Simcoe County Council Considers Major Restructuring
By Charlie Gamble
Early in 2008, FoTTSA learned that Simcoe County Council was taking the first step to develop a plan that could lead to a complete restructuring of our County Government.
Now more than ever, every taxpayer needs to understand what goes on at Simcoe County Council in order to grasp the viability and implications of any structural change.
For many years FoTTSA has covered Tiny Council meetings extensively, and reported via The Tiny Cottager and www.tinycottager.org. It has focused not only on “cottager” issues, but on Tiny Township’s current needs, future planning and concerns of all residents.
Only recently has FoTTSA made an attempt to cover Simcoe County Council. Over the last few months, we have had representatives at various Simcoe County meetings. In the long run, the intention is to work on this with other ratepayer groups in the County.
The County’s power is extensive and its total annual costs are huge:
• Simcoe County’s annual budget is now a whopping $440 million (up 44 million over 2007)!
• Simcoe County takes 34% of your municipal tax bill.
• Simcoe County finances and controls social services, County roads and infrastructure, waste management, forestry, Federal/Provincial Government liaison and environmental concerns.
• Tiny Township’s budget totals $8.5 million.
• Comparing 2008 to 2007, the Tiny Township tax levy increased by 2.5% while the County’s went up by 4.75%–almost double that of Tiny!
FoTTSA obtained a copy of the initial proposal for structural change prepared by staff under the guidance of the County’s Governance Committee. (This document is available at www.tinycottager.org accompanying the online version of this article)
In mid-March a special “workshop” meeting was convened of Simcoe County’s Committee of the Whole to discuss seven restructuring changes:
1. Should the County Warden serve for one, two or four years?
2. Should the Warden be elected by County Councilors (as now) or, directly by County voters?
3. Should the Warden be a dedicated County position; i.e., no longer also holding an elected position in a member municipality?
4. Should the title of “Warden” be changed? To what?
5. How large should County Council be? (The working proposal reduces the current base of 32 members to about half this number.)
6. Who should sit on County Council? (Currently all member municipality Mayors and Deputy Mayors comprise the voting members of County Council.)
7. How should County Council members be elected: as now to be Mayor or Deputy Mayor of a municipality, or via a direct election as County Councillors?
FoTTSA followed this special meeting with keen interest. It became clear that those attending took issue with some elements of the restructuring proposals, and more discussion and deliberation are needed.
FoTTSA will attend all future restructuring meetings and scrutinize developing proposals, and will consider whether the proposed restructuring would:
• Increase County operating effectiveness?
• Reduce County costs?
• Maintain, lower or increase the influence (read “power”) of the County Warden?
• Maintain, lower or increase the influence (read “power”) of elected County Council members?
• Permit an appropriate level of direct input by the voters into both the restructuring process and ongoing County planning and operations?
• Lead to an attainable, effective and affordable Simcoe County plan for the future?
Please “stay tuned” for more on Simcoe County restructuring.