I have been talking about this for months now, and it seems crystal clear to me that we are destined to embrace non-resident fees for taxpayer-funded services and amenities that used to be partially subsidized through funding agreements with some (not all) of our neighbouring municipalities, or entirely subsidized by Midland taxpayers as we extended our services and allowed non-residents to pay the same rates as full-taxpaying residents.
If you follow the news, you will see Quebec just announced new tuition increases (big ones) for non-Quebec residents who wish to attend their universities. In communities all over Ontario, you will pay a non-resident fee when signing up for swimming lessons, yoga, hockey, art classes, day camp or simply using a Municipal service. This is not a new concept, except that we have never wanted to cross that bridge with our neighbours. It felt, well, unneighbourly. Well, time and the economy seems to have changed that position.
For context, please CLICK HERE TO READ THE BACKGROUND NEWS ARTICLE that inspired the post.
The library will need to increase their membership fees to address the new funding shortfall from the withdrawal of funding agreements, and consider surcharges for non-residents who, unlike local tax-paying residents, pay nothing towards the capital or operational costs of the library and its rich “library” of services. Maybe it is time for the Midland and Penetanguishene libraries to merge so we are stronger and more sustainable together? We may be asking the same question of our fire departments…
The same rings true for our sports and recreational center and the costs of operating that amazing facility that has been largely funded for the past two decades by Midland taxpayers.
The time has come for us to focus on our community and our finances. Do we have the ability or desire to keep subsidizing our neighbours and guests that use our services and facilities without recouping any of those costs from them? A non-resident fee must be carefully crafted so that it does not become a dis-incentive, but at the same time must help offset some of the costs of hosting the service or facility that the non-resident is choosing to use.
This can’t become a retaliatory exercise where we look to punish Tiny Twp for their stance on our historic beach access or parking. It can’t be used to weaponize the many services that we offer to their residents that up until now, have been less expensive for them to subsidize than to duplicate themselves. The same goes for our other close neighbours in Penetanguishene and Tay Townships. We can’t simply roll up the welcome mat, but we need to stop losing money.
I will remind you that Penetanguishene and Midland work very well together, and have forged shared services agreements that exist harmoniously and to each other’s benefits. We share a fire chief, a transit system (unheard of in most small urban communities) and building officials, and benefit from the synergies that come with shared services. In fact, Mayor Rawson and I have been working on enhancing our shared services since just days after last October’s election. Perhaps the fire department, library and sports/recreation could be next? Procurement and other departments could work even more closely in the coming years.
Non-resident fees, much like the Municipal Accommodation Tax being discussed this Wednesday are almost a foregone conclusion now. Extending those non-resident fees to all our services and facilities that are tax-payer funded, is the next logical step to reduce the burden on our local ratepayers. We cannot afford to keep subsidizing others who expect to use our facilities and services at the same rate as those who paid to build, maintain and operate them. We pay more when we go elsewhere, so it seems that this reality has now come back home to Midland.
I’ll always argue that it is far cheaper to negotiate a cost sharing agreement instead of paying per use with adhoc market rates, and it helps with our budget certainty when the rates are backed by evidence of where our users live or come from (we have that evidence). However, when no cost sharing agreement exists, we can choose to soak up the costs and subsidize the users, or we can invoke a non-resident surcharge (or raise rates and invoke a local discount) to help offset the costs of extending our services to people who have paid nothing into the system that they are asking to use. Nothing is free. A bus pass will always be cheaper than single tickets for anyone other than the most infrequent user.
Please start to think about this as we head into Budget 2024 discussions this December and speak to your councillors.