9. The fiscal context
Municipal governments face a balancing act in maintaining and potentially expanding services and facilities in a way that is fiscally sustainable. Pressures may come from maintaining and replacing aging infrastructure as well as from the need to service growth areas. To meet or balance these demands, your municipality must manage its finances effectively.
The fundamentals of effective financial management include:
- careful long-term planning and budgeting
- financing policies that meet the needs of today and tomorrow
- program and service delivery reviews
- regular financial reporting to council
Budgets are powerful management tools. They help your municipality define levels of municipal services and identify how revenues will fund expenses. Budgeting involves prioritizing projects, programs and service levels in light of the available and potential financial resources.
Your council must prepare and adopt an annual budget that includes estimates of all of your municipality’s financial needs during the year (see sections 289 and 290 of the Municipal Act, 2001).
Your municipality has flexibility regarding the format and level of detail of its budgets. While the operating and capital components of budgets are inter-related, some municipalities prepare them separately.
In strong mayor municipalities, the head of council must prepare and propose the budget each year by February 1, by sharing the proposed budget with each member of council and the municipal clerk and making it available to the public. Read the strong mayor powers and duties section of the guide for more information.
Essential elements of budgeting
Budgeting involves at least three key elements: planning, coordination and control.
This may begin with the development of broad statements of your municipality’s needs and what it hopes to accomplish for several years ahead. This means thinking strategically, clarifying the challenges facing your municipality and setting priorities. Long-term financial planning can help a community clarify its goals for the future and can help articulate a pathway to get there. It can also help navigate barriers to those goals. Key aspects of a long-term financial plan include:
- revenue and expenditure forecasts
- strategies for building and maintaining sustainability
- monitoring through mechanisms such as performance indicators and report cards
Most municipalities have a budget committee to co-ordinate the budgeting process. The budget committee includes part or all of council and senior staff and usually has the mandate to:
- produce and circulate an approved statement of municipal priorities and goals to department heads
- provide technical budgeting assistance through finance staff to departments
- evaluate individual department budgets submitted to the committee
- consolidate departmental and local board budgets into an overall budget document for council’s review and consideration
Once a budget is approved, quarterly or monthly reporting to management and council may help show whether actual expenditures and revenues conform to the budget. Significant differences may be addressed and a course of action prepared and approved to get back on track by alleviating or at least minimizing the variances. Once council adopts the budget, it may serve multiple purposes as a municipal policy document, an operations guide, a financial plan and a communications tool.
Preparation of the budget
A best practice in financial management is to establish a budget before the start of the fiscal year. However, the time of year when budgets are started and finalized varies among municipalities. The steps usually include:
- establishing a budget timetable
- initiating a budget plan, supporting data and guidelines
- evaluating/reviewing draft estimates
- compiling an overall budget document
- approval of the budget and levying by-law(s)
- budget implementation and budgetary control
Engaging the public in the development of the budget is important to build community ownership over the process and outcomes. Some municipalities have adopted innovative practices to engage the public in the budget process. Check with your municipal finance staff to see how your municipal budgeting process is completed.
Operating budgets are normally used to plan for your municipality’s day-to-day spending, such as salaries, wages, benefits, heat, hydro, maintenance of buildings and infrastructure. As a policy document, your operating budget may include a statement of budgetary policy in the form of goals, objectives and strategies. As a communications tool, the budget may help provide summary information that can be used by the media and the public.
As an operations guide, operating budgets often attach or include a chart of the municipal organization, a description of workforce organization (what each municipal department, board and commission does) and enough data to provide a basis for comparison (for example, the previous year’s budget, spending in the previous year, and current year-to-date spending on operations).
As a financial plan, a budget usually includes projected operating expenses and revenue sources for a specific time period, and it is formatted in such a way that it parallels a municipality’s accounting and financial reporting system. This may help with the monitoring and evaluation of the budget performance.
A capital budget typically covers existing infrastructure, such as core assets like roads, bridges, water and wastewater, as well as other types of assets to be maintained, or new infrastructure needs to be met in the future. It may set out the specific capital projects to be approved for the budgetary period, such as capital improvements, land acquisitions, new facilities and equipment, and identifies a source of financing for each.
Through capital budgets, your municipality can plan future expenditures, debt repayment and potential reserve fund needs to manage the financial position of your municipality over a specific period of time.
The capital budget process typically calls for a co-ordinated effort between municipal departments and results in a financing plan for the new construction, acquisition or replacement of municipal assets. An asset management plan will help your municipality prepare for meeting upcoming needs (see Ontario Regulation 588/17 for more on the contents of a municipal asset management plan).
Public sector accounting standards
Municipalities are required by legislation to prepare annual financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles for local governments as recommended by the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (see section 294.1 of the Act).
The PSAB acts as a national standard-setting authority that is committed to addressing accounting and financial issues of local governments. As a national organization, the PSAB helps to ensure completeness and consistency in financial reporting across Canada. Although the PSAB does not prescribe the way municipalities budget, it is prudent to keep these principles of financial reporting in mind when preparing the budget.
Since 2009, municipalities have used the Public Sector Accounting Handbook’s section 3150 on Tangible Capital Assets (TCAs) for accounting and reporting. The PSAB requires municipalities to report on Tangible Capital Assets, and record them in the statement of financial position and to amortize (expense) the asset over its useful life on the statement of operations. This has implications for municipal budgeting as amortization expense is expected to be considered when preparing a budget. According to the PSAB standard, municipalities are also expected to consider post-employment benefits and solid waste landfill closure expenses when preparing a budget (see the Public Sector Accounting Handbook’s sections PS 3255 and PS 3270, respectively).
The Act was amended and Ontario Regulation 284/09 (Budget Matters – Expenses) was put in place to consider the new PSAB standards. This regulation explains that specific expenses may be excluded from the budget if a report is produced annually that describes the future impact on the municipality (see Ontario Regulation 284/09 for more on excluding budget expenses).
Section 291 of the Act provides that municipalities may prepare and adopt a multi-year budget covering a period of up to five years. Generally, multi-year budgets must comply with the provisions of sections 289 or 290. Municipalities must review and re-adopt multi-year budgets each year. The use of multi-year budgeting may aid with long-term financial planning.
