close the offices.
Perhaps it’s serious, perhaps it’s just trying to keep thousands of angry people humoured. Time will tell.
It makes sense that a government with a $300 billion debt hanging over it like a gangster albatross is eager to tighten purse strings wherever it can.
However, it is unfair for so much of that brunt to be borne by small communities.