Local residents are paying the County of Simcoe more money in tax levies than what it provides in services, and that is one reason why Bradford West Gwillimbury should seriously consider becoming a separated city, said Mayor Rob Keffer.
The town’s Committee of the Whole, made up of council members, voted Tuesday evening to advise the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the town wants to pursue separated city status, and approve a detailed report on the matter.
“Since 2012 to 2019, it’s almost $10 million more that we’re sending to the county. It was $9 million in 2012. With that rapid growth and revenue, I think we have to ask ourselves whether we’re seeing a growth in services from the county,” Keffer said. “We really aren’t aware of it.”
The committee also voted to ask the two provincial advisors running a regional governance review to work with town and county staff to “further evaluate the benefits and implications” of becoming a separated city.
BWG council must first ratify the committee’s decision before moving forward.
“We certainly respect Bradford West Gwillimbury’s right to debate these types of matters," County of Simcoe Warden George Cornell told BradfordToday in a statement Wednesday.
"The County of Simcoe provides many prudent and important services and programs, and builds significant infrastructure right across this region, including Bradford West Gwillimbury. We are confident that the majority of our residents know and appreciate our services and understand the value that comes from the economy of scale from having our 16 member municipalities working together to provide services and programs across the region at the county level.”
In comments to BradfordToday late last month, Cornell also pointed to “significant investments” in the southern part of the county, including $18 million in the Highway 400-Line 5 interchange, ongoing road enhancement projects, and support for the Highway 400-404 Connecting Link.
The county is also creating two working groups to examine “opportunities in service delivery and governance models to further our efforts,” he said. “The county takes the review very seriously and continuously works to improve services, adapt to growth and meet the changing needs of our residents and communities.”
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Deputy Mayor James Leduc said he was asked to be on a taskforce to review the county’s governance structure.
“Over the last seven years ... the county’s revenue has gone up 109 per cent from our residents, and our own tax levy has only gone up 66 per cent,” Keffer said.
“It has certainly increased at a faster rate, the tax levy that our residents send to the County of Simcoe, than what our residents are giving to the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury’s budget.
“The 2019 budget to the county, I estimate there will be $19.8 million that our residents will be sending to the county. If there’s that much money flowing from our residents and taxpayers … I think it’s good business on behalf of this council to look at efficiencies.”
Last spring, StrategyCorp completed a structural and financial review of the town’s place within the county, which showed BWG contributes more in the operating portion of county levies than it likely gets in services — anywhere from 13 per cent to 59 per cent more than the average contribution to the county.
Innisfil, New Tecumseth and Oro-Medonte also contribute more than average for the same services, according to the review.
As well, BWG pays more for running certain services, such as social housing and paramedics, than independent cities like Barrie and Orillia because it subsidizes a larger group of “assessment-poor” municipalities, read the review.
On the flip side, StrategyCorp’s review found the value of county capital projects in BWG between 2011 and 2017 exceeded the town’s tax and development-charge contributions by $3 million.
Simcoe County projects planned for 2018 to 2025 also have a value of $15 million greater than the anticipated BWG contributions, read the review.
Ultimately, the StrategyCorp report did not state whether BWG should leave the county, but it noted it would be “improbable” and a “long, expensive and contentious process.”
However, that was then, and now the province is under different leadership, said Coun. Gary Baynes.
The governance model created in 1991, when BWG amalgamated, “made sense at the time. It doesn’t make sense now,” he said. “We’re bigger than Orillia. Bradford basically doubled (since 1991). A lot has changed drastically for Simcoe County and Bradford. It has grown to the point that it should be a separate city like Barrie and Orillia.”
Keffer pointed back to the StrategyCorp report, which noted several separated cities exist that are smaller than BWG, including Pembroke, Owen Sound, Smiths Falls, St. Thomas, and Stratford.
“The fact that the province did not look at any of these … separated cities for a regional review… they must be running relatively well,” he said.
Keffer said BWG appreciates county investments in the town, but some are “basically development charges.”
“The development charges that are paying for some of the infrastructure in Bradford West Gwillimbury… some of those (are) paying for developments in the rest of the county, when the rest of the county hasn’t contributed as much as what the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury has,” he said.
“We do have a story to tell the province about how well our municipality is run (and) how good our staff are at managing our municipality.”
Several BWG councillors agreed with Keffer, suggesting the town becoming a separated city makes sense.
“I’m not afraid of the governance model we’re proposing,” said Coun. Gary Lamb, noting he does not think the provincial government is looking for all positive feedback in the regional review. “I don’t think Premier Doug (Ford) is listening for that. He’s looking for talking points.”
“We’re simply doing what our residents expect us to do,” added Coun. Raj Sandhu. “This is us thinking we can save money if we become a standalone city.”
Coun. Mark Contois said he is tired of paying a lot of money to the county and then having to argue for “simple things” like recycling.
“We are the gateway to Simcoe County, but they don’t deliver anything to the south,” he said. “We’re a cash cow for the northern municipalities.”
“We are really lucky because of our location, our resources… We can provide industrial land, build infrastructure. We can stand on our own,” added Coun. Peter Dykie Jr.
WHAT: Discuss BWG becoming a separated city
WHEN: April 15, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Zima Room at BWG Public Library, 425 Holland St. W., Bradford