Financial reporting to the public
Municipalities are required to publish a copy of the audited financial statements or a notice that the information is available for the previous year, within 60 days of receiving them (see section 295(1) of the Act).
Annual financial statements
Financial statements must include a statement of financial position, a statement of operations, a statement of change in net financial assets (net debt) and a statement of cash flow. Additional supplementary information is provided in schedules and notes to the financial statements.
Financial Information Return (FIR)
The Financial Information Return (FIR) is the main document used by the Province to collect financial information from municipalities on an annual basis.
All municipalities are required to submit FIR data to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing by May 31 of each year. If your municipality does not meet the reporting deadlines, it may not be able to access provincial funding programs. The FIR captures detailed standardized financial and statistical information that allows comparisons with other municipalities over time.
The FIR data is used by the Province for a number of purposes, such as:
- calculating grants
- developing policies and programs
- for responding to requests for financial and statistical data
You can view the data by municipality, by schedule or in a multi-year format. A provincial summary showing all the municipal returns is available online.
The information is also used by municipalities, municipal associations, the financial and academic communities, credit rating agencies, and the public.
The data is also useful from a municipal perspective:
- for preparation of year over year comparisons, trend analysis, forecasting
- performance indicators and for comparative purposes with other like municipalities on key indicators (for example, debt and reserve levels)
The information contained in the FIR is invaluable as a decision making tool for council. For example, during budget deliberations, you may be concerned about the impact of certain decisions on individual ratepayers. Data about other, similar municipalities from the FIR can give you a sense of relative taxation level. This is one of many ways the data can be used. Council can also request a municipal staff to produce a variety of reports using data from the FIR.
Data points from the FIR may be used to develop and monitor performance indicators. The ministry does not set out a format for public reporting of performance measures beyond what is currently requested in the FIR. However, the ministry encourages municipalities to independently report performance indicators to the public.
The forms are created by the ministry, which also provides detailed instructions on how to complete them, as well as other advice and assistance that may be needed.
Reporting Requirements for Service Managers – Housing
The Service Manager Annual Information Return (SMAIR) is a summary of certain financial, operating and statistical information for the period from January 1 to December 31. The SMAIR is submitted by 47 service managers (SMs) and Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services annually in March.
The Province uses this to report to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The Province also uses the report to monitor service levels for social housing and attain statistical information on social housing. The Housing Services Act, 2011 (HSA) requires service managers to provide the annual report to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in the form and manner authorized by the Minister, including prescribed information and documents The SMAIR includes the following information:
- service manager identification
- service manager representation report (attests to compliance with the HSA)
- schedule of funding (federal funding and program expenditures)
- combined statistical information (e.g. number and types of households assisted)
- service level standards
- centralized wait list information
- strong communities rent supplement program
The municipal auditor and the audit function
Municipalities must appoint an auditor licensed under the Public Accounting Act, 2004. A municipal auditor shall not be appointed for a term exceeding five years. The auditor of a municipality must not be an employee of the municipality or local board of the municipality (see section 296 of the Act).
The municipal auditor’s responsibilities extend to the municipality’s local boards, and may extend to a local board of more than one municipality (sometimes called a joint board). The municipal auditor reports to council.
The auditor’s responsibilities
The auditor’s role in the financial management of your municipality is important. The auditor’s responsibilities include:
- annually auditing the accounts and transactions of the municipality and its local boards, and expressing an opinion on their financial statements based on the audit
- performing duties required by the municipality or local board
In connection with these responsibilities, the municipal auditor has special powers to access municipal and local board records, require information from council members or municipal officers and employees, require a person to give evidence under oath, and attend certain meetings (see section 297 of the Act).
The audit committee
Many municipalities form an audit committee to prepare for the auditing process and to help the auditor. Its members usually include one or more councillors, the treasurer and the chief administrative officer (if the municipality has one). The committee reviews financial statements, discusses any matters deserving attention, reviews findings of the audit and makes general inquiries of both staff and the auditor to get more information about financial issues.
There are four main components to the financial statements of a municipality: statement of financial position, statement of operations, statement of change in net financial assets (debt), and statement of cash flow. A Common Language Guide to Municipal Financial Statements is available on the ministry’s website to help you familiarise yourself with these important documents.
Statement of financial position
The statement of financial position provides information about the municipality’s financial position in terms of its assets (what the municipality owns or controls) and liabilities (what the municipality owes) at the end of the fiscal year or accounting period. It reports the municipality’s net debt, and its accumulated surplus or deficit, because these figures are indicators that can be used to assess a municipality’s financial position.
Net debt shows the amount of future revenues that will have to be raised to pay for past transactions and events. The accumulated surplus/deficit is the primary indicator of the resources (financial and physical) the municipality has available to provide future services.
Reserves and reserve funds
Reserves and reserve funds are included in the accumulated surplus of the municipality. They are both used, among other things, to account for transactions which, for legal or policy reasons, require that amounts specifically earmarked for a project or purpose be identified and spent on that project or activity.
Usually, the purpose is specified when the reserve or reserve fund is established. Reserve fund uses generally are not converted to other uses without council’s approval.
Statement of operations
The statement of operations reports the revenues, expenses, results, and surplus or deficit from operations in the fiscal year or accounting period. The statement shows the cost of municipal services provided in the period, the revenues recognized in the period and the difference between them. It summarizes cost-of-service information at a functional level – for example, social services, recreation, general government, transportation and protection, to name a few.
Statement of change in net financial assets (debt)
The statement of change in net financial assets (debt) explains the difference between the annual surplus or deficit and the change in net financial assets (debt). It tracks what the municipality has spent to acquire tangible capital assets and inventories of supplies. It reports on the disposal of tangible capital assets and the use of inventory.
Statement of cash flow
The statement of cash flow identifies where cash came from, shows how cash was used and provides details on changes in cash and cash equivalents since the previous reporting period. Sources and uses of cash are reported by major activity: operations, capital transactions (acquisitions and disposals), investments (purchases and disposals), and financing (debt proceeds and payments).
Sources of municipal revenue
Revenues may be seen as income for your municipality. They are typically used to pay for the services that the residents of your municipality receive. Some examples of revenue that municipalities may receive include:
- property taxes
- special area rates
- payments in lieu of taxes
- conditional and unconditional grants
- user fees and charges for services, such as recreational and cultural facilities (libraries, pools, etc.) and local improvement charges (sidewalks, etc.)
