Council defers governance review RFP
Haliburton County council continues to work toward having a service delivery and governance review performed for the municipality and its four, lower-tier townships.
Councillors have been discussing a review, which could provide recommendations on changes to the structure of the local government, throughout the year.
In June, councillors received a report on a shared services/collaboration review completed by the chief administrative officers of the five local governments, along with department heads. The report included an inventory of numerous existing collaborations between the municipalities – from shared training and information-sharing amongst bylaw staff to a county-wide firefighter recruit program to joint tendering for roads department materials such as salt and hot mix, and activities such as surveying and traffic counting. There are also a number of roads maintenance agreements in place between municipalities in different areas of the county.
That report also suggested a number of areas the chief administrative officers of the local governments had identified for potential collaboration, larger scale ideas such as a county-wide building department, county-wide procurement department, a county-wide or shared fire department, county-wide waste contracts and a county-wide economic development department.
At their June meeting, councillors instructed staff to develop a draft process for a governance review, with the CAOs meeting in July to discuss that process.
In August, the CAOs, or senior staffers representing them, met with Michael Fenn. Fenn is a respected civil servant and consultant who is currently leading the review of the province’s eight regional governments initiated by the Ford government, and who is also a part-time resident in the county. Fenn took part in the conversation simply as a resident of Dysart et al, a report from county CAO Mike Rutter indicated.
“He was very clear from the very beginning he couldn’t give us any information on the regional reviews,” Rutter told councillors during an Aug. 28 meeting.
“In the conversation, he made it very clear, and [these] are his words, that form follows function,” Rutter said. “So, in other words, that what to govern really becomes evident once you decide what is to be governed.”
A report from Rutter suggested that $150,000 be budgeted for the review (although Rutter said at the meeting this number may be conservative), with 50 per cent of that coming from the county itself, and 12.5 per cent coming from each of the four lower-tier townships. All the local governments received one-time grants from the province earlier this year. And while that funding was presented in a “no strings attached” fashion, there has been a widespread understanding that the expectation is that municipalities would use at least some of that money for internal service reviews in order to streamline their operations. The county received $725,000, Dysart et al and Minden Hills each $542,255, Highlands East $534,469 and Algonquin Highlands $532,292.
“At the conclusion, council would review the recommendations from the consultant,” Rutter said. Any change to local governance structure would remain a decision of county council, and Rutter emphasized it would be important to integrate the four lower-tier councils so their members are also involved in the process. “This is a pretty extensive study, so we know it would take a considerable amount of time.”
“This is an extremely big-ticket item,” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen, adding that maybe conversation should be continued at an upcoming visioning session county council has scheduled.
“I know there are questions about the extent of involvement by county council . . . it could be that we want to defer this, but I look to council for comments,” Danielsen said.
Some councillors were ready to vote to draft an RFP at last week’s meeting.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts noted the issue of possible amalgamation of Haliburton County comes up during each municipal election, and that while some people have strong opinions one way or another, those opinions are often based on emotion rather than the sort of evidence that would produced by a study.
“I think this is the ideal time to do this,” Roberts said. “As of today, I would go forward this.”
Roberts added she thought it would be a wise way to spend some of the grant money the municipalities had received from the province.
Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell agreed.
“I think as councillors, we actually owe it to the ratepayers to get an answer [regarding the question of amalgamation],” Schell said. “Because I don’t know. That’s my answer; I don’t know.”
However, other members of council were uncomfortable moving forward at the meeting, with Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton and Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall both saying they’d prefer to defer, having more conversation about process before voting to release the RFP.
“It’s something I want to do once, and do right,” Ryall said.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said if it would make everyone more comfortable to wait a couple of more weeks before proceeding, that he was fine with that. Devolin has been the most outspokenly supportive of the single-tier-type model of any member of county council.
County councillors were scheduled to discuss the issue again during a special meeting on Sept. 6, with a motion that the warden and CAO visit the lower-tier councils seeking resolutions of support for the review, and the county CAO along with the lower-tier CAOs work together to draft an RFP for council's consideration.