Lord Mayor Betty Disero does not endorse a report supporting the elimination of regional government, and the creation of a one-tier four-city model for Niagara.
The document, by a group called Four Cities Niagara, suggests Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake become one city — it would be the largest of the four — and is being backed by Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati. The other three would be St. Catharines; Welland, which would include Port Colborne and Thorold; and West Niagara, made up of Wainfleet, Pelham, Lincoln, West Lincoln and Grimsby.
The report says NOTL and Fort Erie should be amalgamated with Niagara Falls because of their shared location along the “river corridor,” their connectivity to the U.S., their common economic development focused on tourism, and a “rich, shared history.”
St. Catharines is not onboard with the plan either, with Disero saying she expects Mayor Walter Sendzik could possibly — and she stresses possibly — support one large city as a way to take control of land with growth potential and eliminate its debt.
NOTL doesn’t need that kind of help, she says. “We’re doing okay. We have room for growth, and we don’t have a lot of debt.”
Large urban centres have more services to provide than smaller municipalities, she says, and that means greater debt. The Region helps with those costs through the collection of taxes from all municipalities, “but I don’t know that I want to be amalgamated, and to become responsible for more of that debt.”
Disero says she is asked often what she thinks about amalgamation, and she has the same message for each time — the same one she gave two consultants working on amalgamation for the Province.
“NOTL is so unique in terms of historical significance to the development of the country, we would prefer to look at keeping the lower tier as it is,” she says.
She suggested there could be a reduction in the number of councillors across the 12 municipalities, with “a modified second-tier.”
She is a strong supporter of “a disentanglement excercise” to look for efficiencies, to deliver services better and more economically, such as with a sewer and water board, but to keep planning at a local level.
“It’s important for NOTL to have more planning controls in place now,” Disesro says. She’s made that obvious during council meetings, with discussions about the urgency of having the new draft Official Plan completed. She also wants local planning issues now being reviewed to be completed and bylaws in place so that interim control bylaws can be lifted. One of her greatest fears is having amalgamation forced on the municipality before the OP is approved and reviews completed, and losing control of planning policies.
“They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be done, to have controls in place no matter what happens with amalgamation.”
She expects one more meeting of mayors to discuss amalgamation, and regional councillors also want to meet to see “where everyone is headed.” But it’s such a large region, with 12 distinct municipalities all having their own agenda, “it’s difficult to reach a meeting of minds.”
She has spoken to Diodati about his four-city model and how it could work for NOTL, not because it’s a choice she endorses but because if there is amalgamation, “we might not have a choice, and I want to be prepared.”
Disero says Mayor Wayne Redekop of Fort Erie has asked the Province for his town to have a special designation, with its own legislation that recognizes its significant heritage, and that could be the solution for NOTL as well.
The Province appointed former deputy minister Michael Fenn and former Waterloo Region chair Ken Seiling to investigate amalgamation, and originally a July report was expected. Residents had until May to provide comments.
Disero says the timeline now for a decision is expected to be after the October federal election.
The single-tier, four-city document, which has been sent to the Province, gives no background information about who is behind it.