When I started work on my amalgamation series last year, I believed that it was time for Haliburton County and its four lower-tier municipalities to merge into one entity.
I was skeptical about the service delivery review. It seemed the $1.1 million in savings and efficiencies Strategy Corp. was suggesting was not enough. To me, it was the cost of a culvert. A mere pittance.
I also didn’t like that municipal staff were being tasked with executing the recommendations in the review. Surely, they should not be the ones determining an organizational chart for example. Would they be willing to eliminate their own positions in a revamped governance model?
I was pretty convinced going in the direction of the City of Kawartha Lakes of 20 years ago was the way forward.
Then I began researching.
I did a literature review and had a hard time finding any articles that supported municipal amalgamations.
Most panned Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution and his government’s decision to force them. His successor, Doug Ford, has dropped forced amalgamations in his term in office.
I could not find a local government expert who would vehemently speak in favour of amalgamation. I read countless studies and ended up talking to university political science professors such as Zach Spicer and David Siegel. I had to concede I might be barking up the wrong tree with this whole amalgamation thing.
I took a closer look at the service delivery review and I saw that the consultant was suggesting alternative forms of governance. There were a range of models for intermunicipal delivery of services. There was a spectrum of collaboration.
I also spent time watching the service delivery review steering committee meetings. These gave me insight into what the various groups were doing to try to find ways of working better together, in some case to save taxpayers money, but mostly to provide better customer service.
That led to me to try to find other models that were working. Again, there were no apples-to-apples comparisons for Haliburton County. However, through Siegel I learned of the N6 in northern York Region.
Since about 2005, the townships there have been collaborating to deliver some services. The CAOs and mayors meet regularly to discuss how being part of a larger group can be of benefit. They started with simple procurement and have grown from strength to strength.
When the County and its four lower-tier municipalities signed their first inter-municipal agreement in the spring to have joint household hazardous waste days, it was an important step forward for local governance.
By doing a joint RFP for a household hazardous waste service provider they will save taxpayers money. And, by allowing residents to go to any household hazardous waste day regardless of where they live ticks the box for better service.
As the steering committee continues its work, we look forward to more of these collaborative arrangements. We think it makes sense to have one planning department, for example, and integrated waste management.
During the course of my research, I now think the County is on the right track with the service delivery review and encourage innovative and bold steps going forward. Most of all, with new councils coming into effect in the fall, I encourage the work to continue.