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Morris-Turnberry to end shared building department agreement with North Huron

By Mike Wilson and Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

MORRIS-TURNBERRY – Morris-Turnberry has given notice to North Huron of their intention to end their shared building department agreement.

The current five-year agreement was set to end in December 2022. That agreement, according to Morris-Turnberry CAO Trevor Hallam, includes provisions for extension, amendments by mutual consent, and early termination with six months’ notice.

The agreement will now end on Dec. 31, 2021.

The cost-sharing agreement of the current agreement is a 60/40 split, with Morris-Turnberry picking up the larger portion of the tab. Earlier this year, Morris-Turnberry staff conducted a review of the department’s data and claim that the amount of work being done by the department in each municipality does not match the cost-sharing split.

According to a report at North Huron council on March 1, the building department spent 51.09 per cent of their time in 2020 working on North Huron matters, and 48.91 per cent on Morris-Turnberry business. In 2019, according to the same report, the department spent 47.9 per cent of their time on North Huron business and 52.1 per cent on Morris-Turnberry matters.

Morris-Turnberry, in a press release on May 28, stated that they paid for approximately $10,000 of services for North Huron residents in 2020.

In January, Morris-Turnberry sent a request to North Huron council to change the cost-sharing agreement for the building department from 60/40 to 50/50.

At the March 1 North Huron council meeting, the request was discussed.

North Huron Deputy Reeve Trevor Seip stated the building department request should be part of a larger discussion about cross border services. Council opted to defer the request to be discussed at the committee level.

The matter was to be brought back to a future council meeting. However, as of press time, this has not occurred.

“We did not set out to end this agreement,” said Jamie Heffer, mayor of Morris-Turnberry, in a press release. “We just wanted to make a change so we would each pay for what we are actually using.”

Heffer added, “The agreement was set up to be reviewed and adjusted as needed, and the 60/40 split was only an estimate to get it started.”

Heffer said he believed the proposed change to be a “fair, common sense solution,” but without receiving a response from North Huron, a decision had to be made.

“We had to make this decision to avoid being locked into another year of an imbalanced agreement,” said Heffer.

When reached by the Wingham Advance Times for comment, North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey stated he was not surprised by Morris-Turnberry’s decision.

“In two and a half years we haven’t been able to make a deal with cross border water and sewer. In two and a half years they have taken away funding for soft services. This year, they’re not even showing up to help with the COVID-19 clinic that will help save our communities,” said Bailey.

“It’s no surprise they are not willing to share the building inspection team.”

Bailey added that North Huron will go back to having their own building inspector, which was also discussed by North Huron council earlier this year.

“We will be fine without them,” said Bailey.

In an email to the Wingham Advance Times, Morris-Turnberry CAO said what the municipality’s building department structure will look like in the future has not been decided, and will be determined over the coming weeks and months.

“The terms of the agreement will be honoured in full, and the department will be doing business as usual until (Dec. 31),” wrote Hallam.

Long-standing issue

This difference of opinion between Morris-Turnberry and North Huron is the latest issue regarding the cross-border services agreement between the two municipalities.

The issue dates back nearly two years to July 2019. At that time, North Huron interpreted the agreement signed in May 2017 had come to an end as neither municipality expressed their intent to continue the agreement.

The most noteworthy item being disputed between the two municipalities is water and sewer hookups.

Currently, North Huron’s water and sewer system services 25 connections from Morris-Turnberry, with several new connection requests. These new hookups are currently being deferred by North Huron until a new agreement can be put in place.

The last the two parties discussed the issue was in November 2020, when Hallam reached out to North Huron stating, “the two sides are closer in positions than has been acknowledged for some time.”

Morris-Turnberry’s only points of disagreement at that time were North Huron’s proposed 60 cubic meters of capacity, where Morris-Turnberry’s request is for 45 cubic meters, and North Huron’s request for a boundary adjustment to include 775 acres of Morris-Turnberry lands in North Huron, while Morris-Turnberry holds their position that the agreement should be based on establishing a user-pay compensation arrangement for water and sewer services only.

In April, the two sides agreed that they should come together for a meeting to resolve the issues. Morris-Turnberry council spoke in favour of mediation, however, Bailey told The Blyth Citizen that he was staunchly against mediation. Bailey cited the costs of mediation as one of the reasons.

“I was hired by North Huron [ratepayers] to make sure the township is run properly, legally and not to give money away,” Bailey told the Citizen in April.

As of press time, no update on the negotiations was available.

Mike Wilson is the editor of  the Wingham Advance Times. Cory Bilyea is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter. Her reporting is funded by the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative.