By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says Hamilton is reaping the benefits of the Liberal’s strategy to shoulder more of the municipality’s costs such as for social services, and housing that the former Progressive Conservatives dumped onto the city’s shoulders during the Mike Harris regime.
“Our contention is Hamilton is better off,” said Wynne, during an interview with the premier Sept. 29.
Since the Liberals took office in 2003, the city has seen a 250 per cent increase in funding, that includes money for local infrastructure and program funding, she said.
“We continue to upload more costs,” said Wynne, which allows the city more room to invest in other items.
Wynne arguesHamilton’s uploading has benefited the city to about $78.9 million for 2013. She argued the $78.9 million is $7.2 million higher than the $71.7 million uploaded benefit the province has identified. The $7.2 million is based upon the province taking on about $4.6 million in Ontario Works costs and court security.
But city financial officials argue Hamilton has seen a financial boost of only $11.7 million. Hamilton officials say the province does not include the special funding clawback of about $52 million, and the Liberals include avoided costs in their calculations, which city officials don’t see as necessary.
Wynne understands the disagreement and encourages city officials to speak to provincial financial representatives and iron out any disagreements. But the premier points outHamiltoncontinues to see a financial windfall, including last week when Health Minister Deb Matthews provided St. Joseph’s Healthcare with $1.6 million for the facility’s Integrated Comprehensive Care Project.
“We continue to make investments in Hamilton,” she said.
Wynne said the Association of Municipalities of Ontario identified the burden of the former Mike Harris government’s downloading of services was its top priority for municipalities. The Liberals’ uploading policy will continue until 2018 when OW basic financial assistance will be totally funded by the province.
“That’s what we have been doing,” said Wynne. “It’s a balancing act. I understand that.”
Hamiltonpoliticians reject the province’s evidence, saying the city has to raise taxes to pay for about 20 per cent of this year’s budget just to pay for provincially mandated programs. This year, for instance, councillors had to pay about $3.7 million to provide discretionary funding benefits, along with $4.3 million in Community Start-Up funding which the province also slashed last year.
The city is also providing some financial support to the Children’s Aid Society after it saw a $4.7 million reduction to its budget over the last four years.
Wynne defended the social services cuts made in this year’s budget, saying the CASs were involved in changing how the government provides the funding.
“This is not equitable and it was very uneven,” she said. “We had to make sure the way we fund CAS is rational.”
Despite the disagreement between the city and province over funding, Wynne says Hamilton remains central to the Liberal plans. Even though there is only one MPP for the area – cabinet minister Ted McMeekin – the city is “on a roll” financially and economically due to the Liberal strategies.
“We are big Hamilton boosters,” she said.