Local mayors reflect on provincial budget provisions

·3 min read

Two local mayors are happy that the province is investing in small businesses, broadband access, healthcare, and long-term care with its newly revealed budget.

"My understanding is that there are supports for tourism," said Mayor Stewart Strathearn, talking to MidlandToday. "There's significant healthcare support and long-term care homes (receive) continued compensation for personal support workers. A lot of continued support for businesses.

"That's encouraging," he added. "At least they're recognizing that there's continued need across the province for support."

Strathearn was also pleased to see broadband support in the amount of $2.8 billion.

"I know the five municipalities here did a gap analysis and there was a fairly significant gap in terms of broadband internet in North Simcoe," he noted.

However, Strathearn added, he wasn't sure if anybody at the provincial level had thought about funding the affordability aspect of internet.

"There are people in the community that can't afford to connect," he said. "I haven't seen anything that suggests the affordability component. This is more around the expansion on the hardware part of it.

"The devil's in the detail and we haven't seen the details yet."

The additional funding for broadband is very welcome news for Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Leroux.

"We have so many people out there that don't have access to high speed internet," he said.

"The other good news is around our long-term care homes and beds," added Leroux. "They're committing another $933 million for long-term care beds and another $46 million to improve facilities.

"Doubling up on small business grants is another good news," he continued. "And I would say, finally for me, the $500 million for municipal financial assistance for municipal operations."

The province also announced a billion dollars to support municipalities in their COVID-19 response.

"As far as I know, we've probably spent most of our COVID-related expenses funding received last year," said Strathearn. "My guess is this year it's going to be probably the transportation side, helping people get to their appointments and other places."

He said another avenue he would like to see some provincial support for is to recover the cost of the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre, which will be used as a vaccination centre, and will not be able to run programs to generate revenue.

Leroux said in his town, he'd like to see the province stepping up support for municipal infrastructure projects.

"We still have a lot of infrastructure we have to look after and maintain," he said. "At times, it becomes difficult to do that with local taxpayers. It would be a welcome thing from the province if they were to increase infrastructure spending, particularly at the public works level."

Strathearn said he was concerned about the long-term effects the budget and the province's ability to the balance the books by 2029.

Leroux said he couldn't pinpoint yet what is missing from the numbers.

"To be honest, it has been a trying time for both governments," he said. "And when you look at the deficits we're going to be in for the number of years, they did what they thought was right. I don't think the province and the municipalities would have survived without this assistance.

"All in all, the investment in local government is welcome, particularly through this period of time," said Leroux.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com