I found the recently-released services delivery review for Haliburton County and its four lower-tier municipalities to be lacking.
That being said, StrategyCorp., of Toronto provided the eight County councillors with exactly what they had asked for Nov. 25. They wanted a services delivery review only. They did not want any research done on a possible amalgamation or move to a single-tier government. So, they got a document that is recommending 12 better ways of collaborating to save $1.18 million.
That document’s recommendations include hiring five additional staff. It also could take years to implement the changes.
Those of you who were around for the September 2018 mayor’s and deputy mayor’s debate would remember that some ratepayers pushed the idea of amalgamation at that meeting.
One member of the public pointed out we have one of the highest poverty rates in Ontario, lower incomes and higher unemployment than the Ontario average. Yet, at the time, there were 15 municipal employees on the sunshine list, making more than $100,000 each, adding up to more than $1.7 million.
The speaker noted the City of Kawartha Lakes had cut back to just eight councillors in a newly-amalgamated council.
We are headed into budget time at all five local councils and we will see once again that it is wages and benefits that gobble up much of our tax dollars.
It is not councillors that cost us money. They really don’t make a lot of money. It’s the staff salaries that drive the spending.
During that debate two years ago, it was only Minden Hills incumbent mayor Brent Devolin who spoke most passionately about the need for one-tier.
In his opening remarks to that debate more than two years ago, Devolin said our current municipal structure of 24 people in 32 political positions in a County of less than 20,000 permanent residents was not sustainable.
He added that a four-year term of council was enough time to assess, consider, plan and execute the possible changes in time for a municipal election in 2022.
Without a doubt, amalgamation has become a polarizing issue in Haliburton County. There are those who think one-tier will provide better value for money. There are others who argue it will lead to a loss of identity for our townships. Others say it will cost more, not less.
At this stage, even with a services delivery review, we don’t have answers to those questions. Would amalgamation be good or bad for our region?
That’s why I find the current services delivery review lacking.
It will be up to this council to decide if it wants to take the debate one step further.
Which leads me to speculate on the race for County warden. Traditionally, the post is decided upon behind closed doors, and an uncontested winner robed. They used to share it amongst the municipalities. This year is different. We have two candidates squaring off.
Some would say Devolin wants the warden’s seat back because he wants to take the governance review to the next level. Others say current warden, Liz Danielsen, isn’t as sold as Devolin on going to a single-tier.
The election by councillors and swearingin will occur Dec. 15. The decision could provide the answer as to where this term of County Council is headed for 2022.
Don’t get me wrong. Doing a services delivery review in the first place was the right thing to do. Identifying $1.18m in savings is important for ratepayers. However, those questions about amalgamation raised at the 2018 mayor’s and deputy mayor’s debate still have to be answered