By Chad Ingram
Published July 12 2018
“Amalgamation is a dirty word” says Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin adding that when previous rounds of municipal amalgamations have taken place within Ontario it’s been at the behest of the provincial government.
“It’s been a thou-shall approach” says Devolin who believes there are a number of areas where the four lower-tier townships of Haliburton County’s two-tier system could more closely work together.
“I’m not talking necessarily about a formalized one-entity amalgamation but I believe there’s going to be a metamorphosis” he says.
Devolin lists a number of issues where he believes a unified approach would make the most sense.
“Certainly economic development I think there are synergies if we were to approach it at a regional level” he says. Once undertaken as part of the efforts of the county’s tourism department activities a number of years ago county council decided to designate economic development work to the lower-tier level. Minden Hills is in the process of undertaking an economic development plan and hiring an associated staff person.
“Short-term rental accommodations” Devolin continues. “We have four governments here that are tromping over the same ground.”
Short-term cottage rentals on websites such as airBnB have become a topic of conversation around local council tables as residents complain of loud partying at some rental sites. The municipality of Highlands East has developed a task force and is exploring a licensing program for short-term accommodators while Minden Hills township is undertaking a public input process regarding short-term rentals this summer.
“The upgraded rules for mandatory firefighting training” Devolin says” and some of this kind of stuff is happening on an ad hoc basis.”
The fire chiefs of the county’s four townships are organizing a joint county-wide firefighting school through which members will be able to update their training.
Septic inspections waste water management mandated asset management and employee recruitment are more tasks that Devolin believes would be more effectively completed with a combined approach. He also points out that under the previous provincial government in terms of receiving funding from the province it was often advantageous to make grant applications in a regional way.
Devolin believes the political structure in the community needs to change and that local councils should begin having those conversations during the upcoming term.
“On the politicians’ side we have 32 political positions in Haliburton County” he says pointing out the county’s year-round population is approximately 18000 people.
That total includes the seats at the council tables of the county’s lower-tier municipalities as well as the eight seats on county council which are occupied by the mayor and deputy mayor of each of the lower tiers.
Meanwhile in the City of Kawartha Lakes which is home to about 80000 the council there has decided to cut itself in half going from 16 wards to eight plus the mayor’s chair after the municipal elections this October. That means the size of its council will shrink for 17 to nine.
“I think we should consider a framework and I’m not presuming or suggesting a specific one but I’m talking about the beginning of a dialogue that there’s a consolidation of the political positions as we go forward” Devolin says.
In Haliburton County local politics is often considered a part-time gig although most mayors and deputy mayors will say they work full-time hours. By reducing the number of positions Devolin suggests that council members could be better compensated which would allow more people to get involved in local politics.
“I’m not talking about spending more . . . but a reallocation of those funds” he says. “There would be perhaps more 30 40 and 50-year-olds who wouldn’t have to wait until they’re retirement age to consider it.”
At press time Devolin remained the sole mayoral candidate in Minden Hills for the Oct. 22 election. He is seeking his second term.