Grey County has dissolved a task force dedicated to the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM), something town councillors are calling a snub.
“I just worry that with this task force being abolished, even though we are able to bring notices of motion to the council, I still feel this is yet another snub,” said TBM councillor Peter Bordignon during a virtual council meeting held March 30. “Our relationship with the county needs to be more so in the forefront. I don’t want this to quietly go away into the night, I want the views of the taxpayers in TBM to be addressed.”
The task force was originally established to respond to a request from the TBM to find solutions to resolve existing disagreements between the town and the county regarding the town’s share of the county’s annual levy.
Since its inception in 2017, 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.
At a council meeting held in mid-February, Grey County council voted to dissolve the TBM task force, and instructed that any future issues should be brought forward at a council meeting.
“The county is an interesting beast in that they are supposed to think about the good of the whole county,” said Mayor Soever. “Everyone is supposed to act in the best interest of the county but when you look at how the votes go, I would say that a lot of time it is self-interest that you see.”
Jim Torrance, president of the Blue Mountains Ratepayers Association (BMRA) says seeing the task force disbanded isn’t great news, but he wasn’t certain it was an effective way to communicate with the county to begin with.
“Based on what I observed from a couple of meetings from a few months ago, it didn’t seem as though the mandate of the task force was clear, nor was what it was intended to accomplish or how it was going to make that happen,” Torrance says. “Despite what the intent was, I think it ended up being fairly ineffective.”
Torrance says that, while the optics of the county’s decision to dissolve the task force may look poor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the TBM message to the county won’t be received in the future.
“Through council meetings and committee of the whole, there will still be a forum for this discussion and I think the reality is for things to happen at the county level, we need to gain the support of the other municipalities anyway,” Torrance says. “So, it may in fact not be a bad path to take to try and work together with the other municipalities at the council table.”
Deputy mayor Rob Potter also noted the need to develop a better relationship with the neighbouring municipalities in order to move forward.
“I think part of the problem is that a lot of councillors at the county don’t understand why there was a task force or why we have issues and so we need to do a better job of making that clear to them,” Potter said. “It is something that I think we should work together on, to do a better job of making sure the county understands why we need a task force and why they need to pay attention to our issues.”
What are the issues? The TBM would like to see some, if not all, of the money that the town is bringing into the county through development charges reinvested in the town’s infrastructure, in order to fuel further development.
According to Grey County's financial department, 51 per cent of the new growth assessment in 2019 came from the TBM, leaving the other eight municipalities contributing the remaining 49 per cent.
“Our big concern is the sustainability of our growth,” says Torrance. “We have some significant issues with infrastructure keeping up with development, and funding and resources are obviously needed to make that happen. Because there is a fairly significant amount of money that goes to the county for development charges for work being done in the TBM, we think it is only fair that it gets reinvested in our town.”
When the issue was brought forward at county council at the February meeting when the task force was disbanded, county CAO, Kim Wingrove did not entertain the conversation.
“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.”
Prior to dissolving the task force, the county outlined the joint-initiative projects proposed for 2020, which included, $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.
At the March 30 council meeting the TBM council moved the correspondence from the county for information purposes. TBM council also discussed sending a letter of disappointment to the county, however, it was decided to table the issue to a later date once the current COVID-19 situation is further resolved.
Torrance says while it is disappointing, town council and residents should keep in mind the major gain TBM made at the county council table at that very same Feb. 14 meeting.
“The flip side of it is that the county council did vote to essentially return about a million dollars of growth in our assessments that we realized over the past year, largely driven by our mayor’s efforts to update assessments throughout the town,” Torrance says. “So, we did get back almost a million dollars, specifically to fund some of the work we need to do in attainable housing. That was a positive. It was a very tight vote but they did agree to return those dollars. I think we should acknowledge that was positive. I don’t know how those things will work going forward but at least that is one positive that we can point to.”
Torrance also appeared before county council in early February to give a deputation in regards to the BMRA and the issues they would like to see addressed by the county going forward. Following that meeting, Torrance was supposed to have a meeting with the county CAO, which was later cancelled.
“We hoped to get more insight from the meeting with the county CAO, Kim Wingrove, and she was going to have the director of finance join that meeting. It was cancelled because of the COVID-19 related issues,” he says. “They had committed the written responses to be delivered a few weeks ago and that didn’t happen. Again, we need to be sensitive to the fact that their world has been turned upside down with this recent crisis, but we are hoping that they won’t simply look at this as an issue that has passed.”