Fifty years ago, there were a lot more municipalities in southern Ontario, and most of them handled services like garbage collection, road construction and maintenance, sewer and water systems, even policing or hydro-electric generation, on their own. In what is now the Township of Uxbridge, there were three separate local governments: Scott Township, north of Davis Drive; Uxbridge Township, south of Davis, with its municipal hall in Goodwood; and the Town of Uxbridge. Coincidentally, it was another Davis, premier Bill, who in 1973 eliminated Davis Drive as a boundary, amalgamating the three into one municipality. Around the same time, legislation was passed at Queen’s Park creating a number of upper or second-tier municipal governments that would deliver many services on behalf of all their member first-tier municipalities.
The Regional Municipality of Durham came into existence on Jan. 1, 1974, with eight member first-tier local governments, four of them primarily urban (Oshawa, Whitby, Pickering and Ajax) and four largely rural (Clarington, Scugog, Brock and Uxbridge). Uxbridge sends two representatives to regional council, our mayor and regional councillor. We also take part in directly electing the Regional Chair.
And now, after several decades of operation, the Region takes the lion’s share of your property taxes. In 2022, 58 per cent of your residential property taxes were forwarded to the Region (headquartered in Whitby), and 43 per cent of commercial and industrial ones, about twice what goes to Township coffers (the rest being collected on behalf of school boards). This year, the Township forwarded more than $31.6 million to Region coffers.
In addition to your property taxes, you also support Durham Region operations through your water/sewer bill. That money goes exclusively to the construction, operation and maintenance of water and sewer systems in the Township; all other Regional services are funded through property taxes. In 2022, the Region budget for water and sewer was about $478 million, for all other operations about $1.73 billion.
There are currently about 4,940 people employed full or part-time by Durham Region; this does not include contractors, like the folks who pick up your recycling.
You can probably think of many Regional services without much trouble, because its logo is there on a sign or the side of a truck: our water treatment plant on Main Street; the transit bus that takes you to college in Oshawa; the police or paramedics that attend traffic accidents; the snow plow that clears Highway 47 in January (there are six other regional roads in Uxbridge, tended to out of yards near Sunderland and Utica).
But the contractor who picks up your garbage or recycling is also hired by the Region. North House, the agency working on behalf of the homeless, is largely funded by the Region. Vaccination programs during the pandemic were administered by the Region’s Public Health Department. The Region manages two housing complexes in Uxbridge that are considered social housing, on Perry St. and in Testa Heights.
The Region’s Works Department is responsible for goods and traffic movement through the Region. This means it has a traffic control centre, assists with traffic studies and carries out engineering that benefits its member municipalities.
The Region also provides significant support in areas such as economic development, tourism, planning, legal advice, environmental planning and mitigation, insurance advice and coverage, human resources, geomatics, (mapping, data and geo-information), and emergency management and coordination (which is pretty important when you have several nuclear reactors in your Region). Recently, the Region has also become actively involved in developing fibre and internet backbone infrastructure which will enable “last mile” internet connectivity to rural areas such as Uxbridge and its hamlets.
“The public may not see some of these other services that are offered,” says township communications officer Colleen Baskin, “but staff at the Township rely very heavily on the expertise at the Region, as we do not always have staff or consulting service budgets to hire that expertise ourselves, and our residents definitely benefit as a result of the Regional support for the work we do.”
Adds current Regional Councillor Gordon Highet (not running again in this election): “There are many services that the Region can deliver that we could not hope to do at the Uxbridge level without huge expenditures in infrastructure and staffing, with according massive local tax increases. The simplest way to look at percentages is: the higher percentage of the total tax bill goes to the Region because the Region provides the higher percentage of the services.”
Almost all municipalities in Ontario, except the largest like Toronto or Ottawa, are now included in regional governments, the theory being that it is more efficient for an upper tier to manage services like those above. But participation is not obligatory, and there are exceptions. In the upper Ottawa Valley, for example, the second-tier municipality is the County of Renfrew. However, the largest first-tier entity in the area, the City of Pembroke, does not belong to the County, and operates entirely on its own (even though the County is headquartered there!). Pembroke is much smaller than Oshawa.
Another opting-out example in Renfrew County is the town of Deep River, which operates its own police force, even though the County, like all second-tier municipalities, has its own. Deep River has a much smaller population than Uxbridge, fewer than 5,000 people.
Policing takes the largest piece of the Region budget, more than 30 per cent. Thirty per cent of our property tax contribution to the Region is about $9.5 million. So if Uxbridge was to follow the Deep River example, could we, for $9.5 million, operate an effective force that would be more visible locally? Provincial legislation obliges us to have police, but they don’t have to be Regional ones. We could contract the OPP, or we could use our own.
Every four years during the municipal election campaign, questions are asked about whether Uxbridge is getting its money’s worth from the second-tier municipality. They are legitimate questions.
Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos