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Learning curve ahead for Simcoe County council

In Council Watch
Nov 2nd, 2014

By Andrew Philips Packet & Times

Newly elected mayors and deputy mayors face a steep learning curve at more than just the municipal level.

Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes said newcomers to those positions will find they have a lot to learn as incoming members of Simcoe County council.

“There’s a huge turnover in (county) council,” Hughes said, referring to the municipal elections that saw a number of incumbent mayors and deputy mayors defeated. “At least half of the members who were on council aren’t returning.”

Hughes, who was acclaimed in his township, said new councillors also face a difficult task as they begin to learn the intricacies of working in a county setting.

“People don’t understand just how complicated the county really is,” he said. “There’s going to have to be a lot of education and orientation.”

Hughes is also weighing whether to run for the county’s warden position after serving the past four years as deputy warden. Outgoing Warden Cal Patterson lost his seat at the county table after falling in Wasaga Beach in the municipal election.

Time is on Hughes’s side as the new 32-member council will vote for the positions during its inaugural meeting in December.

Severn Township Mayor Mike Burkett said he would consider running if the position was for one year instead of four, since the added responsibilities mean he would have less time to devote to Severn residents.

“(Simcoe North MPP) Garfield Dunlop was the last warden from Severn Township,” he said. “It would be good to have someone from the north (part of the county).”

Like Hughes, Burkett said many residents don’t fully realize how big a role the county plays in their lives.

“When I first went in, I didn’t know what to expect,” Burkett said. “You’re in charge of a half-a-billion-dollar budget. Right off the bat, half your (residents’) tax bill goes to Simcoe County.”

Burkett said the county must continually deal with downloading from the province, including the past transfer of waste-management, affordable-housing and paramedic services.

“Our landfills are almost full,” Burkett said, noting the county has come up with a plan to extend the landfills’ lives by trucking about 60% of garbage to Brampton to be incinerated, with a new facility in Peel Region also coming on board. “It’s one hurdle we’ve struggled with and will continue to struggle with.”

Burkett said the incoming council will also have to decide where to establish a county recycling depot where all recyclables can be sorted.

“Only through education will we be able to recycle as much as possible to divert more waste,” he said. “It will add more years to our landfills.”

The county must also develop a plan to create 2,600 affordable-housing spaces over the next 10 years.

Burkett represents Oro-Medonte, Severn and Ramara townships on the county committee studying the issue, which also has representation from home builders, the health unit and other stakeholders.


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