The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., admits he may be “wishing away” his own job by supporting a forthcoming Ford government review that could dissolve of Niagara Region.
Jim Diodati says he’s glad for the changes in Peel Region which will see Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon split into separate entities by 2025.
He suggests a similar change for Niagara region would be a long time coming, considering some 126 municipal politicians are governing just 450,000 residents.
“Compare that up the highway to Hamilton, where there’s 150,000 more people. … They do it with 16 politicians,” Diodati told 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show.
“So I think it’s a matter of not just saving money, but too many cooks in the kitchen.”
In a release marking the official separation of Peel, Ontario’s Municipal Affairs promised regional facilitators will assess the upper-tier municipalities of Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo and York and decide whether each is still “relevant to the needs of its communities.”
The facilitators are expected to make recommendations on how the regions may effectively respond to issues facing municipalities today, particularly when it comes to tackling a “housing supply crisis.”
“We’re committed to working with all our municipal partners to ensure that they have both the tools and the autonomy to deliver efficient and effective services to their constituents,” Clark said in the legislature during the Peel announcement.
Mike Kirkopoulos, chief administrative officer for the town of Lincoln, says the potential dissolving of several municipalities is a conversation that appears to have “evolved” from action to meet targets for more housing in Ontario.
“And that is, what does governance look like moving forward and potentially what’s working today,” Kirkopoulos said.
“What happens 20 or 30 years from now when we look out on that longer-term horizon? Does the current model still work?”
In an email to Global News Niagara Region chair Jim Bradley also identified the building of more homes as a starting point “to find efficiencies” via reviews of local governments.
He says Niagara’s council is also “looking forward” to working with the facilitators to find “opportunities that will benefit the entire community.”
“I believe that the provincial government understands that each region in Ontario is unique and will invest the time that is necessary to find solutions that will result in more homes being built in each of those communities,” Bradley said.
Diodati concurs with making a connection between building housing and governance reviews, saying high immigration numbers mean leaders have to “get ahead of the housing situation,” particularly with low-income and first-time homeowners.
“Right now, we’re challenged by getting enough staff, whether it’s chief building officials, planning staff. It’s a huge challenge right now,” Diodati said.
“So we definitely need to look at ways to streamline. … I think it’s a good time to look at this, to hit the reset, have a better model going forward.”
A five-member “transition board” — paid for by local property taxpayers in Peel Region — is expected to be appointed in 2023 to oversee the Peel dissolution process.
The transition board would be tasked with reviewing the finances of the three municipalities, as well as the region, determining how to detangle shared services, and exploring new property tax arrangements to fund overlapping services.
Services currently shared in the region range from some roads and transit offerings to affordable housing, policing and water.
Diodati said any separation of Niagara is not likely to parallel what’s about to happen in Peel, suggesting that having policing, water, sewer, transit and paramedics remain as regional services would be more efficient.
“It can be done in a number of ways. We can do it with boards, committees or commissions, but based and funded on a per capita basis with the population in the region,” he said.
Kirkopoulos also sees a “hybrid model,” particularly when it comes to providing for the many smaller communities positioned around Niagara like Lincoln, Beamsville, Grimsby and Smithville.
Infrastructure is where he sees problems with separation, particularly with where landfill sites will be located as well as water and wastewater treatment plants.
“I think those are the challenges,” Kirkopoulos said.
“Whether you call this a divorce or you call it a separation, when you take things apart, sometimes there’s a challenge in terms of looking at those pieces of infrastructure and who ends up owning it.”
— with files from Colin D’Mello and Isaac Callan, Global News
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