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Courthouse Overflow

December 28, 2006 permalink

The Orangeville Citizen does not admit it, but the woes of Dufferin County in finding courthouse space are the result of family law run amok. On civil court days, the courthouse is empty, on criminal court days there is some activity, on family court days the courthouse is packed and it is impossible to park within two blocks. Cutting back on unnecessary family interventions would be a cheaper way to bring court space into line with demand.



Province lays down law on courthouse

Dufferin Warden John Oosterhof, his successors in 2008 and 2009, and the largely new county council might be facing difficult decisions during the early years of their tenure, as the province has served an ultimatum on courthouse space.

And, in other respects, the new warden says his aim in the next year would be to complete two of “the jobs I started when I was first warden (in 2005),” dealing with waste management and planning.

But the biggest challenge, he said, is that the province would like to take over the entire county building – to provide not only more court space, but also consultation room and lawyers’ offices.

“They won’t renew their lease (on existing space, including the Provincial Offences offices and court space) unless they can take over the building.”

So, he said, the county has to be prepared to move out by mid- 2009.

If not, “it would mean that our county people would have to go to Caledon (for such as parking and speeding tickets).”

For several years, county council has been meeting in the historic “county court.” Warden Oosterhof said the province wants that practice to end. “For security reasons, they won’t let us meet in the county court (now Superior Court of Justice) after a certain time.”

On the good side of things, he said that if the province takes over the building, the county could pay for its own premises, a place of its own design, “at no net cost to the taxpayer.”

But there has been no specific planning for such, although county council did recently purchase another house on Elizabeth Street.

Yet there is no set plan to build on the site of the newly acquired house. “We have put out a request for anyone to offer a location, whether it be a building or vacant land. There is (no fixed plan of where to move).”

Site selection might not be simple. Orangeville has always been the county seat. Although it is the main centre of population, the town is not the geographic centre of the county. The warden didn’t say it, but there is likely to be disagreement among councillors over whether a new building should be in or at Orangeville, or closer to Shelburne. Primrose, on county-owned property, has been mentioned in the past.

Whatever the location, the county appears to have fewer than three years in which to select a site, design a building, and complete construction.

Also facing the new council, the county has been planning to provide a waste disposal facility of some kind but the county does not have waste management control.

“It’s going to be a challenge to get (waste handling) organized when it gets down to the fact that the county still has no control,” said the warden.

“I would like to see waste handled by the county. We could make better deals (than can individual municipalities), have a better quality of service, and better prices.”

The province also appears poised to force countywide planning, at least in a limited sense. This was one of the issues that the warden, in his 2005 tenure, was pushing. But the provincial push came later.

He said there are two ways in which over-all planning has become an increasingly important issue since 2005: Places to Grow legislation, and the gas tax.

“We have to have a plan showing how the gas tax rebates are to be used. It has to be for issues of safety and the environment, and how we intend to carry those out.”

On Places to Grow, provincial officials recently let it be known they wanted to deal with a county authority, rather than with individual municipalities.

County council, meantime, has approved a plan to discuss budgeting for a planning consultation function within the Public Works department. It has not suggested a countywide Official Plan.

Warden Oosterhof says such an OP would not detract from the autonomy of individual municipalities. “It would not take over all planning issues, but would deal with (such as) source water protection and some general growth issues.”

He said some counties have taken over all planning issues, but Dufferin would not need to do so.

Source: Orangeville Citizen