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East Gwillimbury mayor leads charge to keep deferred sewer projects on front burner
March 7, 2015
By Lisa Queen

This year’s regional budget may have been passed by council, despite an outcry from developers and some municipalities left startled by a sudden deferral of major sewer projects, but East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson is leading a charge to make sure the delays don’t go unchallenged in next year’s budget.

Politicians and developers were shocked last month to learn the region planned to delay projects such as the Upper York Sewage Solution, needed to accommodate growth in East Gwillimbury, Newmarket and Aurora, until 2031, sewer works in Vaughan and the Sutton water pollution control plant expansion.

Sewage capacity dictates whether development can go ahead.

The deferrals were blamed on lower than anticipated collection of development charges, the fees developers are charged on new construction, due to a slowdown in the region’s growth.

The region uses development charges, which are passed on to people buying new homes, offices, stores and other construction, to build infrastructure, such as roads and water and sewer projects.

While admitting they haven’t communicated well on the deferrals, top regional staff point out pre-construction work is proceeding as planned on the projects and council can bring the projects forward again in the next year or two.

Over the past two weeks, the region has held meetings with developers and municipal staff concerned about deferrals of the UYSS and the Vaughan projects to calm their fears.

But concerns continue to simmer.

The UYSS is key to allowing East Gwillimbury’s population to balloon from today’s 24,000 to about 150,000 in 2051, Hackson argued at last week’s regional council meeting, where the 2015 budget was adopted.

There’s a great concern with that deferral, she said.

Hackson lost a bid to set aside the UYSS deferral for 120 days to allow regional staff to meet with affected municipalities and stakeholders to find ways to speed up delivery of the project.

Treasurer Bill Hughes argued Hackson’s motion would actually backfire because it would halt pre-construction work on the project, rather than speeding things up.

“We would not have authority to proceed with that work,” he said, adding it could also put the region at financial risk.

“The second and, perhaps, more important factor is it would affect the fiscal strategy and the debt management plan and, therefore, potentially compromise our discussions with the credit rating agencies, which are coming up later this spring.”

Last year, credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s lowered the region’s credit rating by one notch to AA+ from AAA because it was worried the region was taking on too many infrastructure projects, which was leading to too much debt.

Although Hackson lost her bid for the deferral, she pressed on.

All councillors supported her new motion directing regional staff to bring back a report by November in time for discussions of the 2016 budget.

The report will outline the status of the deferred projects, consultation efforts with developers and local municipalities, funding possibilities and opportunities for moving up the timing of the projects.

“My intent is there is a lot of work to be done and if 120 days is not going to happen, then I hope by the time we are talking around this table at the November budget (discussions) that there are partners and solutions and opportunities in front of us,” she said.

While regional chairperson Wayne Emmerson supports getting the report in time for next year’s budget deliberations, he said another report coming to council in the next few weeks will shed new light on sewage capacity already available in York Region.

“You’re going to get a report ... saying where all the sewage servicing is available sitting there not being used. So, it’s going to be very interesting and every municipality is going to get a list of all the land sitting there that ... we could be getting DC (development charges) on,” he said.

“Maybe all the developers should show up for that meeting.”