The size of Simcoe County council could be changing by the time the next municipal election rolls around.
Regional councillor positions, electronic participation in meetings and an overall reduction of county council size are some of the ideas being considered as part of the county’s efficiency review, which has been taken on by the County of Simcoe since the province’s regional governance review fizzled out back in October.
“We wanted to maintain direct representation at Simcoe County council, but we agreed that we should reduce the number,” Warden George Cornell said this week.
Currently, Simcoe County council is made up of 32 members: the mayor and deputy mayor of all 16 member municipalities get a seat at the table, with the warden and deputy warden positions elected from within those ranks.
Barrie and Orillia do not have a seat at the county council table as they are separated cities.
Under the new model being contemplated, one representative from each member municipality would get a seat at the table – either the mayor from each municipality or a member chosen by each municipality at their municipal table, for 16 seats – as well either five or seven regional councillors which would be elected who don’t serve on any other municipal council. Future wardens and deputy wardens would be elected from the regional councillor pool.
“Staff are looking at how, geographically, (regional councillor boundaries) would look without moving borders. They’re coming back with suggestions and options for the committee to take a look at,” said Cornell.
This would reduce the size of county council to either 21 or 23 members total.
Cornell says there are a few different benefits to switching to such a model.
“It gives the warden and deputy warden a four-year term, which gives more continuity. It also gives them stronger focus when it comes to county issues,” he said.
“So right now, we have a council of 32. While we try to focus on county business when we’re at the county, we’re all still wearing two hats between the county and the municipality," said Cornell.
"I think it’s something the province would appreciate because given the size of the county and the magnitude of services we provide... they would appreciate having a warden and deputy warden that are 100 per cent focused on the County of Simcoe’s business,” he said.
“There are a lot of things going on at both levels,” Cornell added.
The recommendations came out of the county’s governance committee, which was formed initially to come up with governance structure suggestions for the regional governance review through the province, but has continued their work since the province announced in October it would put the decision making back into the hands of the municipalities instead of forcing top-down change.
Members of the committee include Deputy Warden Barry Burton, Warden George Cornell, Springwater Township Mayor Don Allen, Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin and Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes as well as some county staff.
“We reconvened the governance committee late last fall and reviewed the recommendations we had submitted and refined them further,” said Cornell.
Also part of the governance committee suggestions are an option for electronic participation at the committee level, where councillors could participate in meetings via video conference or tele-conference rather than attending in-person. Staff will also deliver a report on that option.
“There’s lots going on. Sometimes due to the time of year, it can be a challenge. This way, we could be a little more flexible with participation without compromising the discussions and the quality of decisions,” said Cornell.
On Dec. 4, county council approved recommendations from the committee that will see county staff providing reports on the feasibility of the options being considered at their next meeting. While a specific date for the next county governance committee meeting has not yet been set, Cornell said it is expected to happen by the end of January.
Once the committee comes to a consensus on options, they will be forwarded to county council for ratification before any governance structure changes would be made.