The County of Haliburton plans to first examine how it delivers its services before deciding whether to overhaul its governance structure.

Staff unveiled a draft review process during the Aug. 28 council meeting. The chief administrative officers for the county’s municipalities are proposing an in-depth review of municipal services across all of Haliburton’s municipalities. After that is completed, the process would then address governance and what is the best model for Haliburton, including the possibility of amalgamation.

“You’d have to figure out how you’d go about and answer a question of governance. Should it change, should it not be changed?” chief administrative officer Mike Rutter said. “This is a pretty extensive study. We know it would take a considerable amount of time.”

Council made no final decisions, deciding to defer to its September meeting.

Coun. Andrea Roberts said people have set their ideas on amalgamation based on feelings, rather than facts.

“This is the ideal time to do this,” Roberts said. “I would go forward with this. We’ve been waiting for outside, independent study to show the best and most efficient way we can operate in Haliburton County.”

“I’ve heard this over and over again. I think as councils we actually owe it to the ratepayers to get an answer one way or another,” Coun. Lisa Schell said.

The report comes after council directed staff to develop a review process June 26. Rutter said after that, staff consulted with Michael Fenn, a civil servant and consultant who is heading regional reviews in Ontario.

From that, the county CAO’s decided a service delivery would be the best place to start. The questions asked will include whether a service is necessary, what are the full costs and benefits of the service and what “tier” of government is most appropriate to deliver that service.

Staff proposed a consultant be hired to make recommendations on services. Council would also be called on to make decisions throughout the process, Rutter said. After reviewing service delivery, staff propose a separate process to address municipal structure.

Coun. Cec Ryall praised the idea to separate examinations of service delivery and governance.

“The fact that we (citizens) are using the word amalgamation as the end-all, cure-all, solve all things, doesn’t work like that. We have too many examples of amalgamation where it totally failed because not enough preliminary work was done,” Ryall said.

Staff recommended sending an RFP for a consultant in fall 2019, with a report coming back no later than fall 2020. They also recommended cost-sharing for the process, with half funded by the county and the remainder split between the four lower-tier municipalities. Staff also recommended a $150,000 budget.

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