Jack Brezina: One big family
|By Jack Brezina - Contributing Writer | Feb. 9, 2017|
There has been a lot of talk about the role of the upper tier of municipal government and its leader, the warden. The discussion was prompted by the departing words of last year’s warden, Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt. Among her suggestions was a longer term for the warden, who is currently selected on an annual basis from among the eight reeves and deputy reeves who make up county council. She has also floated the idea that perhaps the warden could be elected separately and serve the full four-year term, unencumbered by duties related to his or her municipal responsibilities. There are other options being floated.
I welcome this discourse. Institutions like municipalities need to examine themselves from time to time and take a cold, hard look at how they might serve their community better. Can you believe at one point there were 10 plus two municipal jurisdictions in the county; 10 township offices and staff, 10 roads and welfare departments, 10 building inspectors plus the Improvement District of Bicroft, plus the county administration. All looking after a population at the time of less than 12,000 … one municipal infrastructure for 1000 residents. Harkening back to 2001 when the province mandated an amalgamation and the municipalities were told to reduce the number in the lower tier to four. Dysart et al was unchanged, but in the other thee corners of the county, single township municipalities disappeared and were amalgamated into three larger administrative bodies.
At the time, I argued that the process did not go far enough and that there should be one municipal structure covering all of Haliburton County. The province mandated that solution for the municipalities in Victoria County and even imposed the name, City of Kawartha Lakes. It is worth noting that at the time, Victoria County/CKL had 15 municipal jurisdictions serving a population of 69,000.
One tier municipal government is still an option I think should be given serious consideration and should be a part of the discussion. I favour a four-year term for the warden. I also lean toward electing a person to that position separately … rather than the “whose turn is it this time” method of choosing. This would allow the warden to concentrate on county business rather than split his/her time between two levels of government.
Following the earlier forced amalgamations across the province, a study was undertaken to determine whether amalgamation to one municipal government within mostly rural counties saved money. The results showed that, for the most part, there was no saving, a surprising finding for those of us watching from the outside thinking only one set of managers in all departments would be required across the county. Resources, in say the roads department, could be deployed in a cost-effective manner … even though the number of miles of roads to be maintained would not have changed. A single tier would also reduce the number of council meetings and the infrastructure needed to support them. On the other hand, the position of warden and perhaps other elected offices would become a full-time job with the requisite compensation expectations.
So despite the report, while the municipal councillors study the role of the warden, it might also be an appropriate time to consider the overall structure of the municipal government in the county. Certainly, if the office of warden is on the table, at the same time the entire municipal structure should be too.
Jack Brezina is a contributing writer for The Highlander.