Regional review: a roll of the governance dice

Town of Grimsby

By Joanne McDonald

For NewsNow

Change is coming and no one, let alone Grimsby Council can guess how the Town, or Niagara, will weather the province’s regional government review.

Friday, during a special meeting three days ahead of the May 21 deadline to submit local positions to the province’s special advisors, councillors drafted what may not only be the longest, but most important resolution they will write on behalf of Grimsby residents.

They have no argument with finding greater efficiencies through the alignment of the current two-tiered model but stand firm against amalgamation with surrounding municipalities.

Drafting a resolution that received unanimous consent, Council committed to provide a resident-centered focus to ensure quality and efficiencies of services to taxpayers while streamlining operations and safeguarding the unique character of the town.

“Be it resolved that the Council of the Town of Grimsby recommends status quo and does not support amalgamation or annexation.”

A position paper on the province’s governance review prepared in short order by Grimsby’s senior management team (SMT) was a welcome and solid starting point for council to determine its position on the review (see full report at newsnowniagara.com). It will also be submitted to the province.

Coun. Dorothy Bothwell called the SMT report  an excellent submission providing great depth on the potential for integrated and shared services, debt loads and an overview of how successful Grimsby is operating.

“The report is intended to inform council on our feelings around municipal service delivery for the Town. We don’t speak to decision making, that is left to Council,” SMT member Filipe Janicas, Grimsby’s Director of Information Technology and Service Innovation said following the report presentation.

The province announced in January it was launching a review aiming to find efficiencies and targeting eight regional governments including Durham, Halton, Muskoka District, Niagara, Oxford County, Peel, Waterloo, York, Simcoe County and their lower-tier municipalities.

Two special advisers, Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling, were appointed to sound out local perspectives and report back by early summer.

There is no mention of amalgamations in the review, but there has been wide speculation across Niagara positing everything from the creation of one Niagara mega-city to amalgamations of smaller municipalities.

Mayor Jeff Jordan said amalgamation in other centres has not resulted in cost savings. Reducing the number of municipal politicians will only reduce the public’s accessibility and won’t be a cost savings. However there is room he said to reduce council size at the regional level. The 31-member council is onerous, and makes for long meetings with repetition of comments.

“We are a separate and distinct community and very efficient in the way we operate,” said Coun. John Dunstall.

“Amalgamation won’t save money and doesn’t bring value to the community,” Dunstall said, referring to evidence from other regions where “it has raised taxes and had negative implications.”

“This is a very tough decision from the province, we’re not getting a lot of feedback with regard to governance and what they are planning to do,” said Coun. Dave Kadwell.

“There’s not a lot of indicators to what the end result might be,” Kadwell noted after attending Niagara’s date with the special advisors travelling across the province to listen to local voices.

“The province hasn’t given us any parameters,” said Jordan, who also attended the May 1 meeting in Thorold He observed the special advisors didn’t take any notes and said that is the way they want to work.

While January’s announcement said the outcomes of the review are not predetermined, Bothwell questioned the value of consultants hired as advisors to Niagara considering their reports would not be available before the May 31 deadline set for municipalities to provide input. She referred to a final report due in June.

“Why are they now doing a survey. We won’t have any say,” Bothwell said,

“Support the staff position and do not support amalgamation,” said Coun. Kevin Ritchie, who believes most of the upcoming decisions will be more reactive than proactive and he fears the government’s position that was expected in June will be delayed until after the Aug. 18 AMO (Association of Municipalities Ontario) conference.

Coun. Dave Sharpe said he doesn’t want to be saddled with debt loads from other municipalities through amalgamation. He believes the mix of unionized and non-unionized staff would create an environment of distrust among employees.

“There can always be ways to improves services. But I would not support the amalgamation at all. We are very unique in Grimsby, look at the growth in west Niagara. We must be doing something right,” said Kadwell. “Amalgamation is not even on the table.”

“We do support the status quo and would like to participate in shared service agreements to find efficiencies, but we do not support amalgamation,” said Sharpe.

Bothwell raised the potential of Grimsby being connected to Hamilton and suggested the resolution make a clear reference.

“Grimsby does not support annexation to Hamilton. That’s a very real concern,” she said.

“I don’t know if that’s a shot over the bow, but I think we would not do well as an extension of Hamilton,” said Coun. Lianne Vardy.

“There is lots more we can do to share services. We’ve already shown leadership around those things. If we’re talking about savings we should be touting our success.”

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