By Chad Ingram
Published Aug. 24, 2017
During last week’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa, the provincial government was quick to dismiss the suggestion that harmonized sales tax in Ontario be increased by one per cent, that extra money earmarked for municipal infrastructure.
Municipalities are in trouble when it comes to building and maintaining infrastructure. Big trouble.
The majority of public infrastructure in the province is municipally owned, and much of it is nearing the end of its lifespan.
Roads, bridges and culverts are expensive to build and maintain and in most municipalities, particularly small ones with large roads networks, public works budgets are by far the largest single expense.
What is referred to as the infrastructure gap – the collective shortfall of cash required to maintain aging municipal infrastructure in the province – is an estimated $5 billion annually.
That additional one per cent in HST would have equated to approximately $2.5 billion a year and could have greatly helped to ease this burden.
Not only did the Premier quickly rebuke the concept, but the leaders of the other two main parties shot it down as well.
This, unfortunately, makes sense. What provincial party leader wants to head into an election year promising a one per cent increase in HST?
However, Ontarians will pay regardless. If not through increased taxation on certain goods and services, then it will be through continued increases in their property taxes.
Property taxes are municipalities’ only real way of generating revenue. Yes, there are lesser forms – fees, fines, etc. – but property taxes are the main vehicle. They generate the majority of municipal money.
Municipalities continue to try to find new ways of generating revenue, and continue to get denied by the province.
Along with the one per cent HST increase, an increased portion of provincial gas tax being assigned for municipal infrastructure was also suggested.
Also shot down.
Early this year, the City of Toronto tried to increase its revenues by instituting a $2 toll on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. That proposal was also nixed by the provincial government, for clearly political reasons, after the Premier had expressly said she wouldn’t block such a plan.
It’s no wonder that so many municipalities are eyeing casinos as a way to help offset their expenses.
So maybe that’s what Haliburton County should do. Just build a big casino along County Road 21. The province seems to smile upon indebted municipalities when it comes to grant money, and what better way to go into debt than a big, garish casino?
It can have trout-shaped slot machines and the staff will wear red and black flannel. It’ll be called the Cash-In-Win-a-Mog.
Who could shoot down an idea like that?