If one thing is for sure about the current provincial government led by Premier Doug Ford, it is that nothing is for sure.
After relenting on downloading costs for public health and childcare earlier this year, the province has beared down, and municipalities will now shoulder a greater load of those costs.
At this point, the argument of whether this is fair or not is moot.
The Ford government was brought to power on a mandate of finding efficiencies and chipping away at Ontario’s monumental debt forged through 15 years of Liberal rule.
The city and the region have no choice but to follow this mantra set by the PCs.
So with councils set to return to their respective chambers in the upcoming weeks, the 2020 budgets for Oshawa and Durham Region may be among the most important ever.
That’s why it is imperative for both levels of municipal government to start planning as soon as possible. As mentioned before, the oft unpredictable nature of provincial funding under Ford will no doubt play a pivotal role in these plans.
The city seems to be ahead of the game by scheduling ward-by-ward town halls to allow the public to give their opinion on what they want to see their tax dollars go towards.
Council cannot simply slash away at programs and services, but they also must refrain from providing a budget with significant tax hikes.
People are already paying through the nose, and municipalities must be diligent in recognizing what they can and cannot afford.
One important budgetary issue that comes to mind is the fallout from the city’s new fire master plan and community risk assessment, which is pegged to be complete by the time deliberations really start rolling later this year.
The regional budget dwarfs that of the city and understandably takes longer, but discussions for it should be starting earlier as well.
The financial state of Ontario, coupled with a government which is cautious when opening up its coffers, has created a landscape of uncertainty for municipalities, and our local leaders must be more assiduous than ever in planning for the future.