Hamilton doesn't have 'magic tricks' to make up for $9M in Ford cuts, city says

Hamilton will lose about $9 million in funding this year from provincial budget cuts, particularly around child care and addictions, and property taxpayers will likely have to make up for some of it.

'I don't think anything we did isn't manageable,' says Donna Skelly, Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP

"Do I think I can fill that entire gap with some magic tricks? The answer is no," says Paul Johnson, the city's general manager of emergency and community services. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton will lose about $9 million in funding this year from provincial budget cuts, particularly around child care and addictions. That means Hamiltonians are looking at lost jobs, lost services or as much as a one per cent increase in property taxes.

The Ford government has announced changes to how it funds some health, child care and social services programs, and the new calculations put a heavier load on municipalities. The number is still tentative, but early indications are Hamilton will be short $8.9 million this year alone, said Paul Johnson, the city's general manager of healthy and safe communities.

"Do I think I can fill that entire gap with some magic tricks? The answer is no," Johnson told city council's emergency and community services committee Thursday.

"For us as a local municipality, this is a very big deal."

Right now, the province funds about $324 million of the healthy and safe communities budget, Johnson said. Pending new announcements, that will decrease by $8.9 million this year.

This chart shows the shortfall the city predicts it will face as it pertains to health, ambulance, addiction, social assistance and other community services. (City of Hamilton)

Here's a list of anticipated cutbacks:

Children's services and neighbourhood development — A $3.4 million deficit. Most of this is in the area of child care.

Ontario Works — $2 million. This includes cutting $1.1 million for the Addiction Services Initiative. Caseworkers connect people with addictions to treatment services and give them additional help on issues such as housing. Right now, 140 people are in the program.

Long-term care — $400,000. Long-term care funding typically increases by two per cent a year for inflation, Johnson says. This year, the city anticipates a one per cent increase for nursing and personal care, if not zero. 

Paramedic service — $700,000. The city thought the province would share the cost of another ambulance and 10 new paramedics. Now Johnson says Hamilton will likely have to pay all $1.6 million itself.

Public health — $2.4 million. Typically, the province funds 75 per cent of public health, the city 25. Now the spilt is 70/30. The city is also waiting on the fate of Hamilton's public health, since the province plans to merge 35 units into 10.

Recreation and housing services aren't affected. In fact, the province is funding two programs — the Canada Ontario Community Housing Initiative ($1.2 million) and the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative ($4.6 million) — that weren't in the budget.

Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly says her government was handed "a heck of a deficit." (Legislative Assembly of Ontario/Screenshot)

Donna Skelly, PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, says this total is looking at the budget in a silo. The province has made changes that will save the city money too.

The city can use contractors that aren't signatories to the carpenters' union now, which will save millions, she said. "They're looking at it in isolation and we're looking at the big picture."

Having said that, the province was handed "a heck of a deficit" from the Kathleen Wynne Liberals, she said. The city will have to find savings.

"Yes, some of us will have to find savings and efficiencies, but I don't think anything we did isn't manageable."

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 (east end) councillor, said Hamilton has been wrestling with downloaded costs since the late 90s Mike Harris PC government. Since then, a large percentage of Hamilton property tax bills have been to cover services the city can't control.

Coun. Brad Clark says the province will listen if the city uses evidence and not emotion. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Wynne Liberals reserved some of the downloading, he said. "Now, to be taken many, many steps back, is draconian in nature. It's incredibly frustrating to the point where I'm somewhat numb from it."

The city has to document the human cost of these changes, said Brad Clark, Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek).

Clark was an MPP in the Harris government. Budget cuts are a different experience from this side, he said.

"We're dealing with decisions that are impacting lives directly," he said. "We see it more directly than you do at the federal or provincial level."

Clark also thinks the city can negotiate with the province if it uses facts and evidence "rather than just pushing back with emotion."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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