County of Simcoe council met for the last meeting of their term on Tuesday morning and received a report on how the newly introduced provincial Bill 23 could impact planning across the County of Simcoe.
And the impact, at first glance, could cost the county $175 million over 10 to 15 years, and a possible trickle-down tax hike of four to five per cent just to pay back the development charges the county could lose in that time through the legislation.
“There are significant implications not only to the county but to other regions as well,” said Rob Elliott, the county’s general manager of engineering, planning, and environment to councillors. “We have good reason to be very concerned about the legislation.”
“There are significant financial implications for municipalities as well,” he said.
On October 25, the provincial government introduced Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act 2022. The province has said the purpose of Bill 23 is to increase the housing supply throughout Ontario and to achieve the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes within the next 10 years.
Many of the changes proposed to various acts under the bill are significant, including matters relating to development charge reform, the diminished role of conservation authorities, how needed infrastructure is coordinated and paid for and by whom, and removing all legislated planning responsibilities from certain upper-tier municipalities including Simcoe County.
Nathan Westendorp, the county’s director of planning, noted during Tuesday’s meeting that there are some good parts of the bill.
“There are good parts of it, and it’s well-intended. We have a housing crisis and the province is taking bold steps to address that crisis,” said Westendorp. “However, based on our review, we believe there are some unintended consequences we will inherit as a result of Bill 23 as proposed.”
“We’re concerned that there’s a departure from the philosophy that development pays for development and growth pays for growth, and there will be a bigger burden placed on the existing taxpayer,” he added.
Westendorp said a main concern is the legislation will lead to the building of more homes, but the homes will be in communities that no one will want to live in.
Through Bill 23, the province is proposing to amend the Development Charges Act and the Planning Act in a way that removes development charge-eligible services and costs, exempts certain development from the payment of development charges, parkland dedication fees and community benefits charges, and mandates a phase-in of new rates for all development.
Development charges pay for infrastructure costs related to development, such as the costs of bringing water to new homes and building roads to connect new developments to existing development.
According to the county’s staff report, the initial estimated impact to the County of Simcoe is a loss of at least $175 million in development charges over the next 10 to 15 years.
“In effect, this is almost a download,” said Trevor Wilcox, general manager of corporate performance. “Unless the government comes up with funding that can replace that. AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) is advocating for that, but there has been no discussion up to this point that there would be any replacement of that kind of funding.”
The bill also proposes removing housing services as an eligible development charge. Money collected for housing services is used to build social housing projects.
The county report notes this will cause a re-evaluation of social housing projects throughout the county, such as projects in Bradford West Gwillimbury, Orillia and Barrie, and “may in fact slow down, and even prevent critical social housing projects from being completed.”
“If no other funding is provided by the province to offset the loss of this revenue, the county will need to borrow to complete these projects,” notes the report, adding the changes are expected to result in a minimum four- to five-per-cent increase in property taxes to pay it back.
Also concerning to the county is the bill would see the role and function of the County of Simcoe planning department removed from the development approvals process, and the county Official Plan eliminated.
Bill 23 remains open for consultation with comments being accepted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO). Some changes being suggested are open to comment for 30 days (until Nov. 24), while others are open to commenting for 45 days (until Dec. 9) or 66 days (until Dec. 30). You can find more information about submitting comments here.
At the end of Tuesday’s discussions, council was told county comments will be submitted to the province before the end of the consultation period.