It’s an issue that can’t be avoided, but one that has caused no shortage of headaches for municipal politicians in the City of Brantford and County of Brant during the last decade or so. That’s right, city and county residents, we’re talking municipal boundary adjustment negotiations.
During speeches at last week’s Mayors’ State of the Communities Luncheon, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Brantford-Brant at the Best Western Brant Park Inn, city Mayor Chris Friel and county Mayor Ron Eddy once again waded into boundary adjustment waters, which have proven more than chilly in the past.
For the uninitiated, boundary adjustment negotiations involve city and county officials working toward a deal that would bring a parcel or parcels of county land into the city to accommodate Brantford’s future industrial and residential growth needs.
During last week’s luncheon, Friel pointed out that, under the provincial Places to Grow Act, Brantford must prepare to handle a projected population of 126,000 by 2031. That means the city will need an additional 690 acres of industrial land to accommodate projected employment growth, not to mention land needed for future residential growth. At present, the city has just 53 acres of land to accommodate new industry.
Friel described Brantford’s lack of land for new development as “the biggest challenge we have” and said the community “absolutely needs a boundary adjustment.”
“We need to grow and without assessment growth we have to reduce services or raise taxes,” the mayor said. “We need land and we need to be able to compete, but we just do not have the land.”
Luckily for Brantford– or unluckily, depending on your political perspective – the County of Brant has no shortage of land in which the city could grow, if the municipalities are able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. During last week’s luncheon, County of Brant Mayor Ron Eddy said Brant is prepared to hear offers from the city, but so far has not.
One thing Eddy was clear on is that the county expects to “receive mutual benefit from any decision or agreement.”
The fact of the matter is that we’ve heard these points made before. And if the past is any indication, reaching a mutually beneficial boundary adjustment agreement between the City of Brantford and County of Brant could prove an elusive dream.
The county and city last discussed a municipal boundary adjustment between 2004 and 2008, with former City of Brantford mayor Mike Hancock and Eddy leading their respective municipalities. While those substantive talks offered hope in the form of a letter of intent reached between the municipalities, the proposed deal eventually fell through.
Those boundary adjustment discussions came on the heels of failed negotiations in 2002 and 2003, when Friel was serving his third term as Brantford mayor.
The point here? History has proven boundary adjustment a more than difficult issue.
Friel was right last week when he said the community absolutely needs a boundary adjustment agreement. Sadly, we’re not confident that a new round of negotiations will prove fruitful, especially with a municipal election little more than two years away. Boundary adjustment is a political hot potato and an issue that raises the passion of many voters, especially in the county.
But the reality of a growing population means a boundary adjustment deal must eventually be reached. If our politicians can’t make it happen after yet another round of long and contentious negotiations, perhaps the provincial government should settle the matter for us. And that would certainly be opening a can of worms, one that might just lead to a discussion surrounding one word many local politicians fear to hear: amalgamation.