By Chad Ingram
Published July 12, 2018
With a new council term beginning late this year, it is time to have a widespread discussion about initiating the amalgamation of Haliburton County's four lower-tier municipalities into a single-tier government.
Amalgamation is not so much a possibility as an inevitability. It's just a matter of when it will finally happen. There needs to be the political will among the majority of elected officials in the county in order to initiate what will admittedly be a complex and onerous process.
Amalgamation may or may not save very much money. Under the current two-tier system, there are five separate governments in Haliburton County; the four lower tiers and the upper tier of Haliburton County. This means that there are five chief administrative officers, five treasurers, five roads superintendents, etc., etc. Some of these position pay six-figure salaries, and so logic would dictate that a transition to having just one of each of those senior staff positions would save money. And it might, but probably not a whole lot, in the grand scheme of things.
The biggest argument for amalgamation is not financial, it is functional. A single-tier government would remove the huge amount of redundancy and repetition that takes place within the current system. Right now there are five different planning departments in the county, and planning matters approved at the lower-tier level must then pass through the upper-tier. There are five different official plans.
There are five bylaw departments, and each municipal council gets to create its own bylaws, so regulations on a variety of things from property standards to fireworks to keeping livestock vary from township to township.
Ostensibly, Algonquin Highlands council could pass a bylaw permitting backyard chickens, while in Minden Hills, backyard chickens might remain prohibited. So Joe north of Carnarvon could have backyard chickens, while Jack south of Carnarvon could not.
A one-tier government would mean one set of rules for the entire county, which at this point in time, is one community. One community should have one set of rules. It would make life a heck of a lot simpler for residents.
It would also eliminate the need for four lower-tier councils to sit around having the same conversations about the same subjects. Currently, there are 24 municipal politicians in Haliburton County – two councils of seven, two of five. If you factor in county council, comprised of the mayor and deputy mayor of each of the lower tiers, that's total of 32 political positions for a community with a year-round population of fewer than 20,000 people.
Another inefficiency of the two-tier system is that we have too many politicians. None of these positions are exceptionally well-paying – a lower-tier councillor will take home less than $20,000 for a year, while a mayor who is also county warden will make between $40,000 and $50,000 – but local politics in Haliburton County has traditionally been considered a part-time endeavour.
Creating a single council with fewer seats would mean more work for councillors, but would also allow a higher rate of pay, and that would allow more working-age people, who under the current system are largely excluded from municipal politics in the county, to get involved.
It's time to have the discussion. If not before the election, then certainly during the next council term.