- fees for licenses, permits and rents
- fines and penalties
- investment income
- development charges, which are subject to provincial legislation which regulates how the revenue from these charges can be used
Payments in lieu of taxes are payments made to municipalities for certain properties exempt from municipal taxation, such as certain property owned by the Province or the federal government.
The property tax is your municipality’s main source of revenue. It is calculated by your municipality based on two main components – a tax base, determined in accordance with the Assessment Act, and tax rates, determined by your municipality, but subject to provincial rules.
Assessment (tax base)
The base for property taxation is the assessed value of properties. The Assessment Act governs the assessment process in Ontario, including rules on how the assessed value of a property is derived.
Properties are assessed by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). Every municipality is a member of this corporation and pays MPAC for the services it receives.
The assessment of land is based on current value, generally as measured by the price that would be paid by a willing buyer to a willing seller at arm’s length.
Section 19.2 of the Assessment Act provides that the value of land is to be updated ̶every four years. Section 19.1 of the Assessment Act provides for the phasing in, over a four-year period, of an eligible increase in the current value of land that happens as a result of a general reassessment.
If a ratepayer in your municipality believes that the assessed value, as shown on their notice of assessment, is not appropriate, there are ways they can address it. A ratepayer should be encouraged to contact MPAC’s customer contact centre to discuss their concerns. If they still disagree with their assessed value, the ratepayer could then ask MPAC to review their assessment by filing a Request for Reconsideration. For more information on the reconsideration and appeal process and related deadlines, see MPAC’s website.
Section 7 of the Assessment Act and Ontario Regulation 282/98 set out the eight main categories of property classes on the assessment roll: residential, multi-residential, new multi-residential, farmland, managed forest, commercial, industrial, pipeline and landfill property classes. Your municipality can also adopt optional classes within the commercial and industrial classes.
A tax rate is the rate applied to each dollar of taxable assessment to determine the amount of taxes to be paid. In simple terms, a tax rate of 1.23% raises 0.0123 cents per dollar of assessment.
Property tax has two components: a municipal portion and an education portion.
With some limits, municipalities may set their own municipal tax rates and there are separate tax rates for each property class.
The rates for the education portion of the tax are established by the Minister of Finance and help to fund the elementary and secondary education system in Ontario. Education tax rates are set in Ontario Regulation 400/98 under the Education Act.
Special area rates
Municipalities may impose special area rates to raise certain costs of a special service in a designated area of the municipality. A special service is a service or activity that is not being generally provided throughout the municipality, or is provided in a different way or at a different level in different parts of the municipality. Certain health programs and services cannot be area-rated.
For more information see section 326 of the Municipal Act, 2001 and Ontario Regulation 585/06.
Setting tax rates
To minimize the possibility that taxes are shifted from one property class to another, the provincial government restricts the relative tax burden on the different property classes in a number of ways, such as tax ratios, transition ratios and ranges of fairness.
A tax ratio is the ratio that the tax rate for a property class must be in relation to the residential class tax rate (the tax ratio for the residential class is set at 1.00). They determine how much of a municipality’s tax burden is borne by each of the property classes. Municipalities with authority to set tax ratios are limited by transition ratios and tax ratio ranges of fairness in accordance with the Act.
The Minister of Finance prescribes a transition ratio for certain circumstances, such as when a new class is established in a municipality (for example large industrial). The transition ratio represents the maximum tax ratio value the municipality can adopt. Tax ratios can only be equal to or less than transition ratios, unless the transition ratio is below or within the range of fairness.
Ranges of fairness
The ranges of fairness are target levels of taxation prescribed by the Province for each property class to encourage the reduction of tax rate differences and tax shifting between classes. If the property class tax ratio is outside the range of fairness set for that class, the municipality must either maintain the existing tax ratio or adjust the ratio so that it moves closer to the range of fairness. Generally, a municipality cannot move its tax ratios away from the ranges of fairness. However, the Minister of Finance has prescribed exceptions.
Tax restrictions on multi-residential, commercial, industrial and landfill classes
Tax ratio limits (known as municipal levy restriction thresholds) also apply with respect to the commercial, industrial, multi-residential, and landfill property classes. Generally, municipalities with a property class tax ratio that is above the applicable limit cannot impose general levy increases on the property in the class until the ratio is brought to or below the limit. Ontario Regulation 73/03 sets out the tax ratio limits and provides partial relief from the levy restriction.
Tax ratio flexibility
Since 2004, municipalities have been provided with the flexibility to reset tax ratios, in order to avoid reassessment-related tax shifts onto residential properties. Municipalities are allowed to increase business tax ratios in order to prevent tax shifts from business taxpayers onto residential taxpayers as a result of reassessment. This measure allows municipalities to offset reassessment-related tax shifts – it does not permit them to further increase the burden on business owners. Municipalities can set tax ratios based on the prescribed formula set in Ontario Regulation 385/98 which is amended annually to update the applicable tax year.
For more information regarding tax ratios please refer to Part VIII of the Municipal Act, 2001.
Reduced rates for farm and managed forests classes
Properties in the Farm and Managed Forests property classes are taxed at 25% of the residential rate established in the municipality. Upper-tier and single-tier municipalities can further reduce the municipal tax rate on the farm property class to below 25% of the residential tax rate.
To help lessen tax shifts resulting from reassessments or provide relief to certain types of properties, your municipality has several tax tools under the Municipal Act, 2001. Some of these tools are summarized as follows:
As stated earlier, single-tier and upper-tier municipalities have the flexibility to adopt optional classes, in addition to the standard property classes, which give municipalities more flexibility in spreading the municipality’s property tax burden within the commercial and industrial property classes.
Graduated tax rates (banding)
Single-tier and upper-tier municipalities have the authority to create two or three bands of assessments for commercial, industrial and landfill properties for the purposes of applying graduated tax rates. Graduated tax rates allow a municipality to shift some of the tax burden from lower-valued properties to higher-valued properties while maintaining overall class revenues.
Lowering tax ratios
Single-tier and upper-tier municipalities can alter tax ratios toward or within the range of fairness established by the provincial government (as discussed above under Ranges of Fairness).
