City councillors are gambling by setting their budget based on provincial money that has yet to be approved by Queen’s Park, the minister responsible for cities warned yesterday.

 




Jim Watson, a city MPP and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said Ottawa should not assume Ontario will upload the full cost of public health, as council has anticipated in setting its budget.

 




“There is no commitment at this stage to upload public health costs,” said Watson. “They shouldn’t count on it for this.”

 




The 2008 draft budget — which was approved Wednesday with a 4.9-per-cent property-tax hike — assumes that Ontario will increase public health funding from 75 per cent to 100 per cent, saving the city more than $10 million.

 




While public health funding is under review by a joint panel of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the province, Watson said the government still hasn’t made a decision.





“My advice to the city of Ottawa … was not to presume that a certain responsibility will be transferred back to the province before that report comes out,” said Watson.





An AMO spokesman said yesterday the panel would like to table a report in February, but the recent election and the arrival of new ministers, including Watson, delayed things. It will likely be out “in the spring.”





Coun. Alex Cullen acknowledged that Ottawa is taking a gamble, but said most on council feel strongly that public health is a provincially mandated program that’s “a prime candidate for uploading.





“We’re doing our budget and we’re cashing on the expectation that they will take back public health,” said Cullen. “This is done deliberately, and with eyes wide-open by council.”





The 4.9-per-cent property-tax increase budget by council will not be set in stone until sometime in April, after council committed to leaving itself time to find more savings and perhaps nudge the increase lower.





Should the province fail to upload public health, however, council would face adding $10 million to its budget.




tim.wieclawski@metronews.ca