Province backs down on restructuring of Simcoe County
Warden George Cornell
‘After what happened in Toronto… there was a lot of anxiety that amalgamation would happen (here),’ says Collingwood mayor
By: Jessica Owen Barrie Today October 25 2019
Late last night, Simcoe County Warden George Cornell got a phone call.
“It turns out, it was Minister (of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve) Clark, and I very much appreciated the call,” Cornell said this morning in an interview with BarrieToday.
The call was to advise the warden of the public announcement that was made this morning concerning the next steps for the province’s regional governance review. The announcement was made Friday morning by Clark at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario fall policy forum in London.
“One of the points he made was they’re not going to be top-down as a provincial government, and he very much encouraged any municipalities that had ideas to continue to work with the province with respect to the implementation of ideas,” said Cornell.
In an email to BarrieToday this morning, Conrad Spezowka, media spokesperson for Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, confirmed that the province is putting the decision-making in the hands of the municipalities.
“The province is not imposing any changes to governance, decision-making or service delivery and we will not force amalgamations on municipalities,” said Spezowka.
Cornell said the province and ministry has advised they are pleased and impressed with the upper-tier leadership at the county level.
The warden says he sees today’s announcement as an opportunity to build on the ideas brought forward by the county governance committee and regional governance review task force back in May.
To read our story on the recommendations they made to the province on how to make Simcoe County more efficient, click here.
“(Looking forward) I think we would look to the governance committee and re-establish the task force and continuing to steady and review the recommendations that would be brought forward to see how best we would implement those and if we could,” said Cornell.
“It helps that the province is planning to help from a financial point of view which could have been a barrier in the past.”
According to a release sent out by the province this morning, Ontario will be providing up to $143 million to municipalities to help them lower costs and improve services for local residents over the long term. Funding will be available to all 444 municipalities so they can find more efficient ways to operate and focus spending.
The outcome of the review was expected in June, but, according to the province, the volume of responses led to the postponement. This morning, municipal politicians breathed a sigh of relief.
Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson noted Simcoe County already went through amalgamation back in 1992; the number of municipalities was reduced from the “high 20s, low 30s,” to 16.
“After what happened in Toronto (with the cutting of council abruptly), there was a lot of anxiety that amalgamation would happen (here),” said Saunderson. “I think a lot of the fear was that changes would be done arbitrarily and not really well thought out.
“As discussions evolved, there were some areas in the county where municipalities were talking among themselves about possible amalgamation,” he said, adding that Collingwood wasn’t in that area.
While preparing for the regional governance review didn’t cost the municipalities money directly, Saunderson and Cornell both said it did cost staff and councillor time to prepare presentations and reports for the regional advisors.
“Our staff and council supported the recommendations of the county,” said Saunderson. “I think there were a number of municipalities who invested their time and money.”
“We are happy with the outcome, so if we invested staff time and efforts in doing that… we think it was money and time well-invested,” he said. “However, if at the end of the day the whole thing was a ruse and there were never going to be any changes and we all went through this angst and anxiety for no good reason… I guess it’s all how you view the outcome of this process.”
Bradford Mayor Rob Keffer said he was surprised by the outcome this morning.
“It appears the province is almost abandoning their regional review. It doesn’t look like they’re willing to make any changes themselves,” said Keffer. “So, I guess I am a little disappointed.”
Keffer said Bradford West Gwillimbury council had made it clear during the process there were opportunities to find efficiencies, specifically in Bradford’s case, to separate from the County of Simcoe.
“We will continue to work with the county and try to move forward,” he said.
There are some ideas that came out of the review Keffer hopes are implemented despite a lack of provincial pressure.
“I think the downsizing of county council, we should be moving forward with,” said Keffer. “That got general agreement from county council.”
Keffer also said that at Bradford’s council table, they had discussed partnering with neighbouring municipalities more to streamline overlapping services.
Earlier this year, the government conducted a review of Ontario’s eight regional governments and Simcoe County. More than 8,500 submissions were received and special advisors Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling attended nine in-person sessions and listened to ideas from individuals and organizations on how to improve their local governments.
Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey further clarified on Friday that Fenn and Seiling’s full report will not be released to the public, and wouldn’t say whether the province went with or against suggestions made in the report.
“The report is not being released as was advised to cabinet,” said Downey. “We recognize that anytime you’re looking at any kind of change that it creates an anxiety, but we moved pretty quickly on this path.”
The news release from the province this morning says the government heard that local communities should decide what is best for them in terms of governance, decision-making and service delivery.
“After careful consideration of the feedback we heard through the course of the review, our government stands firm in its commitment to partnering with municipalities without pursuing a top-down approach. We will provide municipalities with the resources to support local decision making,” notes the release.