Tax relief for low-income seniors and low-income disabled homeowners
Under the Act, single-tier and upper-tier municipalities must pass a by-law to provide for deferrals or other relief from increases resulting from reassessment on residential properties owned by low-income seniors or low-income disabled persons. An upper-tier by-law providing for such relief also covers the tax increases for lower-tier purposes.
Rebates for charities and tax reduction for heritage properties
Under the Act, single-tier and upper-tier municipalities must establish a program to provide property tax rebates to registered charities located in commercial and industrial properties, and may provide rebates to similar organizations, located in any property type as determined by the municipality.
Local municipalities can also provide property tax reductions or refunds to owners of eligible buildings designated under the Ontario Heritage Act as being of architectural or historical value.
Tax rebates for vacant commercial and industrial buildings
Municipalities have broad flexibility to provide property tax rebates for vacant commercial, industrial and landfill buildings. The Act and Ontario Regulation 325/01 provide details regarding eligibility criteria, the application process, and how the rebate is to be calculated. Municipalities may tailor the vacant rebate program to meet local needs, while considering the impact of such changes on the business community. Upper- and single-tier municipalities that have decided to modify their vacancy rebate program are required to notify the Minister of Finance and provide details of the proposed changes, along with a council resolution. Any changes to the rebate program are implemented through regulation for each municipality.
Capping for multi-residential, commercial and industrial properties
Part IX of the Act sets out the rules around tax capping and clawbacks, which is a mechanism that allows municipalities to limit tax increases or decreases for certain properties within the commercial, industrial and multi-residential property classes.
If the property taxes on a given property increase beyond a certain threshold as a result of a change in assessment, a municipality is required to limit the increase in property taxes. Conversely, in order to recover revenues lost by the capping of tax increases, municipalities can also limit property tax decreases, through clawbacks. Increases in property taxes resulting from an increase in the municipal budget by council are not subject to capping.
Municipalities have a range of options to move capped properties closer to their current value assessment taxes, to limit capping protection only to reassessment-related changes in prior years as well as options to exit or phase-out from the program under certain conditions.
For additional information regarding tax capping, refer to Part IX of the Act and related regulations.
Tax for general municipal purposes
Simply put, tax rates are calculated as part of the budget process. In summary, estimated revenues from all sources other than property taxes are subtracted from the estimated total expenses to calculate the amount the municipality intends to raise through its property tax levies. Deficit and surplus must also be considered. Then the tax rates are calculated. Even in cases where the budget remains constant from one year to the next, taxes may change because of property reassessments.
Tax for region, county and school purposes
The tax rates for any upper-tier municipality (county or regional government) are calculated by the upper-tier in a similar fashion as the local levy for general municipal purposes by a lower-tier or single-tier municipality. In other words, municipalities determine their total expenditures, subtract their non-tax revenues, consider any surplus/deficit amounts and then calculate their tax rates. The upper-tier rate for each class of property must be the same for each lower-tier municipality. Upper-tier taxes are collected by the lower-tiers and are given in instalments to the upper-tier. The amounts raised by each lower tier depend on the amount of assessment and the types of properties located within its boundaries.
For school purposes, the Ministry of Finance establishes education property tax rates in Ontario Regulation 400/98 under the Education Act.
A single education tax rate is set each year for residential, multi-residential, and new multi-residential classes across the province (farm and managed forest classes are set at 25% of the residential rate).
Education tax rates for business property classes are set each year for each individual upper-tier and single-tier municipality. Education taxes are collected by the local municipality and submitted to the local school boards on a quarterly basis.
Each year, MPAC provides every municipality with a copy of the assessment roll to calculate taxes for the following year. The roll includes the following information about each assessed property:
- the roll number
- description/identification of the property
- the name of the property owner
- the property’s assessed value
- the type of assessment (for example, residential, commercial, industrial)
- the tax qualifier (for example, taxable, tax exempt, exempt but eligible for payment in lieu)
- the type of school board that the owner or tenant, as the case may be, supports under the Education Act
The treasurer of a single or lower-tier municipality must prepare a “tax roll” based on the last returned assessment roll for the year (see section 340 of the Act for more information). For the most part, the tax roll shows the contents described above. It also needs to show the total taxes payable and a breakdown of the general and special local municipal taxes payable, for general and special upper-tier taxes, for each school board, and for all other purposes.
The treasurer adjusts the tax roll for a year to reflect any changes to the assessment roll for that year under the Assessment Act (e.g. from assessment appeals). Taxes are collected in accordance with the adjusted tax roll, as if the adjustments had formed part of the original tax roll and the relevant local municipality refunds any overpayments or sends another tax bill to raise the amount of any underpayment, as the case may be.
Preparing tax bills is the responsibility of the treasurer. Only lower-tier and single-tier municipalities issue tax bills to property owners. The treasurer must send a tax bill to every property owner at least 21 days before any taxes shown on the tax bill are due. Tax bills may be sent electronically to a taxpayer, if the taxpayer has chosen to receive the tax bill in that manner. The tax bill separates the school levies and upper-tier levies from the general local levy and other special rates. The form and content of the tax bill are set out under Ontario Regulation 75/01.
To support municipalities in their property tax analysis, planning and billing, the Province provides the Online Property Tax Analysis (OPTA) system to municipalities free of charge. The OPTA system includes tools to help municipal staff with evaluating tax policy options, tax rate setting and tax capping adjustments. Training and operational support on the OPTA system is readily available and also provided free of charge to municipalities.
For tax billing purposes, your council should also consider matters such as:
- whether taxes will be paid in one lump sum or in instalments
- the dates on which payments will be due
- whether to impose penalties for late payments
- whether to give discounts for advance payments
Many municipalities have adopted an instalment payment system. Instalments are convenient for taxpayers and provide the municipality with a steady cash flow, reducing the need for temporary borrowing. A further reduction in borrowing is possible if your municipality introduces an interim tax before adopting its annual budget.
Your municipality must pass a by-law to levy interim taxes. The interim amount levied on a property shall not exceed 50% of the total taxes, both municipal and education, levied on the property for the previous year (or such other percentage as may be prescribed). See section 317 of the Act for more information on the interim tax.
Your municipality can pass by-laws to impose late-payment charges (penalties and interest) on unpaid taxes. Taxes that are not paid by the due date may be subject to a penalty up to a maximum of 1.25% of the amount owed on the first day of default (or such later date as the by-law specifies. Interest of up to a maximum of 1.25% per month may be imposed on taxes that are due and unpaid but may not start to accrue before the first day of default. Interest cannot be compounded. See section 345 of the Act for more information about late payment charges.
