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Bradford West Gwillimbury leaving Simcoe County “improbable,” says report

Other Simcoe County municipalities could benefit from report in light of a controversial proposed increase in education development charges, said BWG staff.

It would be a “long, expensive and contentious process” if Bradford West Gwillimbury moved from Simcoe County to York Region, according to a consulting firm’s report.

While StrategyCorp, hired by BWG to do a structural and financial review of the town’s place within the county, did not officially recommend for or against joining York Region, it called such a move “politically improbable.”

Its review, which was considered by BWG council Tuesday, found the town pays more to run social housing and paramedics services than independent cities like Barrie and Orillia, but that BWG would pay more as part of York Region.

“It was a great exercise for us to go through,” said BWG Deputy Mayor James Leduc during Tuesday’s council meeting. “What happened to us is one day going to happen further north when MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) comes around in four years.”

BWG has been part of Simcoe County for more than 150 years, but it hired StrategyCorp last year after growing concerned about how much it was paying compared to other municipalities in the county and the services it receives.

BWG has contributed $114 million in tax funds to Simcoe County and collected $25 million in development charges on the county’s behalf between 2007 to 2017, according to the resolution passed by council last year to approve the review.

In that same time, it added, the town’s share of the county-wide tax levy increased from 7.9 per cent to 10.7 per cent, with an expectation that would grow in the next several years due to increased property values, which are the highest in the county.

StrategyCorp was asked to answer several questions, including:

  • From a financial and/or service level perspective, what would an improved deal within Simcoe County look like?
  • Should BWG become an independent municipality like Barrie and Orillia?
  • Would BWG be better served by joining York Region?

In order for BWG to switch to York Region or become an independent town, all other municipalities in Simcoe County and York Region, as well as the county and region councils, would need to vote in favour of letting it leave, StrategyCorp outlined.

That has never happened in Ontario’s recent municipal history, and the province would “not welcome this precedent, as it is not eager to see municipal governance and funding approaches disrupted,” read the review.

“It’s only prudent business practice” to complete such a review, added BWG Mayor Rob Keffer. “There wasn’t anything untoward.”

BWG Coun. Mark Contois, however, said he is “still frustrated with Simcoe County.”

“I didn’t see much co-operation over the last year. Let’s see what happens with the future,” he said.

Among its findings, StrategyCorp noted the 2016 MPAC reassessment “affected BWG to the greatest extent among (Simcoe County) municipalities,” with a five-per-cent increase.

At Tuesday’s meeting, town CAO Geoff McKnight said this “set off some alarm bells” for the town.

“If a program had been available to ‘smooth’ that impact on Simcoe County taxpayers within BWG, this fiscal review would not likely have been initiated,” read a report submitted the council by McKnight. “We now have an opportunity to implement some changes to assist other member municipalities facing similar circumstances in the future.”

He said it is “clear” other Simcoe County municipalities could benefit from StrategyCorp’s report, citing a recent controversial proposed increase in education development charges (DCs) for the public and Catholic school boards within the county.

Currently, the charges implemented for every jurisdiction is $1,759. If the changes are approved, the charges will spike to $5,064. A decision on the increase is expected this fall.

“Ironically, the conditions that led to the tax shift towards BWG that have benefited most other member municipalities is now a matter of concern for them,” McKnight said.

“Several northern municipal councils have passed resolutions that oppose these higher rates and have requested that the school boards develop area-specific DCs (north/south), in order to insulate them from the high growth/high property values of the south.

“Presumably, the same municipalities would prefer to continue benefiting from their decreasing share of the county tax burden afforded by growth and increasing property values occurring elsewhere.”

On Tuesday, BWG council approved a staff recommendation to provide a copy of the StrategyCorp review to Simcoe County for distribution to all of its municipalities, as well as to ask the county to establish a committee of councillors, CAOs and treasurers to explore cost mitigation strategies.

Council will also ask the county to give it annual updates about its programs and services to boost local knowledge of those programs.

Snapshot of the StrategyCorp findings:

  • 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
  • Based on residential assessment values and property taxes, BWG would pay more to in York Region than in Simcoe County
  • Compared to East Gwillimbury in York Region (which pays $2,200 per household in upper-tier levies), BWG pays $1,700
  • BWG contributes more in the operating portion of it Simcoe 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.
  • BWG has contributed $110 million to the county between 2011 and 2017 from development charges and levies on upper-tier services, which includes things like social housing, land ambulance and emergency planning, solid waste management, and the county road system.
  • BWG’s upper-tier levies to Simcoe County were $9 million in 2011 and $16 million in 2017 — a 72-per-cent increase. Comparatively, all county municipalities saw an overall 45-per-cent increase.
  • 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 have a value of $15 million greater than the anticipated BWG contributions

Highlights of StrategyCorp’s solutions:

  • Ensure greater fairness and transparency for Simcoe County municipalities in future agreements between the county and Barrie and Orillia
  • Study further whether some services, such as roads, can be moved from the county to the town for potential cost savings
  • Work with other municipalities in the county to potentially define and cap “above average” or “excessive” tax increases due to rapid growth
  • Explore grants for municipalities with “disproportionate financial burden”


Jenni Dunning

About the Author: Jenni Dunning

Jenni Dunning is a community editor and reporter who covers news in the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury.
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