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Province misses ‘download’ deadline--again

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Frustration is mounting as the province once again has pushed back the deadline for the final costing of services being downloaded to municipalities Jan. 1.

Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, who sits on the Provincial-Municipal Transition Team appointed to find how best to implement the recommendations of the “Who Does What” panel, now said the province wouldn’t have the final figures ready for another two weeks.

Those numbers had been expected today after already being delayed once.

“It’s the province,” noted Dryden treasurer Paul Heayn, a northern rep who’s been hashing out the final figures with the Ministry of Finance.

“They don’t want to release them until they have them all.”

But Mayor Witherspoon admitted the delay means 1998 budgets are being held up even longer. And that is causing some anxiety among municipal politicians.

He added municipalities were being told to plan using 1997 figures, and then make adjustments after the numbers came down. But many were skeptical how effective that would be.

“There’s still too many variables,” noted Emo Reeve Brian Reid.

Alberton Coun. Judy Koski questioned how councils could be expected to budget when they had no idea what their final bills would be.

And she didn’t see how the downloading would come in cost-neutral.

“That’s a figment of their imaginations,” she charged.

Reeve Reid agreed, noting the only information municipalities have received indicated the move wouldn’t be cost-neutral. And while the province might be pledging a decrease in taxes, he noted downloading could well force municipalities to increase theirs.

“The sad part of it is there’s only one guy to pay the bill,” he reasoned.

Reeve Reid said the key to not having to hike local taxes would lie in accessing the province’s transitional fund, but added no one was told how to do that yet.

“It will be cost-neutral if we can get our share of the northern support grant in the form of the [Future Reinvestment] Economic Development Fund for Northern Ontario,” Mayor Witherspoon said, noting that was modelled after the Iron Range in Minnesota where a portion of the mining tax comes back for infrastructure projects.

If it is approved by the province, that fund would mean $250 million of the $800 million Northern Ontario sends to Queen’s Park from its natural resources would be pumped back.

Mayor Witherspoon said that was being worked out by Northern Development and Mines minister Chris Hodgson and Joe Spina, his parliamentary assistant.

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