Your municipality can explore a number of ways to collect unpaid taxes, such as through a court, or other processes in accordance with applicable legislation. These might include, for example, a tax sale, requiring tenants to pay their rent to the municipality instead of their landlord, or seizure of personal property.
Part XI of the Act and other provisions including the tax sales regulations (Ontario Regulation 181/03) provide a process that municipalities can follow to collect outstanding property taxes – selling the property in question to recover the property taxes owed.
Generally, where a property tax on a property goes into arrears, the municipality can initiate a tax sale in the second year after the amount becomes owing.
Following a successful tax sale, the municipality recovers its cancellation price from the proceeds and then is required to pay any remaining proceeds from the sale into Court. The Act provides for a process for payment out of Court, of sale proceeds to persons who have an interest in the land.
Payments in lieu of taxes
Payments in lieu of taxes, generally, are payments made by provincial and federal governments on certain property that is exempt from property taxation because it is owned by those governments. As well, in certain circumstances, municipalities may be required to pay PILs.
Payments in lieu of taxes are generally calculated based on the assessment of land or based on a set amount. For example, the payments in lieu of taxes on institutions such as hospitals, universities and correctional institutions are calculated based on $75 per bed, student or inmate.
Grants and subsidies
Grants and subsidies may be contributions made by the provincial and federal governments to help a municipality, for example, meet the costs of delivering services to its residents. Provincial grants play an important role as a revenue source for municipalities, accounting for $8.2 billion in annual revenues reported by municipalities in 2016.
Conditional grants account for about 94.3% of total provincial grants used by municipalities and are subject to specific eligibility and spending criteria. The major conditional grants are for social and health services, transportation, social housing, and protection services.
The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) is an example of a conditional grant. OCIF provides formula-based funding to 424 small, rural and Northern communities so that they can build and repair roads, bridges, water and wastewater infrastructure.
OCIF grants are calculated according to each eligible municipality’s local needs and economic conditions relative to other municipalities, which change from year to year.
The Province announced in the 2021 Fall Economic Statement an increase to OCIF of $1 billion dollars over the next five years ($200 million dollars per year) beginning in 2022. The total funding available through 2022 OCIF is approximately $400 million.
The minimum annual grant amount has increased from $50,000 to $100,000. In addition, a funding cap was introduced that sets the funding maximum for any municipality to 2.5% of the total annual fund.
Starting with the 2023 allocations the OCIF formula will be calculated using forward-looking Current Replacement Values (CRVs) from asset management plans and CRV estimates.
Unconditional grants, which represent about 5.7% of total grants used by municipalities, consist mainly of funding provided through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), the Province’s main transfer payment to municipalities.
Through the OMPF, 389 municipalities are receiving $510 million in unconditional funding for 2018.
In 2018, the Province will have fully implemented its commitment to upload social assistance benefit costs as well as court security and prisoner transportation costs from the property tax base, as agreed with municipalities in 2008. Ontario municipalities are benefiting from over $2.1 billion in reduced costs in 2018 alone. The Province’s uploads have ensured that more property tax dollars are available for important municipal priorities, including investments in infrastructure and economic development.
The OMPF, combined with the municipal benefit resulting from the provincial uploads, will total over $2.6 billion in 2018 – the equivalent of over 14% of municipal property tax revenue in the province. It is important to note that overall support to municipalities will continue to increase.
Other revenue sources
Ontario municipalities, as a whole rely more heavily on municipal revenue sources than on federal and provincial government contributions, both in amount and in impact on the municipal budgeting and financing process. These municipal revenues are increasingly important for the operation of municipalities.
Many municipalities have diversified and expanded their revenue base in recent years to reduce their dependence on municipal taxation as the major revenue source. The use of appropriately set user fees can result in more sustainable funding for key infrastructure and may contribute towards positive environmental impacts.
Section 391 of the Act describes important aspects of the power of your municipality to impose fees and charges for services and for the use of municipal property. Your municipality may have a range of choices in deciding on the services for which it will charge a fee, the amount of the fee, the basis for calculating the fee, and who will pay the fee. Examples of fees charged by municipalities include fees for licenses, permits and services such as water, waste, sewage, transit and recreation.
Ontario Regulation 584/06 provides that a municipality or local board does not have the power to impose fees on a number of things, including, among others, fees for:
- capital costs captured by existing by-laws or agreements under the Development Charges Act, 1997
- processing of Planning Act planning applications
- collection of school and upper-tier taxes
- some services, activities or costs related to telecommunications, electricity or gas businesses located on municipal highways
See Part 12 of the Act and Ontario Regulation 584/06 for more information about user fees.
Transient accommodation tax
As of December 1, 2017, single- and lower-tier municipalities have the option of imposing a tax on the purchase of transient accommodation in the municipality (such as hotels and other types of short-term accommodation).
It is up to the local municipality to decide how to design the transient accommodation tax, including the tax rate and the types of short-term accommodations to which the tax would apply. A municipality that chooses to implement such a tax is required to share a portion of the revenue with eligible not-for-profit tourism organization(s).
Revenues from the transient accommodation tax that exceed the amount that municipalities are required to share with a not-for-profit tourism organization may be retained by municipalities for their own purposes.
See Part XII.1 of the Municipal Act, 2001 and Ontario Regulation 435/17 for more information about the transient accommodation tax and related sharing requirements.
Local improvement charges
A local improvement may be generally described as a municipal capital work (or project) that a municipality undertakes through the local improvements process. Municipalities may put in place local improvement charges to raise all or part of the costs of certain capital works (for example sidewalks or sewers). In particular, a municipality may impose costs of local improvement works through special charges on properties abutting (or bordering) the work, and on properties that do not abut the work but will immediately benefit from the project. Municipalities often spread the costs of local improvements over several years, to help reduce the annual amounts those paying the charges – which may include future owners along with original owners – must pay.
Many of the rules are found in the local improvement charges regulation (Ontario Regulation 586/06) which sets out details of the process, addressing matters such as a municipality’s and an owner’s share of the cost of a work, and the ways costs may be charged.
