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County council to review governance structure, compensation

One change that could be discussed is the possibility of a full-time warden
County of Simcoe councillors meet twice a month at the administrative building in Midhurst.

The composition of Simcoe County council, how much its members are paid and the possibility of a full-time warden will all be topics of discussion at an upcoming special meeting of council.

“We are scheduling a workshop to look at the structure of council again,” Warden Basil Clarke said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “I encourage the workshop. It’s something we do every term and that we send back to the ministry … Whether it be status quo or changes, it’s good faith that we have a look at it.”

According to a staff report, the current council structure has remained similar for decades and has prescribed that mayors and deputy mayors of the lower-tier municipalities — ie. towns and townships — comprise county council through a “double-direct method of election.” 

Since the most recent amalgamation of some local municipalities by the province in 1994, mayors and deputy mayors of the current 16 lower-tier municipalities make up the 32-member council.

Members elect and appoint from within themselves a head of council (the warden) in the first and third years of each council term. 

Dating back to the early 1900s, county council was represented by a varying number of reeves and deputy reeves from the local communities within the county, and the number of municipalities fluctuated over the decades. 

The provincial amalgamation of 1994, through the County of Simcoe Act, brought the county from 28 municipalities and 38 members of council to the current 16 municipalities and 32 members of council. 

The report also explained the current weighted vote at council aims to achieve a form of representation by population and closely mimics the rules set out by the province that came as part of the 1994 amalgamation.

Council passed an updated bylaw in the early 2000s to set the formula for a weighted vote at council meetings, which are by request at council meetings only. The formula gives a greater weight of votes to members from a municipality that has a higher number of electors and is readjusted at the beginning of each term. 

The Municipal Act allows flexibility whereby upper-tier municipalities, including the County of Simcoe, are generally able to revise their council composition to best meet local circumstances.

"In other words, there is not a prescribed ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in the province of Ontario," stated the report, which also noted governance structures are constantly evolving. "One overarching principle with governance is effective representation. Generally, the more population in a given lower-tier municipality, the more say they have at the upper-tier municipality."

During the brief discussion, Collingwood Deputy Mayor Tim Fryer noted that there's other information he'd like to have as council moves ahead with the discussion.

“I am fine with the three … I’d like to know if we’d be able to get some information as to the total councillor compensation — not just for Simcoe County but the other ones we are looking at," he said. "I think it’s something I’d like to have for information. If we do think of other information we’d like to see we can just email in … Just food for thought.”

Chief administrative officer Mark Aitken confirmed councillors can email questions or request additional information from staff to be included as information for the workshop.

No date has yet been confirmed for the workshop.