By Chad Ingram
Published July 12 2018
With a new council term beginning late thisyear it is time to have a widespread discussion about initiating theamalgamation of Haliburton County's four lower-tier municipalities into asingle-tier government.
Amalgamation is not so much a possibilityas an inevitability. It's just a matter of when it will finally happen. Thereneeds to be the political will among the majority of elected officials in thecounty in order to initiate what will admittedly be a complex and onerousprocess.
Amalgamation may or may not save very muchmoney. Under the current two-tier system there are five separate governmentsin Haliburton County; the four lower tiers and the upper tier of HaliburtonCounty. This means that there are five chief administrative officers fivetreasurers five roads superintendents etc. etc. Some of these position paysix-figure salaries and so logic would dictate that a transition to havingjust one of each of those senior staff positions would save money. And itmight but probably not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.
The biggest argument for amalgamation isnot financial it is functional. A single-tier government would remove the hugeamount of redundancy and repetition that takes place within the current system.Right now there are five different planning departments in the county andplanning matters approved at the lower-tier level must then pass through theupper-tier. There are five different official plans.
There are five bylaw departments and eachmunicipal council gets to create its own bylaws so regulations on a variety ofthings from property standards to fireworks to keeping livestock vary fromtownship to township.
Ostensibly Algonquin Highlands councilcould pass a bylaw permitting backyard chickens while in Minden Hillsbackyard chickens might remain prohibited. So Joe north of Carnarvon could havebackyard chickens while Jack south of Carnarvon could not.
A one-tier government would mean one set ofrules for the entire county which at this point in time is one community. Onecommunity should have one set of rules. It would make life a heck of a lotsimpler for residents.
It would also eliminate the need for fourlower-tier councils to sit around having the same conversations about the samesubjects. Currently there are 24 municipal politicians in Haliburton County –two councils of seven two of five. If you factor in county council comprisedof the mayor and deputy mayor of each of the lower tiers that's total of 32political positions for a community with a year-round population of fewer than20000 people.
Another inefficiency of the two-tier systemis that we have too many politicians. None of these positions are exceptionallywell-paying – a lower-tier councillor will take home less than $20000 for ayear while a mayor who is also county warden will make between $40000 and$50000 – but local politics inHaliburton County has traditionally been considered a part-time endeavour.
Creating a single council with fewer seatswould mean more work for councillors but would also allow a higher rate ofpay and that would allow more working-age people who under the current systemare largely excluded from municipal politics in the county to get involved.
It's time to have the discussion. If notbefore the election then certainly during the next council term.