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Midland looks to change provincial funding disparity after AMO meet

Lack of provincial funding is root cause of high residential tax rate, said CAO
Midland representatives Mayor Stewart Strathearn and CAO David Denault attended the annual AMO conference, where they brought up Midland's unique circumstances regarding OMPF funding. (Getty Images)

While Midland was very grateful for the way the pie tasted and appreciated getting their slice, they couldn’t help but ask if there was a reason why their slice was so small in comparison to others at the table.

Two delegation requests were granted for CAO David Denault and Mayor Stewart Strathearn at the recent virtual Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) conference, with the local representatives talking to the province about Midland’s financial requirements and the disparity of funding the town receives annually.

In a conversation with MidlandToday, CAO Denault related how speaking with Vincent Ke, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, and with Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma were quite similar in topic and scope.

“It went quite well,” said Denault. “We were trying to make sure people understand Midland and all the benefits and exciting things going on, but also understand our circumstances and how they can help us. That was the backdrop for both the ministries.”

The reason for the delegations was to secure funding from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) for Midland, which is the main general assistance grant of $500 million to 389 municipalities across the province.

“In Midland’s circumstances, we showed them statistics that said, ‘We don’t participate in that funding as much as we think we should,'” said Denault.

Denault provided statistics during the delegations which gave the ministers a look at Midland’s unique circumstances in regards to the three questioned components of calculating OMPF distribution: Is the municipality rural, is the municipality northern, and what’s the municipality’s average property assessment relative to the province. Midland doesn’t qualify for the first two, but does for the third.

“Ours is lower than the Ontario average,” said Denault, “and because our assessment value is so low, it means we get a bit of a top-up to the tune of ($581,100) this year.”

According to Denault, other municipalities in Simcoe on average received above $9 million over a ten-year period, while in comparison Midland received approximately $2.7 million in that same span.

In 2021, the town of Penetanguishene received $296,100 in OMPF funding solely through the assessment value component. The Township of Tay qualified for all three OMPF components to receive $1,104,500; and the Tiny Township only qualified for the rural and northern components but received $1,828,300 in funding.

“Those municipalities are the same ones we’re competing with to get that infrastructure money, or to get money to fund events,” Denault explained. “So if we’re not successful getting funding for specific infrastructure upgrades or specific events that we want to hold, we fall behind in being able to do those things or we have to go to our tax levy and impact our residents from a tax perspective.

“It’s well documented that Midland has a lower average income than many of the areas in Simcoe and our tax rate is higher than a lot of communities in Simcoe, and those are the reasons why we don’t get a tremendous amount of funding, and we’ve had to rely on our residential tax base.

“We need to try and change that situation, and one way is to ask. Can we re-examine how that OMPF funding is done?” asked Denault, adding Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy has committed to the reassessment, and asserted that Midland wants to be at the table when that happens.

Aiding Midland at both delegations was Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, whose presence Denault appreciated. 

As Midland heads into the 2022 budget process, Denault intends to keep residents and businesses informed of updates with the ongoing process as with last year, along with the politicians of the region. 

“We’ll make sure that with whatever’s coming out of the federal election, that we’ll update our MP of the circumstances,” said Denault, adding that a push to talk about correcting OMPF with the minister of finance and other federal staff is also a goal. “That is important to other municipalities, but it’s critically important to Midland.”

Neither the townships of Tay nor Tiny requested delegations for the 2021 AMO conference.

The town of Penetanguishene attended four delegations at the AMO conference, and is expected to address the conversations at its upcoming council meeting on September 8.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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