Sustainable funding the real key

As this week’s edition notes, Woolwich was the recipient of almost $6 million in handouts from the federal and provincial governments. The money was largely earmarked to repair crumbling infrastructure, though a good chunk will go toward construction of the Breslau Community Centre.

It’s a difficult time to argue in favour of spending on, say, a new community centre when there are concerns about water quality and the safety of overpasses. Still, such facilities are an integral part of our communities, and the front line in what we’re told is a major push to overcome obesity and failing health by getting us to be more active.

As with other infrastructure projects, recreation supporters are calling on the provincial and federal governments to provide increased and ongoing funding to cash-strapped municipalities. Calling one-off grants and programs inadequate, they want a guaranteed slice of taxes such as the GST.

Under no circumstances should we head down the path outlined by the province when it gave special taxation powers to the City of Toronto. Many municipalities have proven unwise in their spending and mismanage the taxes they already collect; it would be folly to let them reach even deeper into our pockets.

In Toronto, councillors immediately turned to a slate of fee hikes, new taxes on license renewals and land transfer taxes. Also under consideration are road tolls and more taxes on beer and liquor, among a long list of other harmful proposals.

Municipalities should indeed expect a bigger share of the revenues collected by senior governments. Looking to fix its fiscal situation, Ottawa downloaded costs to the provinces. In Ontario, particularly during the Harris years, the province in turn passed down the expense of many programs to the municipalities, with an inadequate share of the money to fund them. Over time, that decision put an increasing amount of strain on municipal budgets, and communities were hard-pressed to deal with immediate costs, let alone stockpile reserves for the replacement of aging infrastructure.

Big-city mayors are leading the charge for more money. Smaller municipalities, such as Waterloo Region’s townships, feel left out of the debate, and may end up with the crumbs if the pie is divvied up for the cities.

Small communities such as Woolwich and Wellesley have very little power – a small population means fewer voters, perhaps too few to warrant throwing cash our way. The small population base, however, is spread out over a comparatively large geographical area, making large demands on municipal infrastructure budgets for such things as roads and bridges.

Ironically, while Woolwich and Wellesley will receive much less funding, the cost per metre of road maintenance is no less in the townships than it is in neighbouring Kitchener or Waterloo. It costs as much to span the Grand River here as it does in the cities, yet $1 million, for instance, means much more to a township budget than it does in the cities.

Certainly larger cities have larger problems: a bigger population demands all kinds of services, and puts increasingly larger strains on municipal infrastructure … and on city coffers. But real needs exist in rural townships, as Wellesley Mayor Ross Kelterborn noted at last week’s Building Canada announcement, where his township received $1.3 million.

If the goal is to secure more money for municipal infrastructure, then the little guys deserve a break, too.

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