Council unanimous in pursuing governance review

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

Bradford West Gwillimbury Council has unanimously supported a motion put forward by Mayor Rob Keffer, asking staff to begin the process of looking at upper tier services, to ensure “residents receive the best service for their tax dollars.”

Staff have been asked to prepare the terms of reference for a  Town- Simcoe County “Structural Review” that would consider a  new arrangement with the County of Simcoe; the possibility of becoming a Separated City, like Barrie and Orillia; and the option of joining York Region.

Noting that the municipality has been part of Simcoe County for over 150 years, Mayor Keffer said that he was asking for the Review due to a sharp shift in the tax burden. Over the past 10 years, BWG residents have contributed $114 million in taxes to the County, and $25 million in Development Charges.

With the latest MPAC assessment , property values in BWG have gone up  9.1% - the highest increase in the County. The result:  residents will be asked to pay an additional $781,971 in County taxes in 2017 alone, over and above the original County levy – an increase of 7.4%.

Mayor Keffer noted that the Town will pay $16.3 million to the County in 2017 – while the City of Barrie, with four times the population, pays the County $21.5 million for social services – and Orillia, with a population of $31,000, pays $5.7 million.

It's time, he said, to look at the County's capital investments in BWG, the services provided, and the tax impact on residents.

The  County levy works out to $304.93 per $100,000 Residential Assessed value. The average assessed value of a home in BWG is over $520,000, compared to about $220,000 in Tay Twp., the Mayor said.  “Should a household in Bradford West Gwillimbury pay twice as much for the same services as a house in the north of the County?”

The motion is not a decision to leave the County, Mayor Keffer was quick to point out. “I'm not making any judgements at this time, but I think it is prudent, so we get a better handle on the value we get from the County.” The Terms of Reference will allow a “fair and reliable comparison” of the options.

Mayor Keffer reminded Council that it promised consultation with the public, “highest respect for tax dollars,” and decision-making in the interests of all residents. “I believe this motion embodies those three principles,” he said, welcoming input from the public.

“Let's get the data before any of us form opinions, let alone conclusions,” said Councillor Gary Baynes, supporting the motion. He said that he was “totally cool” with paying more than other municipalities – but only “if you're getting more service or a higher level of service.”

Councillor Peter Dykie Jr. pointed out that house prices in BWG are more in keeping with York Region and the GTA, than Simcoe County. “I'm looking forward to see all the facts,” Dykie said, “so we get the best value for the tax dollar.”

There were some reservations. While Councillor Peter Ferragine was “very, very interested to see what the data are,” he was concerned about the cost of the study – and worried the Town might spend money on consulting fees, only to discover “we can't leave.”

He was assured that staff will come back with information, including costs, “and we'll decide whether to proceed further.”

“The shadow of the CN Tower never used to touch Bradford. Now we can see it... It's driving prices crazy,” said Councillor Gary Lamb, who urged caution. “I don't think we should jump too quickly. The grass may seem greener – but it may be full of thistles.”

“I think we're doing our due diligence,” replied Councillor Mark Contois. “Are we getting value for what we pay Simcoe County? It's good to have the information in front of us, so we can say, is the resident getting value for their tax dollar?”

“We're just looking at options. Everyone should be happy that we're looking to save money,” said Councillor Ron Orr.

“We're doing our fiduciary responsibility,” agreed Deputy Mayor James Leduc. “It's good to do a review like this.”

In a recorded vote, Council was unanimous in supporting Mayor Keffer's motion.

“One of the most important things that will come out of this is that all residents will have a better understanding of the role of the County,” said the Mayor. “This is fact-finding.”

The County of Simcoe provides cultural services, health unit services, Paramedic services, long term care and senior services, Ontario Works program, Child and Community Services, Social Housing, transportation and engineering services for County Roads, Solid Waste Management (garbage/recycling), and plays a role in Planning, Economic development and tourism. About 28% of the property tax bill in BWG goes to the County.

Simcoe County Warden Gerry Marshall responded to the news with a 3 page statement, noting that homes assessed at a market value of $500,000 pay the same amount of tax, wherever they are located in the County - and that "Bradford West Gwillimbury is an important part of Simcoe County."