Cornwall taxpayers get full tab for Canada’s birthday

In this August 2016, file photo, Cornwall Coun. David Murphy listens to a committee member during a community agencies budget meeting. Murphy says the municipality should learn not to commit money to a project until funding from other governments is guaranteed. Murphy was reacting to news the city didn't get the two-thirds funding it had banked on for Canada's 150th birthday celebrations. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – It will be up to taxpayers to pick up the entire tab to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this year.

In October, the city budgeted $90,000 for the 2017 sesquicentennial celebrations, which started with an elaborate winter light festival in Lamoureux Park.

The lights alone were $60,000.

The city had banked on receiving an Ontario 150 grant for $70,000 to cover most of the cost. But the city’s budget committee learned last month that application was denied.

Now it will be up to taxpayers to pay for the entire celebration.

With only two months into the birthday year, CFO Tracey Bailey told the committee that $74,000 has already been spent on the celebration (as of late January). The city only put $30,000 in the 2017 budget.

The original celebration was proposed by Coun. Elaine MacDonald. One of critics of the plan, namely due to the cost, was Coun. David Murphy.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Murphy said this should serve as a lesson.

“We’ve already committed to the project. We’re already well underway with it. It’s really difficult to back out now, but at the same time, this is something we have to monitor going forward when we do other projects. Until we get confirmation, we shouldn’t be deciding to spend money,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he was reluctant at first but had been reassured the city would be getting “two-thirds of it back.”

“Learn the lesson. Next time something comes up like this, make sure we have the funding guaranteed. Not hopeful of funding,” he told CNW.

With $74,000 already spent, Murphy suggests some activities may have to be “curtailed” to keep the cost down. “We’ll probably have to downscale them a bit to fit within the budget but the bulk of that money was for the lighting.”

“It’s unfortunate we didn’t get that senior level government funding but at the same time we’re already knee-deep. The community almost expects a certain type of celebration, which I think we’ve delivered on so far.”

Murphy said the Canada Day committee has been working hard on making the July 1 weekend “very memorable.” (Note: The Canada Day committee work is separate from the activities under the proposed $90,000 Canada 150 celebrations)

“But if there’s a bill coming because we have to do whatever then we have to rethink it for sure. This is a tight budget year. If we were to pass the budget right now it’s around three per cent and that’s unacceptable.”

The budget committee meets Thursday night at 6 p.m. at city hall.

“It’s unfortunate that this is going to get tacked on to the wrong side of the ledger but we will have to find money so we are not going to the tax base as much as three per cent,” Murphy said.

“I like having a good party as much as the next guy or gal, but at the same time we have to live within our means.”