The release says the province also plans to launch a consultation with municipalities about whether to align the municipal and provincial fiscal year, and is proposing to eliminate duplication by combining the provincial and municipal voters lists, giving Elections Ontario the responsibility of managing the updated list and taking the burden off of municipalities.
Ontario government news releases:
“Ontario Helping Make Municipalities Stronger”
“Dedicated funds will drive efficiencies and strengthen local service delivery”
October 25, 2019 8:45 A.M. TORONTO ―
Ontario is providing up to $143 million to municipalities to help them lower costs and improve services for local residents over the long term. Funding will be available to all 444 municipalities so they can find smarter, more efficient ways to operate and focus spending on vital programs and services for Ontarians. Municipalities deliver a wide range of services that people rely on every day, like transit, water and wastewater, and parks and recreation.
“Municipalities are the level of government closest to the people, but every community is different – one size doesn’t fit all,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “This investment in communities will support municipal transformation efforts to make sure they are delivering efficient, effective and modern services that best meet the unique needs of their residents.” Our government is working in partnership with municipalities to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are respected. Earlier this year, the government conducted a review of Ontario’s eight regional governments and Simcoe County.
Over 8,500 submissions were received and the Special Advisors, Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling, attended nine in-person sessions and listened to ideas from individuals and organizations on how to improve their local governments. Throughout this extensive review, the government heard that local communities should decide what is best for them in terms of governance, decision-making and service delivery. After careful consideration of the feedback we heard through the course of the review, our government stands firm in its commitment to partnering with municipalities without pursuing a top-down approach. We will provide municipalities with the resources to support local decision-making.
“We are committed to helping and empowering municipalities to become more efficient and effective, so they can make every dollar count,” said Clark. “This investment supports the province’s commitment to reduce the cost of government, while maintaining quality services the people of Ontario expect from all levels of government.”
• Our government is extending two application-based funding streams: one for small and rural municipalities, and one for large urban governments.
• The 2020 Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund will have the same structure as this year and provide a total of $500 million to 389 municipalities across the province.
• Ontario will also launch a consultation with municipalities about whether to align the municipal and provincial fiscal year.
• Our government is proposing to eliminate duplication by combining the provincial and municipal voters lists, giving Elections Ontario the responsibility of managing the updated list and taking the burden off of municipalities.
Ontario Putting People First by Supporting Smart, Efficient Municipal Service Delivery
October 25, 2019 8:45 A.M.
In 2019, Ontario partnered with municipalities to help them become more efficient and effective through the Audit and Accountability Fund and the Municipal Modernization Program. These funds were designed to support municipal transformation efforts and lower costs in the longer term.
Today, all 444 Ontario municipalities are benefitting from this funding, which helps them do their part to build smarter government, while making sure vital programs and services will be there when local people need them.
To support this ongoing, vital work, our government will provide up to $143 million through two application-based funding streams.
Audit and Accountability Fund
Ontario is extending funding for 39 large urban municipalities, first announced last May, by giving them access to up to $6 million annually through 2022-23. Funding will allow municipalities to take action in time for the 2021 municipal budget cycle and will help municipalities increase effectiveness and reduce costs by supporting line-by-line reviews, audits and other service reviews.
Municipal Modernization Program
Building on Ontario’s previous investment to modernize municipal service delivery, the province’s 405 small and rural municipalities will have access to an additional $125 million through 2022-23. The extension of this program is application-based and will help municipalities conduct new service delivery reviews, implement recommendations from previous reviews and undertake a range of projects – such as IT solutions or process improvements. All applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Municipal Fiscal Year
Ontario also wants to explore strengthening budget coordination and collaboration with its municipal partners. The province will begin consultations on whether to align the municipal fiscal year with the province’s, which could enhance public transparency and improve program and service delivery. Currently, the municipal fiscal year in Ontario begins on January 1, while the provincial fiscal year begins on April 1.
Combined Voter List
Ontario is proposing to amend the Election Act, Municipal Elections Act, and several other pieces of legislation to combine the municipal and provincial voters lists. A single list is expected to be more accurate, could mean fewer corrections for voters at polling stations and fewer delays for people lined up to vote on election day. If passed, the single list would be managed by Elections Ontario. Currently, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation provides municipalities with a list of people eligible to vote for every municipal election. Municipal clerks then correct and revise this list to develop the voters list.
Ontario is working hard to build a foundation for long-term prosperity for people all across the province. We are working cooperatively with our municipal partners and giving them the tools to find efficiencies, save taxpayer dollars and improve the delivery of programs and services. Working together, we will help the people and businesses across Ontario thrive.