I have spent the last few days at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
It was quite a shock for the municipal gathering to learn about the passing of Jack Layton. Many were gathered at a keynote address as the news began to spread through the room. City flags are flying at half mast to recognize our country’s loss.
Also shocking was to see the destruction of Goderich by a tornado and learn that someone had died. Municipalities across Ontario were quick to offer assistance. As soon an the emergency was declared, Guelph’s Manager of Emergency Preparedness immediately contacted Emergency Management Ontario to offer assistance. We have received confirmation of a request for assistance and are mobilizing to send two trucks with tree chippers and six staff before the end of today. Once on site, our staff will get a first hand assessment whether additional assistance is required.
Conference goers even felt the earthquake, like many others, that rocked the eastern U.S.
I led a delegation to meet with Brad Duguid, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, to seek support for the implementation of the Community Energy Initiative. The Minister is well briefed on the jobs and investment we are realizing in Guelph in this sector. We also met with Christine Elliott, Deputy Leader for the Progressive Conservatives to raise awareness of this growing sector in Guelph as well as our substantial concern with public health legislation and the potential for $17 M of debt being placed on the City’s books without the approval of our Council.
Heads and Beds Tax
I was also part of a delegation led by the Mayor of Kingston, Mark Gerretson, meeting with Minister of Finance, Dwight Duncan, and PC Deputy Leader Christine Elliott to push for an increase in the Heads and Beds Tax. The Heads and Beds Tax was established in 1970. Provincial institutions like universities, hospitals, and provincial correctional institutions do not pay municipal property taxes yet they require municipal servicing. The Heads and Beds Tax is a payment in lieu of municipal property taxes established to pay for those municipal services. The last time it was increased was in 1987. Obviously, the cost of servicing these provincial institutions continues to increase. However, not all municipalities have these facilities within their communities. In those communities that do, it means the gap in funding to provide these municipal services is being shouldered by property tax payers in those municipalities alone and not by taxpayers across the province who benefit socially and economically from these institutions. Had the Heads and Beds Tax increased with inflation since 1987, it would have increased from $75 to $135. That would have meant for Guelph an additional $1.1 million to provide municipal services to provincial institutions (currently at $1.4 million annually). More than 60 municipalities from across Ontario have endorsed this campaign.