By Chet Greason
The Municipality of Perth South is gearing up for budget season again, and weighing heavily on everyone’s mind is a loss of $170,000 in grant funding from the provincial government.
After a redesign in its funding program, the province directed the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) to slash funding to certain municipal governments it deems to be more self-sufficient, and redirect the funds to other communities that are perceived as needing it through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF), many of them located up north.
The funding has been reduced annually by increments of 15-20 per cent.
Perth South is one of those communities seeing its grant funding cut. This year’s loss is expected to be $170,000.
The matter was brought up at Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19 after treasurer Rebecca Clothier submitted a report to Council about a possible new policy dictating what is to be done with surpluses and deficits. She offered that a clear policy directing excess funds, or the lack of needed funds, would help with the governing body’s transparency and clarity.
The new policy, she said, “would prioritize where surpluses are directed. For example, 25 per cent of a surplus might go towards the bridge fund reserve.”
However, deputy mayor Jim Aitcheson brought up the looming cut in grant funding to argue against such a policy.
“We know full well that we’ll be losing $170,000 in funding this year. That’s a six per cent increase to the tax levy even before we look at the budget.
“We’ve already trimmed all the fat,” he said of the efforts over past years to offset the annual loss in grant funding. “There’s not much left to cut.”
He added that he hopes the township would put any possible surpluses into levy stabilization programming to help bring increases to taxes down.
“Isn’t that how we usually use surpluses?” asked councillor Stuart Arkett.
“Yes, but it’s not policy,” answered Aitcheson.
Arkett offered that flexibility in deciding where surpluses go depending on the needs of a given year might be wise.
“Sometimes policy can make things a pain in the butt,” he said.
Aitcheson also mentioned that he hoped the municipality might be able to make some of that grant money back since it applied for additional funding through the OCIF. However, in an interview with Clothier following the meeting, she expressed her lack of expectation that that venture will bear fruit.
“It’s a competition between communities, and we usually don’t get it. We get told we’re too well off,” she said. “There’s nothing to indicate that will change this year.”
Change in police service delayed
Perth South’s transition between the OPP and the Stratford Police Service has been delayed by the departure of Stratford’s police chief Mike Bellai, who took a new job as chief of the Saugeen Shores Police Service beginning Dec. 1.
Stratford’s acting chief, Gerry Foster- according to Clothier- is reviewing the transition proposal to look for opportunities of cost-saving. She added that, though the transition is still moving forward, there are also insurance issues that are still outstanding.
Also holding things up is the large volume of files that must be exchanged between the OPP, Stratford Police, Perth South, as well as St. Marys- who also recently decided to hire the Stratford Police over the OPP.
Councillor Ken Bettles, who attended a transition meeting between the different municipalities and police forces, said the township can expect to wait at least six months from when the agreement is signed for the files to be fully transferred.
That agreement is currently being updated by Foster. Bettles added that lawyers, seeking clarification on matters, have also delayed the process.
“I’ve asked questions on costs that haven’t been answered yet,” he added.
Mayor Bob Wilhelm didn’t seem concerned by the delay, saying the goals set forth by Council’s initial resolution “can still be reached.”
“Costs may be higher than we anticipated, but we’ll still get remarkably more service,” he said. Under the current agreement with Stratford, Perth South will have one dedicated, full-time car on patrol, something the municipality doesn’t have under the OPP.
“And the OPP will still be servicing the highways,” he added. “The new chief does not want to be hung out to dry by a bad agreement that he’s inherited… He’s just dotting his I’s, and going over things with a fine-toothed comb.”
Councillor Cathy Barker asked whether the transition between police forces was achievable in 2018, to which Wilhelm enthusiastically replied “You bet!”