Licenses, permits and rents
Revenues under this category include those from issuing licenses, permits and fees related to businesses, vendors, trailers and animals. These revenues also include rents charged to use or occupy municipal properties, and concessions or franchises to use or operate municipal facilities.
The Building Code Act, 1992 includes fee transparency requirements. These include requirements for public meetings before permit fees are changed, and that there be an annual report, made available to the public, on the total fees collected, the direct and indirect costs of delivering services, and the amount of any reserve fund that has been set up by the municipality.
This source of revenue includes fines imposed for not complying with municipal by-laws, fines related to the Building Code Act, 1992, and various other acts. The most common fines are for local parking or traffic violations, and for violations of building regulations.
Local municipality treasurers may, in certain circumstances, add an unpaid Provincial Offences Act fine to the property tax roll if all of the owners of the property are responsible for paying the fine.
During the year, your municipality may have cash on hand that is not immediately needed. Some may be amounts held in reserve funds or acquired through interim tax collections or grant payments. It may be possible to invest these funds to earn a return.
Sections 418 and 418.1 of the Act and Ontario Regulation 438/97, Eligible Investments and Related Financial Agreements and Prudent Investment set out many of the rules relating to municipal investment. In the past, the regulation set out only a prescribed list of securities in which a municipality could invest. Credit rating and other requirements may apply to investments made under the list. As a result of recent amendments to the Act and the regulation, municipalities can now either invest using the prescribed list of securities or it may, as of January 1, 2019, be able to pass a by-law to invest in any security using the prudent investor standard.
Under the prudent investment rules, municipalities that satisfy certain criteria may invest in any security subject to exercising the care, skill, diligence and judgement that a prudent investor would exercise in making an investment. The rules include, a requirement that municipal council develop an investment policy and a requirement to invest through an investment board. Joint investment options may be available to municipalities that are not individually eligible to invest under the new standard. Other legislation may also be relevant.
Your municipal treasurer may be a source to research and suggest investments that consider your council’s policy and directions about appropriate levels of risk and reward.
Development charges are an optional revenue tool designed to help municipalities pay for a portion of the capital costs of infrastructure to support new growth. The charges help ensure that a municipality’s existing taxpayers are not required to pay the full capital costs of infrastructure or services required to serve new residents and businesses. The charges do not pay for operating costs or for the future repair of infrastructure.
To ensure they have the resources to support growth, municipalities can use development charges to fully recover the eligible costs of services listed under the Development Charges Act, 1997 (DCA). These services are:
- water supply services, including distribution and treatment services
- wastewater services, including sewers and treatment services
- storm water drainage and control services
- services related to a highway as defined in subsection 1 (1) of the Municipal Act, 2001 or subsection 3 (1) of the City of Toronto Act, 2006, as the case may be
- electrical power services
- Toronto-York subway extension, as defined in subsection 5.1 (1) in O. Reg 192/07 Toronto-York subway extension
- transit services other than the Toronto-York subway extension
- waste diversion services
- policing services
- fire protection services
- ambulance services
- services provided by a board under the Public Libraries Act
- services related to long-term care
- parks and recreation services, but not the acquisition of land for parks
- services related to public health
- child care and early years programs and services under part VI of the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014 and any related services
- housing services
- services related to proceedings under the Provincial Offences Act, including by-law enforcement services and municipally administered court services
- services related to emergency preparedness services related to airports, but only in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo
Municipalities may impose development charges through a municipal development charge by-law. Before passing the by-law, your municipality must prepare a detailed background study that identifies the estimated increased capital costs projected to be incurred as a result of new development and must hold at least one public meeting.
A development charge by-law expires in five years unless repealed or replaced earlier. When a by-law expires, a new background study must be completed prior to passing a new by-law.
Development charges are generally payable at the time the first building permit is issued, or at the beginning of each stage in the case of multi-phased developments. Your municipality can deny a building permit if the development charge is not paid or if no satisfactory arrangements have been made to pay the charge.
To increase the predictability of development charges for homebuilders, development charges are frozen at the time a site plan application, or if there is none, at the time a zoning application and remain frozen for a period of two years after the relevant application is approved. For certain types of development, including rental housing, institutional and non-profit housing developments, the payment of development charges is deferred to the time of occupancy and paid in installments over a number of years. Development charges for rental housing and institutional (for example, long-term care homes and retirement homes) development are paid over five years; development charges for non-profit housing developments are paid over twenty years.
Community benefits charges
To ensure the cost of building new housing is more transparent and costs are assessed fairly, the new community benefits charge provides local municipalities with the flexibility to collect funds to help pay for services and infrastructure that are needed due to higher density development.
Municipalities can use the charge to fund the capital costs of any public service associated with new growth, including parkland, if those costs are not already recovered from development charges and parkland provisions.
The community benefits charge is an optional tool for lower-tier and single-tier municipalities. An upper-tier municipality cannot pass a community benefits charge by-law. If a municipality passes a community benefits charge by-law, the charge will only apply to the development or redevelopment of buildings that are five or more storeys and have 10 or more residential units. The maximum charge payable in any instance cannot exceed four percent of the value of land being developed.
The community benefits charge replaces the former section 37 height and density bonusing, under the Planning Act, and provides greater transparency and accountability of building costs.
Municipalities will have until up to September 18, 2022, to continue using previous tools while they plan to transition to this new framework to fund local infrastructure and services in growing communities.
Shared service arrangements
Shared service arrangements between two or more municipalities may be an invaluable tool for municipalities to maintain, expand or add services, including those that might otherwise be beyond their reach. It is a proven way to reduce servicing costs. Municipalities could consider possibilities for sharing such as administrative staff, equipment, office space, police, emergency services, recreational facilities, roads maintenance, libraries, by-law enforcement, waste management, accountability officers, or any range of services that are the responsibility of municipalities.
Municipalities may enter into agreements with each other (and certain local bodies) to jointly provide, for their mutual benefit, many kinds of matters. These are sometimes called joint undertaking agreements. See section 20 of the Municipal Act, 2001 for more information about joint undertakings).
Your municipality’s objectives, as may be outlined in a municipal strategic plan, can help identify whether shared services may benefit your municipality, and can help determine which services are appropriate for shared service agreements and which approaches are best suited to meet municipal needs. There are many innovative ways municipalities are working together to deliver additional or better services while cutting costs and generating revenue.
