The County of Haliburton is edging toward a process to decide whether to amalgamate its lower-tier townships.
Council had a lengthy debate on the matter during its June 26 meeting. Councillors voted to have Haliburton’s chief administrative officer draft a report outlining a process to follow should council proceed with a governance model review.
Coun. Brent Devolin called the dialogue a watershed moment.
“This discussion we’re going to have, for the balance of this term, for all councils,” he said. “This is the biggest thing.”
Talk began with a staff report highlighting the current county-wide municipal collaborations and where more could be done.
But the report went largely undiscussed to focus on the bigger-picture issue. Coun. Carol Moffatt said in a February discussion, no county council member indicated they were “married” to any specific outcome on the amalgamation debate.
She said although hard facts about efficiencies and funding are important to the discussion, so too is community identity.
“While they are critically important to our existence and our growth, equally important is what we could gain and what we could lose as communities,” Moffatt said.
Warden Liz Danielsen agreed but noted that idea got shot down at a Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce breakfast in May.
“The assumption by the public is that we’re going to save money if we move toward amalgamation,” Danielsen said. “I don’t see any evidence that that’s the case and I think we’d have to have that evidence before we move too much further.”
However, Devolin said there is need for structural change. He highlighted the struggle to fill staff positions across all five municipalities.
“Not sure going forward we can continue to populate those positions with four or five of a particular skill set,” Devolin said. “We’re going to hit a wall.”
He added asset management would also require significant change, given the number of similar facilities across the five municipalities. C
AO Mike Rutter said it would make sense to leave the discussion on collaborations until governance is decided on.
He added there is a reason not to wait to pursue an answer.
“The longer these questions drag on, the more difficult it will be to attract or maintain staff,” Rutter said. “If someone doesn’t know if they’re going to have a job in a year or two years, why would they leave their job to come here?”
Council also discussed preparing an RFP for a governance review and seeking qualified third-parties for guidance on how the process should go.
Moffatt said she does not expect job losses with amalgamation, other than CAO positions. She added it was good to make progress on the topic.
“This is a great discussion, I’m pleased to have it and I think it’s exciting,” she said.