Mayor for the City of Dryden, Greg Wilson, has delivered a state of the union address to citizens in the Dryden area.

Wilson says that in the previous term, council focused on paying down the city’s debt, and to maintain financial stability to get us through to 2021.

As of December 31, 2017, the city had listed their long-term debt at $17 million, but debt servicing charges have brought that to $20.1 million. The city paid off 3.7 million, or just over 13 per cent, of their debt in 2018. By 2020, the city expects that two-thirds of their debt will be paid off. 

Wilson adds that the expansion of city services through government initiatives to expand those services have taken a heavy financial toll on the city and its tax-base. Wilson estimates that the City of Dryden now pays $2.4 million per year extra for partial running of these social services out of property tax revenue.

“The Province has been living beyond its means for so long it can no longer afford to take back (upload) their responsibilities until they get their own financial house in order, hopefully by the end of this century,” said Wilson, in his prepared address.

Looking ahead, Wilson cited the OPP Costing proposal, work on Community Improvement, Strategy and re-branding efforts, and Union gas expansion projects as just a few initiatives to work towards in 2019.

Wilson’s address can be found below:

With 2018 in the rear view mirror and 2019 planned initiatives on the horizon I trust the following is a timely and helpful direct report to our citizens.  While the list of 2019 projects is not yet complete (further explanation below) both Council and Administration are pressing on together with considerable enthusiasm.

As with last term, we are focused on paying down our debt and maintaining financial stability to get us safely through to 2021.  We owe it to you, the tax payer, to do this as smoothly and efficiently as possible so we can get back to investing in Dryden the way we should have been if our  financial crisis, some of which was self-inflicted, had not happened.

Before launching into this review I would like to take a few paragraphs to attempt clarification of the City's role concerning service delivery to the community.  

Traditionally, a municipalities role was to use your tax dollars to deliver basic services such as sidewalk, street, water and sewer maintenance and replacement, snow removal, winter sanding, fire and police protection, street lighting, landfill waste management and sewage treatment.  The Government of Ontario and Government of Canada also taxed citizens to pay for education programs, housing developments, health care, new social delivery and large scale economic development projects.  These invaluable programs and developments have traditionally been the responsibility of senior levels of government (not municipalities) and have come to positively define our Canadian identity and culture.    

However, government initiatives to expand services have taken a heavy financial toll in our country, eventually causing political leaders to run out of other people's money, as the saying goes.  As a result, around the turn of this last century they came up with a way to lower their costs for delivery of programs by giving partial responsibility for running, and funding them, to the municipalities.    

Dryden, for example, eventually became involved in social and seniors housing, child care, job creation (Ontario Works), health care delivery programs (NWHU).  All previously the sole responsibility of the Province.    What are the results after a few decades of such a funding policy shift in Ontario?  The City of Dryden now pays $2.4 million per year  extra for partial running of these social services out of property tax revenue.  In addition to this downloading of costs that has occurred, the Province has also consistently and increasingly cut transfer payments to the City.  These cuts have further shifted the financial burden from the Province to the Municipality.  

The Provincial government announced in December of 2018 that they were considering a further reduction in government support to municipalities as a result of decades of overspending, meaning Dryden may have even greater shortfalls in funding our own services going forward.  To put numbers in perspective, the Province of Ontario would have to find an additional $15 billion in savings this year just to make sure they don't spend more than they make each year going forward.  Then they must find a means of paying down the Provinces $360 billion debt over the next three or four decades.  Municipalities will feel the brunt.

 All this to say off-loading by the Province is one big reason why municipalities have been unable to commit proper resources to delivery of the core services you depend on, or to addressing our infrastructure replacement deficits.  It seems to me a window of opportunity for correcting this injustice has passed.  The Province has been living beyond its means for so long it can no longer afford to take back (upload) their responsibilities until they get their own financial house in order, hopefully by the end of this century.  

Even with these significant senior government downloading issues, through prudent financial management at the local level, there is some light at the end of our own local financial tunnel in 2021. I want to thank Drydenites for your support and willingness to ride out the storm together.  Last year with limited resources City staff have worked hard to stretch our capital dollars as far as they can go.

2018 Successes:

Limited $2.3 million capital investment program mostly completed:

  • The $2.3 million total came from Reserves ($1 million), External sources such as Ontario Community Infrastructure Funds grant, Federal gas tax and Provincial Connecting Link grants ($1.3 million)

  • Van Horne Dock Remediation

  • New City Welcome/Entrance Signs

  • Thunder Lake Road work (surface treatment to be completed in 2019)

  • Colonization Road, Curb and Sidewalk work

  • Duke Street/Hwy 594 Road work

  • Conversion of the Pool Deck lighting to LEDs

  • Palker Road Bridge Capital Repairs

  • Acquisition of a new Mechanical Street Sweeper

  • Arena Lobby/Office Roof Replacement

  • Museum Gallery Retrofit

$3.7 million in City revenues also went to debt repayment to banks and the Province last year compared to $3 million in 2017.This left $16.4M in debt principle at the end of 2018. 

These heavy debt repayments take money away from infrastructure repairs and projects. The visible effect on our roads and sidewalks etc. are particular irritants for all of us. The good news is that through all of these challenges,  we started to see some major improvements in 2018 and once our debt payments drop significantly from over $3 million a year to $1 million a year in 2021 we expect to more aggressively reduce our infrastructure deficit.  Although the city will likely never  be debt free due to needed capital replacement and refurbishment requirements over time, we should be able to control our debt to manageable levels. 

Other Accomplishments in 2018:

  • Successful introduction of electronic and telephone voting for municipal election

  • Child Care Service enhancements resulted in increased childcare capacity in the community and lower costs to the City.

  • $525K in City Land/Property Sales, allocated to the Land Sale Reserve Fund

  • The completion of the new Soccer Facility

  • The successful hosting of the Dudley-Hewitt Cup (Central Canadian Junior “A” Championship)

  • TBaytel fibre-optic cable project initiated.

  • DREAM team fundraising and ongoing Arena building improvements

  • Dryden saw a combination of four new housing projects start up, a mix of both public and private developments.

  • Introduction of new managers enabling us to strengthen our "players bench".  (CBO, Manager of Community Services, Manager of Child Care, Manager of Information Technology)

Key 2019 Initiatives:

  • OPP Costing Study.  Public Consultations and key community stakeholders meeting slated for March at The Centre.  Project completion date is end of June at the latest.

  • Initiation of a "City Master Plan" project to align Community Improvement, Strategy and Rebranding efforts.  If done effectively it will serve the community well, being frequently referenced by citizens, businesses, City staff and Council and various levels of government well into the future.  Our target completion date is mid-2019.

  • ​Ongoing informal discussions between Union Gas and rural resident representatives for Dryden east/west, facilitated by the City to encourage natural gas expansion to homes and businesses currently not serviced.  Mid-winter meetings are scheduled.

  • ​Completion of a balanced 2019 budget.

  • ​Continue collaboration with TBaytel as they complete fiber-optic installations throughout parts of town by year end.

  • Purchase new Dryden Airport grader, sweeper and de-icing chemical spray trailer as per Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP) funding arrangement

So even with the challenges noted above, City Council and staff are excited about Dryden’s prospects for 2019. We expect to pass our 2019 operating and capital budgets this January, and will make any necessary adjustments to it depending on the level of funding the provincial government commits to after their review of their annual municipal grants program. If any City initiatives need to be adjusted as a result of the provincial review, we will keep you informed.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] 

Respectfully,

Greg Wilson

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