Warden in hot seat over amalgamation
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | May 9, 2019|
County Warden Liz Danielsen was pressed about amalgamation during a Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday morning.
During a question and answer session, Keith Thomas of Francis Thomas Contracting, Highlander columnist Jack Brezina and Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation chairman Peter Oyler all asked guest speaker Danielsen about the issue.
“We continue to hear concerns and private thoughts about our governance structure and the need for amalgamation,” Danielsen said.
She added that while the province is looking at the possibility of structural changes in larger regions, “they’re simply encouraging rural and northern counties to consider streamlining services and realizing cost savings where ever they can be found.”
She said county council will be reviewing different models of governance and their level of success, “but continue to seek a made-in-Haliburton solution that will reduce costs across the board, provide better levels of service, all while maintaining our unique individuality and I think that’s something we’d all like to be able to keep.”
She said the county and its four municipalities are now doing a shared services review, “in order to demonstrate to the public just how closely we do work together to save taxpayers dollars and to investigate further opportunities for partnerships, streamlining and cost saving.”
Thomas questioned duplication. He noted that most of the municipalities have purchased or will be buying excavators but is certain they are not getting the hours to justify the spend.
Brezina asked Danielsen, “if there’s any sense that something is going to happen beyond just talking about it?”
She replied that county council is committed but, “we are not convinced that amalgamation, in its true from, will work. I think in many ways we will lose our identify, lose our ability to make decisions on our own, and we’re not convinced that it’s going to save money in the long run.
“I don’t think people realize just how much we already share our services and that we’d like to prepare something that shows it … here’s what we’re doing, here are further opportunities for us to share and partner and this is the direction that we’re going to take.”
She said results of the shared services study should be ready for a strategic planning session within the next couple of months.
“So, it sounds likes it’s a little more serious than it’s been in the past. In the past, it’s been all lip service, and not much more than that,” Brezina commented.
Oyler said he had experienced three amalgamations, “and they were all positive steps in my opinion.” He said they initially cost more, but amalgamated services and reduced corporate infrastructure led to “lots of savings.”
“Further, change is inevitable and the longer you stand still the further behind you get. I would say to you and Pat [Dysart deputy mayor Kennedy, who was at the breakfast], please take a serious look at amalgamation moving forward. Haliburton County will not lose its identity by an amalgamation process.”
He also encouraged the county to reach out to private individuals who have experience with amalgamation to help them prepare for the next municipal election.
Danielsen said several municipalities are still getting over the last amalgamation. But Oyler replied, “It’s all in the political will to do it. You’re going to suffer the wrath of the taxpayer one way or the other because you can’t please all of the people all of the time. So, have the intestinal fortitude to move forward, reduce costs to the taxpayers, because clearly we cannot afford them anymore, whether we’re homeowners or whether we’re businesses.”
Danielsen said they want to ensure they are going to reduce costs before making any changes.
LISA GERVAIS is the editor for The Highlander.