Blue Mountain Ratepayers' Association

Grey County to talk with Blue Mountains

By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Grey County has agreed to work towards forming a task force to discuss concerns coming out of the Town of the Blue Mountains stemming from the amount it pays to the county tax levy.
At its committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, county council directed staff to work with the Blue Mountains to develop a terms of reference for a task force made up of elected officials and staff to have dialogue on issues concerning the town.
“The steering committee will meet and I believe that is a good starting point,” Blue Mountains Mayor John McKean said following the meeting. “We can get some of the issues at least out on the table that we want to talk about.”
The decision to explore the task force approach came after county council passed a motion against retaining the Office of the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator to facilitate discussions on the matter, which Blue Mountains officials had been requesting.
McKean said he believes a facilitator will still be required at some point.
“We have been at this a long time. It has been decades,” said McKean. “Let’s find out for sure one way or the other.”
The Blue Mountains has long expressed frustration about the amount of money it contributes to the annual county levy. Its share of the levy is about 26 per cent, even though its population represents only about 6.5 per cent of the county’s total population. The reason it contributes so much to the county budget is because it has the highest combined assessment among the nine member municipalities. Last year, the Blue Mountains even expressed a willingness to explore the possibility of becoming a single-tier municipality.
Thursday’s recommendation came following a presentation by Blue Mountains Coun. Michael Martin asking that the county request the services of the facilitator, as had been recommended by provincial officials last year.
But in his report to council on the request, Director of Finance Kevin Weppler recommended against going with the facilitator.
Weppler said it was the feeling of county staff that there would be no benefit from meeting with the facilitator since the county is simply following the Municipal Act when allocating its annual levy.
Weppler said changes to how the levy is allocated would require significant changes to the Municipal Act, which would have an impact provincewide.
“For a $500,000 assessed home in the Blue Mountains, the tax being collected on that for upper-tier purposes is no different than a $500,000 home in Hanover for upper-tier purposes,” Weppler said.
Grey County Chief Administrative Officer Kim Wingrove added that boundary issues have been the primary focus of the facilitator and the county was unable to find an example where the facilitator was used in an issue where they were looking at changes to how the tax levy was proportioned.
McKean said the Blue Mountains isn’t questioning the allocation of the tax levy, but is questioning the level of funding they receive back.
“Is there an ability for the spending of the money to be revisited,” said McKean, who said some of the county’s most deficient roads are in the town.
“We have significant growth down there and there needs to be an increase to the funding level.”
McKean said the infrastructure deficiencies are being addressed, but not at a rate that is sustainable.
“Especially with our cycling traffic, we have county roads, and town roads for that matter too, that need to have the paved shoulders put on them,” said McKean. “As a silver destination for cycling in Ontario, people when they come, they are out for an experience and having those paved shoulders sure aid in that.”
McKean said there are other areas of concern for his municipality, such as development charges.
“We are collecting roughly a third of the development charges that are collected by the county,” McKean said. “If you have development putting into that pot, that is where you should be spending that money.”
Wingrove said the county is trying to run a system that benefits all residents of Grey County.
“We really do in every department have a mandate to provide those services to the best of our ability,” said Wingrove, who gave several examples of projects and services the county has undertaken in the Blue Mountains.
“We are there and we are trying,” she said.
Warden Al Barfoot said the county has a willingness to sit down with the Blue Mountains to discuss their concerns and feels that it may lead to addressing concerns the county’s other member municipalities may have.
“Governance within the county is a huge issue,” said Barfoot.
“County council has been open to this throughout the whole term through our strategic plan and other discussions that ongoing governance is something that is an active document, but it has to be something that is going to benefit all the municipalities.”