/County council dives into communal services

County council dives into communal services

By Emily Stonehouse

It’s been a hot topic for a long time, and some of the wheels were set in motion for shared services at a special meeting of county council on Sept. 13. 

Councillors were joined by the County of Frontenac representatives Joe Gallivan, the director of planning and economic development, and Kelly Pender, CAO. 

The core of the presentation was on the usage of communal services, and the model that Frontenac uses in order to succeed. “It is easily transferable to other jurisdictions,” said Gallivan as he jumped into the presentation, “these systems are like LEGO blocks.” 

Gallivan noted that the shared services model “is not rocket science,” noting that it is entirely doable if there is support in place; not only from local government, but from civilians as well. 

The County of Frontenac mirrors Haliburton County closely; with a series of historic villages and hamlets comprising the core. One slight difference outlined is that the majority of individual communities in Frontenac do not have access to community water and sewer services. 

“We will never have municipal water and sewer in Frontenac,” said Gallivan, “it’s fiscally impossible for our four small municipalities to afford that kind of project.”

Enter: a communal services model. “We’ve been working on this project for almost seven  years,” said Gallivan, “and it started with a simple statement that’s in our county official plan, and that is ‘lack of municipal services in our villages challenges future community viability.’”

Gallivan dove into the immediate advantages of communal water and sewer systems, including “significant advantages to the environment,” bettering the planning processes, and the development of “walkable communities”. 

The planning director presented a comparison of two hypothetical neighbourhoods; one with individual services, (the model that has always been done), and one with communal services, With the communal servicing option, the plan includes an array of housing options, such as an apartment and smaller houses for seniors, in comparison to the standard townhouses with individual services. 

The plan also includes a green space, which would house the communal septic treatment plant, but could be used as passive open space as well. 

For treatment purposes, Gallivan introduced a company called Newterra, who are based out of Brockville, and used sea-can-like blocks to process water and sewer. A single box can service up to 108 residential units. 

“The water, the septage, whatever you want to call what comes out of the end of the pipe is probably going to be better than the water quality of a standard septic system, and if it’s going to be treated and put in a lake for example, it’ll be a better quality than the lake itself,” said Gallivan. It was noted that these boxes can be used all around the world, with one being installed at a resort in the Muskoka region recently. 

Once Gallivan wrapped up the logistics of the communal services model in Frontenac, he handed the reins over to CAO Kelly Pender, who discussed the governance of the model. “We wanted to make sure we had consensus as to what the governance model looked like,” he told the county councillors. “This wasn’t a staff driven process… the four mayors were appointed to the steering committee, and we had three public members that we solicited from the general population of Frontenac County.” 

Pender shared that the services would remain 100 per cent publicly owned by participating municipalities, and management could be in-house, third party, or municipally contracted; similar to the current model used in local municipalities. The difference is that the facilities are not staffed operations, so it would differ from a traditional water treatment plant. 

“This has been an excellent presentation,” said Warden Liz Danielsen as Pender wrapped up, “it offers us some really exciting food for thought and opportunities for how we can meet the challenges of housing here in Haliburton County, in particular in places like Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands, where we don’t have any servicing at all.”