Win, lose or draw: Township to further break down legal expenses

Oro-Medonte Township spent just under a million dollars last year on legal services fighting various battles.

How much the township will spend this year isn’t known, even though the municipality recently completed its 2024 budget.

“The 2024 recalibrated operating budget does not list legal expenses separately, but legal expenses are included in individual department budgets,” Jenny Legget, communications and public relations officer for Oro-Medonte, wrote in an email to BarrieToday.

The township’s chief financial officer will be providing a summary in the early part of the third quarter of 2024, she added, which will include a breakdown of legal expenses by department, including actual-to-budget for 2024.

Until that executive summary comes out in September, residents will have to use whatever means they can to find out how much the township is spending.

Finding those legal expenses in the 2024 Oro-Medonte budget is a challenge, even when you use the township’s 2023 legal results as a starting point.

As part of the 2024 budget recalibration meeting on March 20, the township included a one-page document in the budget presentation that detailed the township’s legal expenses. It itemized the charges and catalogued the costs by division — planning, shared services, human resources, etc.

Some of those legal costs include:

The overall results, provided by the township, showed the municipality spent $975,730 in 2023 on legal expenses. Council had a budget of $428,900.

With a number of ongoing legal issues — Carriage Hills/Carriage Ridge, two human rights tribunals, cannabis farms and short-term accommodation enforcement among them — the township continues to face challenges when it comes to legal expenses.

BarrieToday tried to compare 2024 budget allocations to what was reported on the one-page legal spend for 2023 that was included in the March 20 budget recalibration presentation in an effort to determine the township’s legal budget for 2024, since it’s not a line item on its own.

A review of the Oro-Medonte 2024 budget shows the township has allocated $18,000 for an integrity commissioner, which is included in the budget prepared for council, and $325,000 for Ontario Land Tribunal that’s included in the planning budget.

“Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly the OMB) appeals are on the rise,” reads the explanation of the 2023 result. “Appeals are volitional and unpredictable and will be covered with the township's legal reserve if needed in 2024. Ontario Land Tribunal funds are meant to cover legal costs and any consulting fees required to support the township's position.

“A staff objective is to reduce the cost of appeals and the amount budgeted is not tied to the provision of dedicated service to residents,” the explanation also stated.

Other than those two references, there are no specific legal expenses allocated or detailed in the Oro-Medonte budget.

In 2023, the township spent $80,917 on labour and employment law that was included in the human resources bucket. From the 2024 human resources budget, there is an allocation of $55,000 in labour and employee relations. There are no additional details, however.

Last year, under development services, the township spent almost $200,000 on Ontario Land Tribunal appeals and planning matters, short-term rentals and building/septic matters. There is no development services category in the 2024 budget.

In 2023, under shared services, the township spent $490,312 for legal services related to general matters, human rights tribunal, cannabis and TRY recycling. There is no category called shared services listed on the 2024 budget.

There is shared costs and it includes a line item called risk management that has an allocation of just under $1.15 million.

Township officials noted on the budget document that “risk management includes legal and insurance costs.” How much is apportioned to each cost is not detailed.

Last year, under environmental services, the township spent $161,481 on Zone 1 water and the Municipal Service Corporation. There are no legal expenses listed in this category for the 2024 budget.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,