A source of significant handwringing and uncertainty for municipalities across the province has finally been put to rest, at least for the time being.
In a letter directed to municipal heads of council across Ontario this month, Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli committed to keeping the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) – typically considered the province’s largest contribution of unconditional funding to municipalities – “virtually unchanged” from the previous year.
The belated announcement plugs a sizable hole in municipalities’ budgets, which had been left in limbo after the province announced it was considering significant cuts to the annual government transfer.
For the Township of Wellesley, OMPF funding last year came in at just under $800,000 – essentially leaving approximately 10 per cent of the township’s $7.9 million operating budget for 2019 at stake.
“I think it’s good news for us. We’re getting our full complement of money, this year anyway,” said Mayor Joe Nowak a council meeting last week.
The announcement of this year’s OMPF funding came by mid-February this month, just over a week after the township voted to adopt its budget for 2019; by contrast, notice on last year’s OMPF funding was given in November 2017, a full three months earlier.
“Recognizing that we are already well into the municipal budget year, the government will be maintaining the current structure of the OMPF for 2019 as well as Transitional Assistance,” said the minister in a letter dated February 13.
“This means that the program and funding will remain virtually the same as in 2018, while allowing for annual data updates and related adjustments.”
Future “adjustments” or cuts to the OMPF are likely still in the offing in 2020, with the minister pointing to deficit inherited from previous governments at Queen’s Park.
“As we communicated previously, Ontario inherited a $15 billion deficit. The rising cost of servicing our massive debt, if left unchecked, will imperil our hospitals, schools and other public services,” warned Fedeli in the missive. “We cannot allow this to happen. We continue to review government transfer payments, including the OMPF, as we work to put our province back on a sustainable and responsible fiscal path.”
“I think we’re going to be given enough advance information prior to the next budget, so that shouldn’t probably pose a big problem,” said Nowak of the looming cuts to the fund.