Would it really save money if Bradford West Gwillimbury were to separate from Simcoe County?
A staff report requested by Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson on Tuesday will aim to answer that question.
When it came time to discuss Bradford possibly separating from the County of Simcoe at county council on Tuesday, Saunderson started off discussions by adding an amendment to a motion to receive a number of documents about the provincial governance review, including a letter for the province from the Town of BWG requesting separated city status as an option to be examined through the review.
“I’m a great supporter of the county and our involvement and the two-tier system we have in place,” said Saunderson. “All of our municipalities benefit from the programs run by Simcoe County.”
Saunderson referenced the study commissioned by Bradford West Gwillimbury that examined whether separation might be an option for the town.
“I understand that discussion has been renewed in light of this (regional) governance review,” he said. “While I appreciate and respect the ability of each municipality to control its own economy, I am concerned about the timing of that discussion.”
“Knowledge is power, so in the context of this discussion I think we need to know both in this house and for the residents and taxpayers, what the implications are financially for the county, our residents and the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury,” said Saunderson.
Saunderson’s amendment asked for a report from county staff outlining the financial implications of the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury separating from the County of Simcoe, including evaluating the value of assets currently owned by the County of Simcoe within Bradford’s limits.
Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes suggested it would be a tremendous amount of work to disentangle one municipality from the county system at this point in the game.
“When the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury hired consultants a year and a half ago, we were looking for efficiencies,” said BWG Mayor Rob Keffer. “The conclusions of the report were a little bit unclear, but they did indicate that BWG had put more money into the county for operating expenses (than other municipalities), but it also pointed out that the county was doing more infrastructure work in the municipality.
“Our town staff report indicated that we wanted to become a separated city, much like Barrie and Orillia. We have surpassed the population of Orillia, and we think we’ve grown to a point where we can be more responsive to our residents with service delivery... as a separated city.
“We want to find out what the numbers actually are. The best case (scenario) would be if it were a win-win situation,” he said.
Some of the services provided by the county that would have to be filled by Bradford West Gwillimbury should it choose to separate would be solid waste management, ownership of county roads, and adding planning staff. Bradford would also be responsible to pay back its portion of the county debt.
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin brought up the Region of Peel as an example. The three-member municipalities of Peel are Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.
“The City of Mississauga wished to separate,” said Dollin. “Mayor (Bonnie) Crombie (of Mississauga) said they could save $85 million a year, but the counter argument from the other two municipalities is that for years, going back years, Caledon and Brampton paid for the growing infrastructure in Mississauga, and now that they were built out and had everything they needed, they wanted to separate.”
“In regards to the motion, did that include going back historically to the infrastructure that the county has put in (to Bradford)?" she added. "The one item that comes to mind for me is the cloverleaf (interchange) at 5th Line which was just put in."
County clerk John Daly confirmed the county put $18 million into the 5th Line reconstruction at Highway 400.
“That needs to be taken into account, too,” said Dollin. “To be fair, whichever municipality is having this discussion has to include historic investments in that community.”
Warden George Cornell said he has avoided having discussions on the issue through the media.
“I was hopeful that our house could come together and take a look at the data so that we would better understand what the discussion was really all about,” said Cornell.
“We are in the midst of a regional government review. It’s a natural evolution of that review process that we challenge ourselves in terms of cost structures,” he said. “I think we owe it to ourselves as county council and the taxpayers to make sure we really understand the matters that are being put before us.”
County Clerk John Daly added that some of the information currently circulating about costs is not quite accurate.
“There’s been some information that came out in the media that was in the report from Bradford West Gwillimbury that didn’t include some of the costs that Coun. Saunderson’s motion has touched on,” said Daly. “There are some costs involved that should be included because some of the messaging that’s in the media right now about there being a ... fairly significant savings annually might not be as accurate as was depicted.”
Committee of the Whole unanimously passed Saunderson’s amendment to request a staff report on the financial implications of Bradford West Gwillimbury separating from the County of Simcoe.
The decision will be ratified at the April 23 council meeting.