The Town of the Blue Mountains council continues to pressure Grey County on the equitability of the county levy.
“Can we have more of the tax revenue stay within the Town of Blue Mountains so that we can deal with the critical infrastructure that is needed to fuel the growth that fuels the levy increase that everyone in Grey County is benefiting from?” asked The Blue Mountains Councillor Rob Sampson. “Take a look at where your levy and assessment increase came from in 2019. It came from the Blue Mountains.”
As outlined in the Grey County budget report, “[the county] is experiencing unprecedented growth and investment. New assessment growth of $1,847,857 is included in county revenue, bringing the net levy increase for 2020 to 1.26 per cent, or $741,083.”
Because a majority of the growth occurred in The Blue Mountains, most of the increased assessment (and resulting taxation) is coming from there too.
According to Grey County's financial department, 51 per cent of the new growth assessment in 2019 came from the Town of The Blue Mountains, leaving the other eight municipalities contributing the remaining 49 per cent.
Kim Wingrove, chief administrative officer (CAO) for Grey County explained the county levy is allocated on the basis of assessment distribution, as per the Municipal Act, and what each municipality contributes individually to the county has no basis on the services or spending they receive.
“Every single taxpayer in Grey County is treated exactly the same by Grey County. There is no preferential treatment or unfairness,” she said. “And, it does concern me that there is some flavour of pay-to-play here. Because that is not how democracy works. Everybody gets a vote. Every property owner has a place at the table. Whether you have a little bit or a lot. And we are here, all of us together, to make decisions about what is best for all of Grey County.”
Conversations surrounding the equality of the county levy were brought forward at the County’s Committee of the Whole meeting held on Feb. 13 as council reviewed the Blue Mountain Task Force, a sub-committee created by Grey County council in 2017 to deal with this specific issue.
Since its inception, the task force has met nine times and engaged in a number of conversations and exercises to try and settle this disagreement. Despite several hours being allocated to these efforts, the complaints from 2017 remain today.
The task force review comes on the heels of a presentation from the Blue Mountain Ratepayers Association, where association members pressed county council for a moratorium on development in the area or an increase in infrastructure spending in The Blue Mountains to accommodate more development.
“For the first time ever in your budget presentations you had a presentation from a ratepayers group from the Blue Mountains,” said Sampson. “I am willing to bet that is not the last time they are here. There is an issue they feel needs to be dealt with. They are asking for it to be dealt with. They are your ratepayers, they are our ratepayers and their issues should be attended to.”
Wingrove said while these discussions are valuable, the county’s ability to make any changes to the municipal levy is a provincial matter.
“The rules and restrictions outlined in the Municipal Act leave no other option but to allocate the county levy on the basis of assessment distribution,” she said. “If there is an issue with our assessment act and the way taxes are levied, then I think that is a conversation we need to be having with the province.”
Deputy mayor of the town of Hanover and member of the Blue Mountains task force, Selwyn Hicks, said while the task force has not settled the disagreement, he feels the exercise was able to produce a highly-valuable document that he hopes all Blue Mountain residents will take time to review.
“What we achieved in this task force is a better understanding of the issues at hand. What came out of that was a document outlining the services Grey County provides. Department-by-department we have set out what the county does and what the town of Blue Mountain receives,” Hicks added. “The problem is communication. We need to do a better job of communicating exactly what Blue Mountain residents are receiving from the county, which when you look at this document, it is significant.”
Along with the services the county provides to the Town of the Blue Mountains, the document also outlines the joint-initiative projects proposed for 2020, which include, $20,000 under the Community Improvement Plan for completion of a drainage master plan; by the town, the County and Grey Sauble Conservation Authority; review of tree preservation/tree cutting by-law(s); advocacy with the MTO regarding the completion of a highway 26 transportation sub-master plan; collaboration in the development of the 2020 Transportation Master Plan; collaboration with The Blue Mountains, Collingwood, Simcoe and Blue Mountain Resort on the completion of the planning work for the roundabout at Grey Road 19 and Simcoe Road 21.
County council concluded that it would support the task force's outlined 2020 work plan, but moving forward the Blue Mountain task force would be dissolved and any further issues regarding the equitability of the county levy would be brought to the Grey County Committee of the Whole.