By Chad Ingram
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
That adage is frequently used by a number of local municipal politicians and now the elephant is on the table in all its glory, with the receipt of the service delivery review for Haliburton County and its lower-tier municipalities last week.
If there is not going to be single-tier governance in the county, then certainly many of the recommendations contained in that report should be implemented in the coming years. As I’ve written in this space before, the biggest argument for amalgamation is not financial it is functional. A single-tier government would mitigate the amount of redundancy and repetition that takes place within the current system.
The recommendations in the review report would also do that, calling for standardization and centralization of numerous municipal policies and functions in a planned, collaborative framework involving the five local governments.
At some 140 pages, there are a lot of ideas in the report and a lot of them are very good. A centralized economic development department. A central building, septic and bylaw service. Centralized fire services training. Standardized landfill operations, so that hours, tipping fees, rules, etc. are the same across the board, regardless of which municipality you’re in. Standardized planning fees and processes. On and on. None of this stuff is revelatory; it is merely logical, and it should be put into practice.
Putting things into practice will be the tricky part. Certainly, while some of the suggested collaborations would be relatively easy to implement, in other cases, reorganizing and restructuring of departments and operations would be more complicated.
The other hurdle is that councillors must now agree on which of the many recommendations are the biggest priorities, and along what timelines which priorities should be completed. The consultants’ report suggests staggered timelines between 2021 and 2026, and while there are specific suggestions, it also notes that councillors are likely better positioned to decide which initiatives should be dealt with first.
Where things go from here is up to councillors, and the first step, the very first step, is not an action at all – it’s a state of mind. The first step is willingness to change, a true open-mindedness to the potential of formalized collaboration and centralizing of services. That means letting go of territorial notions, or any sense of ego, or sentimental attachments to the way things have traditionally been done.
Change is never easy, and these ones won’t be either, but there’s a lot of good stuff in that report, things that should be implemented for the betterment of the community.