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City hires auditor to prove Ontario wrong

The city of Hamilton is so sure its taxpayers are getting ripped off when it comes to provincial funding that it’s hiring an outside auditor to prove it.

Hamilton taxpayers getting short shrift when it comes to social service funding, Clark says

The city of Hamilton is hiring an independent auditor to prove that the province's calculations are wrong. (Terry Asma/CBC)

The city of Hamilton is so sure its taxpayers are getting ripped off when it comes to provincial funding that it’s hiring an outside auditor to prove it.

Frustrated by the disparity between how much Ontario claims uploading saves Hamilton, and how much the city says it does, Coun. Brad Clark has moved hiring an auditor to prove it once and for all. As far as city council knows, it’s an unprecedented move.

The province says uploading has saved Hamilton about $78.9 million from 2008 to 2013. City finance staff insist it's more like $11.7 million.

This isn’t just about political rhetoric, Clark said last week. If the province’s books say Hamilton has saved $78.9 million, it could be giving the city less money to operate its social services.

“I’m quite concerned that the (province’s) calculations may be wrong,” he said. “We’ve gone over it for three years with our financial staff, and I cannot for the life of me find where we’re supposed to have $78 million.”

The issue dates back to the late 1990s, when the Mike Harris government downloaded services such as social assistance and social housing to municipalities. From 2008 to 2018, Ontario is uploading some of those services back to the provincial level.

So far, Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program and drug benefits for people on social assistance have been uploaded. The province claims this has saved Hamilton about $78 million from 2009 to 2013. But finance head Mike Zegarac says it’s saved only $11.8 million.

Coun. Sam Merulla brought the issue to a head earlier this year when he publicly called Premier Kathleen Wynne "a liar." Merulla said he’s pleased to be hiring an auditor.

“There’s such a discrepancy between what our staff are saying and what the province is saying."

And it extends to other areas of the budget too, he said. "This is just one envelope."

Now the province has discontinued a major transfer payment to the city. Hamilton needs to prove that it’s suffering, Clark said.

He wants the public to see the report when it’s ready. And he wants city staff, not politicians, to release it.

City staff would welcome an audit to clear up the issue, which has confused them too, Zegarac said.

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