By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The longstanding legal battle between Durham Region and the City of Oshawa over transit liabilities may soon come to an end.
The nearly seven-year saga began in May 2011 when the region sued the city for costs related to the uploading of transit services in 2004.
Durham is seeking restitution for ‘unfunded liabilities’ including pensions and benefits incurred from taking on the services.
During a special meeting held on Friday, March 9, regional council approved the creation of an ad hoc committee with a mandate to negotiate a settlement with the city.
Oshawa council met on Monday afternoon to discuss the offer from the region, although those conversations were held in closed session.
Oshawa Mayor John Henry told The Oshawa Express after the meeting city council had directed staff to respond to the region’s offer, but did not indicate if it would be accepted.
No details of the settlement offer have been released by either the city or region.
The lawsuit is currently scheduled to go to binding arbitration on April 2.
The ad hoc committee, comprised of council representatives from Durham’s other seven municipalities, met immediately after the regional council meeting on March 9.
Henry did not support the creation of the committee without representation from Oshawa.
He noted councillors from Oshawa are regularly involved in regional council matters pertaining to the city, and he doesn’t believe this case should have been any different.
Clarington Councillor Joe Neal, who suggested the committee, said excluding Oshawa was the fair thing to do under the circumstances.
“I don’t see why this would be viewed by any councillor from Oshawa as sort of a backdoor thing,” he stated.
Oshawa Councillor John Aker, who seconded Neal’s motion, agreed, stating the priority should be getting the matter settled without having to go to arbitration.
Aker, John Neal and Nester Pidwerbecki are the only Oshawa city council members who were in office when transit services were uploaded to the region.
Neal has regularly criticized both the city and region for the handling of the situation.
At the March 9 regional council meeting, Neal brought forth a failed amendment requesting a senior policy advisor from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs or provincial arbitrator be involved in the process.
While Neal says he wants to protect the city’s interests, he believes Oshawa council is “responsible for itself.” Furthermore, he thinks both sides are to blame for allowing the situation to drag on for so long.
“They’ve completely dropped the ball, and the citizens right across the region are going to pay for this boondoggle.”
At present time, it is unclear exactly how much either side has spent on legal fees in relation to the lawsuit.
Oshawa has yet to publicly reveal any of its legal costs.
Nearly year ago, a region report revealed Durham had spent $722,000 up to that point.
However, no public updates have been provided since then despite numerous requests from Neal.