Examples of objectives that may motivate municipalities to consider shared services:
- cost savings from economies of scale
- service enhancements and expansions
- access to specialists, skilled labour and/or better quality equipment
- tapping into new revenue streams that require many users or inputs
- seamless service integration across a region
Sources of capital funding fall into three main groups: internal sources, external sources and debt or lease financing.
Internal financing sources include transferring or using funds from or identified in the current-year operating budget or existing reserves and reserve funds to help finance capital works. The sale of existing assets which your municipality no longer needs (such as surplus real estate or buildings) can also generate funding for new capital projects
External sources of financing include other government grants (both federal and provincial), fundraising or donations
The third source – debt, lease or other kinds of financing – includes external borrowing and other financing involving long-term payment obligations for the municipality
Generally, a municipality may not commit more than 25% of its total own-purpose revenues to service long-term debt and other long-term obligations without first getting approval from the Ontario Land Tribunal (see Ontario Regulation 403/02, Debt and Financial Obligation Limits). Often, the limit for a municipality is referred to as the Annual Repayment Limit (ARL).
The ministry calculates an ARL for each municipality annually, using the data that municipalities submit annually through the FIR on their long-term liabilities and debt charges.
Prior to authorizing most new long-term borrowing or other long-term financial obligations, the council of the municipality is required to have its treasurer update the ministry-determined limit. This is part of the process a municipality uses to determine if there is capacity within its ARL to undertake the planned borrowing or commitment.
Some of the indicators that municipalities use to help figure out their ability to service debt are:
- debt per capita
- debt charges per capita
- debt charges as a percentage of revenue
- debt charges as a percentage of the municipal levy
- debt-to-assessment ratio
- debt charges to tax rate ratio
The municipality decides whether to use debt or pay-as-you-go financing. Either way may be beneficial to individual municipalities in certain circumstances. However, as a best practice, municipalities may wish to evaluate the long-term financial impact of a proposed approach before making these decisions.
Expenditures vs. expenses
Capital expenditures or capital purchases
A capital purchase or expenditure is generally one that results in the purchase, construction, development or improvement of a tangible capital asset. See Table 1: examples of capital expenditures and operating expense.
Capital purchases are not considered expenses. Amortization from the tangible capital assets is expensed in the statement of operations.
An operating expense is generally seen as something that is consumable or has a short life. Operating expenses are often generated by ongoing programs, or on projects that constantly recur. For example, fire and police protection, park maintenance, and garbage collection costs are typically recorded as operating expenses.
Table 1: examples of capital expenditures and operating expense
The following table provides some examples of how capital budget expenditures may be different from operating budget expenses. The items listed are suggestions only, and may not necessarily be accurate or complete in your municipality’s experience.
Type of facility
Capital budget expenditure
Operating budget expense
Physical change, such as street widening or design
Paving repair, seal-coating
New or upgraded signal equipment
Equipment repair, lane marking
Major remodelling and structural changes, new construction
Preventive maintenance repairs that do not significantly upgrade the structure or increase its previously estimated useful life (for example, minor roof repair)
Rehabilitation of major components of a treatment facility to extend useful life or capacity, new construction
General repair or maintenance of equipment or facilities to continue operations
Budgets vs. financial statements
There is a disconnect between the budget used for raising the sums needed by a municipality and operating results reported in financial statements which follow PSAB’s accounting standards. A budget disconnect may arise from – among other possibilities – a municipality including transfers to and from reserves in the annual budget. Under PSAB’s accounting standards, transfers to and from reserves are considered neither revenues nor expenses. There may then be a difference between the budget used to raise the sums needed by a municipality, and a result reported exclusively using PSAB’s principles.
Municipal asset management planning
Asset management planning is the process of making coordinated decisions regarding the building, operating, maintaining, renewing, replacing, and disposing of infrastructure assets. Leadership at the local level is needed to help ensure infrastructure investment decisions are aligned with community needs and are sustainable in the long-term.
Asset management planning assists municipalities by helping them make well-informed and evidence-based decisions for infrastructure investments. For example, identifying where road repairs are most needed or which watermains are the priority for maintenance.
The overall asset management planning process requires a thorough understanding of the characteristics and condition of the municipality’s infrastructure assets, as well as the service levels expected from them. It considers a municipality’s infrastructure assets and objectives, current and proposed levels of service and the lifecycle of the assets, and then develops a financial strategy for providing infrastructure services.
Municipalities must review the progress of their asset management annually and must update their asset management plans every five years in accordance with the Asset Management Planning for Municipal Infrastructure regulation (O.Reg. 588/17). Council must approve the municipality’s asset management plan and required updates by resolution. Having an asset management plan in place is useful when making infrastructure investment decisions. Council may wish to consult its asset management plan when making such decisions. Council may wish to be briefed regularly on the development and implementation of the asset management plan to better understand the investment needs of the municipality.
Asset management planning ties into the municipality’s other strategic planning processes, including the budgeting process and the long-term financial planning process, as infrastructure investment decisions impact both operating and capital expenses. Council may wish to keep this in mind throughout the decision-making process.
Asset Management Planning for Municipal Infrastructure – Highlights of Ontario Regulation 588/17
The background to the regulation builds on the progress municipalities have already made on asset management planning, promoting standardization and consistency in municipal asset management plans across the province and recognizing municipal flexibility to tailor their plans to local needs and circumstances.
Greater standardization will help promote the consistent collection of data and serve as a foundation for municipalities to work collaboratively with the Province to address their needs. This could include using data to implement targeted solutions that address structural challenges.
The regulation applies to a broad range of municipal infrastructure assets. Key requirements are phased-in as municipalities are expected to meet different requirements at different times over a period of seven years from 2019 to 2025.
The regulation came into force on January 1, 2018, and is phased as follows:
- Phase 1 (by July 1, 2019): Municipalities were expected to prepare a strategic asset management policy. Municipalities may wish to consider related matters such as promoting best practices and linking asset management planning with budgeting, operations, maintenance and other municipal planning activities.
- Phase 2 (by July 1, 2022): Municipalities were expected to have an asset management plan in place for core infrastructure assets. These core assets include water, wastewater, stormwater assets as well as roads, bridges and culverts. The plan must include current levels of service for each asset category and costs to maintain these levels.
