To be one, or not to be one – that is the County’s question.
To become one and amalgamate, perhaps ending the lack of unity and inconsistency on important issues between the townships. Or to remain separate, but together, maintaining township independence and culture, and finding some other way to iron out the trouble spots of the two-tier system.
County council finally had a look Nov. 25 at its long-anticipated services delivery review. That may eventually lead to a discussion on amalgamation, which Coun. Carol Moffatt has maintained the council is open-minded about it. We shall see.
We have written about some of the follies of the two-tier system. Things that should be consistent across all four townships are not. Short-term rentals have been a major problem for years, but only recently has there been any indication the County might take it on. Other matters such as septic inspections or fireworks bylaws led to strange instances of townships wanting to peek at other townships’ work when a more easily unified approach at the County would seem appropriate. We understand jurisdictional hurdles, but it can still feel nonsensical at times.
We recognize there are downsides to amalgamation – a loss of community identity, potentially increased distances to services, perhaps weaker public representation. Whether a unified municipality will be more efficient is uncertain. But it is worth exploring.
It has otherwise been an eventful two years for County council. They pushed forward a unified climate change plan – some would criticize it as not nearly ambitious enough, but it is at least something concrete to address the biggest crisis of our time. Improved connectivity is also making good progress at the County level and above through the Eastern Ontario Regional Network and although it always feels too slow, it is progressing. They have also helped secure the future of local daycares, drastically improved our ability to recruit new doctors, advanced affordable housing and progressed local tourism, all positive steps.
Other issues have fallen through the cracks. The County royally messed up when it comes to transportation, squandering the chance with a dedicated group of volunteers who burned out after years of effort trying to make a unified system happen, to no avail. There is now a transportation piggybank being built-up to wait for upper-government funding to do something, but we feel skeptical about whether that day will come.
The most controversial part of the County’s term has undoubtedly come in its shoreline preservation bylaw. Environmental groups and the construction and landscaping sectors are all pressuring the County about the bylaw and how strong it should be. Thus far the council has managed it prudently, but tough decisions are imminent. We hope councillors can strike a good balance, but ensure the bylaw is strong enough to rein in the reports we hear of out-of-control shoreline developments.
Much of the second half of the term will be about addressing shared services. Resolving the inconsistencies of the two-tier system should be a top priority and finding efficiencies could be a boon as we try to recover from the pandemic. The council might feel the urge to kick the question of amalgamation down the road, for the next council to handle. But we hope we can at least have the decision made, even if not implemented, so we can close the book on the debate once-and-for-all.