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Grey Highlands, TBM political leaders spar during county council meeting

Arguments over TBM's tax payments to the county got heated with Grey Highlands' deputy mayor suggesting TBM should raise local taxes
Town Hall
The Blue Mountains Town Hall

Ongoing tensions between Grey County and The Blue Mountains boiled over at the county’s committee of the whole meeting on April 28.

Accusations of “unethical” behaviour, points of order and heated words were exchanged between Grey Highlands Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai and county representatives from The Blue Mountains.

Towards the end of the meeting, Grey Highlands Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai rose and made a lengthy presentation and asked The Blue Mountains Mayor Alar Soever to apologize for comments he made at county council meetings held March 10 and 24.

Desai objected to comments Soever made suggesting The Blue Mountains doesn’t have the same recreational amenities as other communities, due to financial restraints caused by the amount the town pays to the county. Desai said he previously asked for an apology from Mayor Soever and in response Soever said he would review the video of the meeting.

The Blue Mountains council recently passed a motion to have staff prepare a report on the town’s financial relationship with the county. The Blue Mountains pays a significant portion of the county’s tax levy and local officials have, for many years, suggested the services the town receives from the county don’t match its financial contribution.

Taxes are paid based on assessment values, and The Blue Mountains has the highest assessed properties in the county.

Desai cited property tax data he had assembled and suggested The Blue Mountains council should stop blaming the county for its financial or service level issues.

“There is room to increase the tax rates (in The Blue Mountains) and, if they’re unwilling to do that for whatever reason, it could be political, it could be policy or it could be operational, it’s not for me to discuss and not for me to debate on,” said Desai. “When Councillor Soever sits here and says they cannot build recreation centres because they pay too much to the county, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Raise your taxes locally, that is what we’ve done in the other eight municipalities. We have made the tough decisions.”

At one point during his presentation, Desai suggested Soever’s comments were “unethical” and that drew an immediate response from The Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon, who asked Warden Selwyn Hicks for a point of order.

“(Desai) has called Councillor Soever ‘unethical.’ He has disparaged Town of The Blue Mountains staff. I don’t think this is the proper forum for that,” said Bordignon.

The point of order led to more back-and-forth between Desai and Bordignon. Desai denied mentioning The Blue Mountains staff, while Bordignon said the discussion had “drifted off county business.”

After the exchange, Warden Hicks asked Desai to wrap up his presentation and offered Mayor Soever the opportunity to respond.

“I do take exception to some of Councillor Desai’s remarks. He has a way of playing with numbers and I told him I would be happy to discuss and explain my remarks to him,” said Soever. “He did not take me up on that offer.”

In response, Desai asked for a point of order to object to Soever’s comments, but was ruled out of order by Warden Hicks.

Soever concluded by citing property tax data he had gathered that outlined the differences between what a ratepayer in The Blue Mountains pays in county taxes as compared to other local municipalities. Soever also offered to meet with Desai to discuss the matter further and said his council’s recent resolution to examine the relationship between the town and the county was meant to get the right information about a complex issue.

“All we’re trying to do with this motion is get the right numbers so we don’t have these kinds of conversations where council members are throwing numbers back and forth,” said Soever.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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