- Phase 3 (by July 1, 2024): Municipalities are expected to include additional information in their asset management plan including information about proposed levels of service for each asset category, how the proposed levels of service differ from the previously identified levels of service for those categories and the annual costs of undertaking lifecycle activities in respect of those categories.
- Phase 4 (by July 1, 2025): Municipalities are expected to have a plan in place that builds on Phase 3. Plans must shift from current levels of service to focus on proposed levels of service and related lifecycle management and financial strategy for all assets.
Commencing the year after the expected completion of Phase 4, municipalities are expected to conduct an annual review of their asset management progress on or before July 1 each year. The municipality’s asset management plans are also required to be updated at least every five years. Municipalities must post their current strategic asset management policy and asset management plan on a website available to the public, and to provide a copy of the policy and plan to any person who requests it. The Province will continue to require municipalities to submit completed asset management plans in connection with municipal infrastructure funding programs.
The Province has made a suite of tools and supports available since 2018 to help inform municipalities about the asset management planning regulatory requirements.
Asset management planning involves varying levels of engagement and participation from council, and so it is recommended that council members familiarize themselves with the asset management planning process and the requirements of Ontario Regulation 588/17 (as amended by O.Reg. 193/21).
Ontario municipalities may be required to develop detailed asset management plans to accompany any request for provincial infrastructure funding. Municipalities are responsible for tailoring their asset management planning practices to their unique needs and ensuring that all the relevant expertise is applied.
Municipal financial tools for economic development
Ontario municipalities are working in many ways to plan and design communities for people and businesses, by linking the built environment to economic well-being.
Municipalities have broad powers in this context, including to pass by-laws concerning the economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality and to provide economic development services. There are some limits, including certain differences that depend on the municipality.
Municipalities are generally prohibited from providing direct or indirect financial assistance to commercial and other businesses (for more information, please see section 106 of the Act). This kind of assistance is also known as a “bonus,” and the prohibition is sometimes called the rule against municipal bonusing. There are exceptions to this rule, some linked to the tools mentioned below.
Your municipality has financial and other tools within this framework that can promote economic development. This suite of tools may be referred to as municipal economic development tools. Some are listed below.
For more information on municipal economic development tools, please see the Municipal Planning and Financial Tools for Economic Development Handbook.
Municipalities have broad power to provide grants for purposes that the council considers to be in the interests of the municipality, subject to the rule against municipal bonusing. Grants may include, for example:
- loan guarantees
- selling or leasing land at a nominal amount
- providing for the use of municipal employees on terms stated by council
- donating food and merchandise
For more information please see section 107 of the Act.
Small business programs/small business incubators
Municipal small business programs or business incubators are an opportunity for your municipal council to encourage the growth of small businesses in your community. Certain municipal financial assistance to business may be possible for the purpose of a small business program.
As a result of recent amendments to the Act and a recent regulation, a municipality can establish and maintain programs to encourage small businesses in the municipality if they satisfy the conditions set out in the regulation. These conditions provide municipalities with the flexibility to establish business incubators based on their unique economic development objectives, while ensuring a municipality has completed a public consultation and its own due diligence.
For more information, please see section 108 of the Act and Ontario Regulation 594/17.
Municipal capital facilities agreements
Your municipality may choose to use a municipal capital facilities agreement to deliver a range of municipal capital facilities through agreements with any person, which may include other public bodies, the private sector, not-for-profit organizations, and Indigenous groups. These agreements are a tool that municipalities have to help with flexible financing and provision of their capital facilities. For example, municipal capital facilities not owned by the municipality – as opposed to capital facilities, such as a recreational facility, owned by a municipality – may, if the municipality decides, be exempted from municipal taxation. Certain municipal financial assistance to business may be possible when municipal capital facilities are provided.
Common examples of facilities provided through municipal capital facilities agreements include municipal affordable housing, recreational, or parking facilities.
Municipal services corporations
Your municipality may establish a Municipal Services Corporation for most services that municipalities could deliver themselves. A Municipal Services Corporation may provide economic development services or municipal financial assistance to business.
Business improvement areas
Municipalities may designate an area as an improvement area and establish a board of management to promote it as a business or shopping area. These are often called business improvement areas.
A business improvement areas is a made-in-Ontario innovation that allows local business people and commercial property owners and tenants to join together and, with the support of the municipality, to organize, finance, and carry out physical improvements and promote economic development in their district.
More information on business improvement areas and the role of the municipality may be found in the Business Improvement Area Handbook.
Helpful considerations: section 9
Important considerations, before voting on the adoption of a budget, include assessing:
- the significant costs the budget document is committing the municipality to
- the revenues required to meet these obligations
- how the budget will help the municipality achieve long-term financial sustainability
Public input can be helpful in the municipal budget process. It promotes trust in the municipality and ensures council is aware of residents’ opinions.
Consider provincial reporting requirements or timelines. Compliance helps ensure access to capital programs and receipt of provincial grants on time.
Take advantage of the opportunity to use the breadth of FIR data to support evidence-based decision-making.
Consider establishing, or reviewing existing, tax rate stabilization reserves – that is reserves to help address changes in tax revenue, for example, to make up for expected or potential tax (assessment) appeal-related decisions. Assessment appeals can take several years to resolve, particularly for more complex commercial and industrial property. An unexpected appeal loss may result in a need for a significant tax increase for many ratepayers if a municipality does not have the resources set aside to pay the amount.
Consider using special area rates. Municipalities that provide different services or levels of service in different areas, such as urban or rural regions, have used special area rates to help fund those services from within the communities that benefit from them
If a property does not sell at the initial tax sale, a municipality may wish to consider re-advertising the property a second time, or taking ownership of the land following the failed tax sale.
Councils may wish to consider using development charges to help cover a portion of the municipality’s growth-related capital costs.
Consider opportunities for sharing services or resources with your neighbouring municipalities or local bodies to achieve economies of scale, tap into a new revenue stream, or reduce expenditures.
Review your municipality’s asset management plan to help you understand the infrastructure priorities and needs within your community. Ensure the asset management plan is supported by a finance strategy and that the plan is integrated into the long-term financial plan.
Integrate climate change adaptation best practices, such as storm water management, into your municipality’s asset management planning.
Consider undertaking private works as local improvements. Municipalities have also put in place local improvement programs to help property owners with energy efficiency improvements and septic system rehabilitation.