Wellington County, neighbouring region not consulted for Town of Erin report

Warden questions 'one-sided' report suggesting Erin taxpayers would save money by leaving county

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Following a report to Erin council that seems to question the town’s future in Wellington County, affected municipalities say it’s up to Erin to make the first move to begin discussions.

A 26-page report, presented to Erin council on Dec. 7, analyzed how town services are currently delivered and compared that with potential efficiencies that may be gained through other delivery models.

Those include possibly leaving Wellington County to join Peel or Halton regions or to remaining on its own as a “single-tier” municipality.

In an interview with the Advertiser, Wellington County Warden Kelly Linton confirmed he spoke with Erin Mayor Allan Alls about the report a couple weeks prior to it being presented to Erin council.

“He let me know that the project was underway and that there was a report coming, but I didn’t really know what was going to be in it,” he stated.

On Dec. 7 Erin council approved a motion directing staff to engage in conversations with the province, the county and other municipal stakeholders to explore ways to save taxpayers dollars as identified in the report.

Linton noted the report was received for information, meaning there’s no real direction provided at this time, so he’s not sure where the town’s going from here.

“[At the county] we take pretty seriously our role in providing excellent services to our residents, regardless of whether they live in Erin or whether they live in Wellington North or Centre Wellington,” Linton explained.

“Erin’s been with the county for the last 150 years so we’re always open for constructive discussions on how we can make sure that we’re optimizing the services that Erin residents get for the taxes that they pay.”

How would it work?

The report from Watson and Associates Economists Limited, for which Erin budgeted $50,000, suggests Erin taxpayers could save:

  • 10.9% in taxes by relaying the responsibility of town roads to Wellington County;
  • 35.9% if the town is serviced by Halton Region;
  • 33.2% if the town is serviced by Peel Region; and
  • up to 4.7% by operating as a single-tier municipality.

It remains unclear exactly what steps would be required for the Town of Erin to leave Wellington County, but provincial regulations suggest that in areas with a two-tier municipal government, support from the upper tier (in this case Wellington County) is required before a lower-tier municipality (Erin) can submit a restructuring proposal to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Erin council would obviously also have to approve the move, but so too, it appears, would “the majority of the councils representing a majority of electors in all the local municipalities,” Ontario regulations state.

Prior to voting on a restructuring proposal, the councils of the affected municipalities must give notice and hold at least one public meeting.

County, region not consulted

Linton noted one of the issues he has with the Erin report is there were no discussions with the county before it was brought to Erin council. He said county staff was not asked to provide any information or validate any of the numbers used by Erin’s consultant.

“I can’t speak on the accuracy of the numbers and the legitimacy of the findings because we weren’t a part of the process,” Linton explained.

“When you go through a project, you have to make sure your approach to the project is right and so I can’t really speak about the scenarios because I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in what they came out with at the end of the day.”

Linton also questioned whether the scenarios presented in the report are even feasible, but he said he didn’t want to comment until he understands how the consultants arrived at some of the assumptions presented.

“Maybe that’s the nature of the constructive conversations that we have to have with Erin,” he said.

In retrospect, Linton said the report would likely have been better received by the county had they been included in the initial discussions.

“If you’re talking about different configurations with Erin not being part of the county, you’d assume that you’d have the conversations with the other party that you’re talking about – even to validate some of the numbers that you’re using,” he explained.

Linton said he’s not sure if Erin had any conversations with the other jurisdictions mentioned in the report.

Andrew Warren, communications advisor for Peel Region, said the region hasn’t seen the report and is unable to comment on it at this time.

“We have checked internally in Peel Region and have not received any correspondence with the Town of Erin regarding this report and the Region of Peel was not consulted on this matter or on this report,” Warren stated.

As for next steps for Peel Region, Warren said any communication from Erin will be added to the regional council agenda for council to review and provide any direction to staff, if relevant.

Halton Region was also contacted for comment but did not respond to Advertiser inquiries by press time.

Next steps

Linton called the Erin report “really one-sided” and “a pretty cursory review at this point.”

He said, “I think there is definitely some discussions that have to be had and one of the primary ones is, what is driving this project in the first place?”

He stressed, “The county is always interested in working with every single one of our member municipalities to do what we can provide excellent service for tax dollars … You really don’t need to go through a governance review to have those discussions with the county.”

In terms of next steps, Linton said county officials will be waiting for Erin to reach out before making any moves.

“They initiated this process so if there’s something for Wellington County to do about it, we’ll be waiting for them,” he said.

“I know they have some significant discussions as an Erin council about this report, so it really is in their court to identify what the next step is.”

Wellington County CAO Scott Wilson agreed.

He said he couldn’t speak about what the process will look like should Erin secede, as it’s something he hasn’t encountered during his time in municipal government.

“I haven’t looked into it,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a municipality getting out of another municipality.

“There’s certainly been amalgamations in my time since I’ve been in municipal government, but it’s always been amalgamations between municipalities and an upper tier.”

Wilson added, “From my perspective, and I think from the county’s perspective, Erin is driving the initiative so it’s in their hands to let us know how we’re supposed to participate.”

‘Fair share for Erin’

During the Dec. 7 meeting, Alls stressed the report is for information and intended to “elicit discussions on a fair share for Erin taxpayers.”

He added, “Operating with respect for taxpayers’ dollars while delivering service excellence is a key principle for the Town of Erin.”

Later he stated, “I think as people elected to represent the people of Erin we’re duty bound to see where we can save tax dollars.”

The report was approved in June of 2019 as part of the town’s spending of a $602,673 provincial modernization and efficiencies grant.

At the time, CAO Nathan Hyde told council the review would address issues such as whether town roads could be more efficiently managed by Wellington County and whether the county could take over town water and wastewater services.

The possibility of the town leaving the county or a comparison with nearby regions was never mentioned.

Asked why the report changed from its original intent, Erin spokesperson Lavina Dixit replied the report aims “to evaluate different governance … in providing value to tax payers.”

She said, “The content of the report provides a look at the different options that offer value for tax dollars. It does not provide a recommendation or suggestion on any action.”