What's the A-plan?
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | May 9, 2019|
Listening to County Warden Liz Danielsen talk about amalgamation on Tuesday, I was left wondering about the county’s long-term plan.
She chatted about the short-term. It involves a shared services review with the lower-tier municipalities. It sounded like a bit of a public relations piece to me: proving to the public how well they all play together now.
Danielsen said it will also identify other opportunities for partnerships and streamlining to cut costs. Results of that shared services study should be ready for a strategic planning session within the next couple of months, the warden said. That brings us to summer, when this kind of work can grind to a bit of a halt. It’s likely to pick up again in the fall. Before we know it, one year will have expired on the current term of county and municipal councils.
As to what happens after the shared services study, no one at the county has elaborated. If there is a plan moving forward, no one at the county has shared it with the public. Are they going to take the study out-of-house? Do they think county councillors and staff - who could be directly impacted by a municipal government restructuring, for example, are the ones to lead the way forward? Have they considered hiring an independent consultant who does not have a vested interest in the outcome? Is there even the political will for change?
Highlander columnist Jack Brezina has been outspoken about the need for amalgamation. He asked Danielsen if something’s really going to happen or if it’s just more lip service. The warden said councillors and staff are taking it seriously. But, on the other hand, Danielsen herself is clearly not convinced that amalgamation “in its true” sense will work. She actually used the word “we” are not convinced so it would be interesting to know who’s the “we.”
The ‘we’ camp talks about losing identity, ability to make decisions and questions whether money will be saved. Like Brezina, Peter Oyler of the HHHSF didn’t mince words. He said it comes down to political will, and intestinal fortitude.
From our perspective, it’s great that county council has taken its first steps with the shared services review. We look forward to seeing the outcome of that. But we have a lot of questions. Is it a case of joint purchasing of stationary, for example? Or is it a case of sharing one fire chief, for example, rather than having four? Is it, as Keith Thomas of Francis Thomas Contracting suggested at the breakfast, only buying one excavator for all five governments to share rather each buying its own? Is it looking at reducing the number of councillors to the fingers on two hands, from fingers and toes-plus? When does an organizational review come into the picture?
Perhaps it will all roll out organically, but we hope it doesn’t. Someone at the County has to have a strategy for how this municipal government review is going to roll out. Local government received $2.9M to put towards government reviews earlier this year. It’s now time for the county, or whoever is leading the municipal government review, to reveal their cards.
As the warden said, they continue to hear concerns and private thoughts about their governance structure and the need for amalgamation. The public wants answers as well as action. It’s time we all knew what the plan is for the next 3.5 years of council and what the outcome is expected to be in time for the 2022 municipal election. Otherwise, how can we know it’s just not more lip service?
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.