Jeff Green | Dec 10, 2009
Back to HomeEditorial - December 10, 2009Last word on Frontenac County governanceEditorial by Jeff Green
Increasing the number of councilors on Frontenac County Council from four to eight has been the subject of sustained interest on the part of township councils in the county, and intense disinterest on the part of ratepayers. The issue will be resolved favourably next week, unless the Council of South Frontenac pulls the plug, which they may well do.
The change is anything but earth-shattering, it will give Frontenac ratepayers the kind of representation that virually all of their neighbours have. The consequences of not making a change would leave Frontenac County mired in the kind of internal bickering that has been the hallmark of its council in recent years.
Central Frontenac Mayor and current County Warden. Janet Gutowski, who had been lukewarm to this change earlier in the process, realised this even if some of her compatriots seemed oblivious to it.
The signs were all there.
Back in May, there was a round table on county governance that was attended by a majority of representatives from each of the four member councils. They all wanted more say in County matters and reacted in angry dismay when three of the four members of county council refused to keep the meeting going long enough to even let them speak.
It was in the wake of this meeting that members of Gutowski’s own council called a meeting, held on October 1, for lower-tier councillors from South, Central, and North Frontenac to discuss common interests and initiatives. The county was not invited. The implication to this is that the townships were looking away from the county and towards each other.
And then there is North Frontenac.
North Frontenac Council has taken the extreme, and ultimately futile, step of asking the premier to grant them leave to secede from Frontenac County. While county governance may not be at the heart of North Frontenac’s grievances, the fact that Mayor Maguire has been thwarted in his attempts to secure funding for relatively small projects because he can never get more than one other member of County council to support them, has been aconstant irritant.
While Mayors Vanden Hoek and Davison look at the governance issue in instrumental terms, asking whether bringing more bodies to the table will really lead to better decisions, the political implications seemed lost on them.
Only a more active County Council, with the disciplined perspective of nuts and bolts township politics, will be able to provide the kind of oversight to County staff that has been sorely lacking.
The rubber stamp model that had served the Frontenac Management Board after amalgamation in 1998, does not fit with the circumstances of 2009.
The fundamental reality is that local councils send out the tax bills on their own letterheads.
Although more than half of that money is split between county and education taxes, we all look to our own councilors and say, “Why are you charging me so much money. What do I get for it?”
Township Councils are held responsible for the municipal budgets. Those same councilors have responsibility for hard services, roads and bridges, township halls, policing, libraries, etc. They should have a say in how the 25% of that money that goes to the County is spent.
The county does three things. It runs an ambulance service and a seniors’ home and it manages a relationship between the senior levels of government and the local ratepayers.
The county wants to move into other areas: promotion of economic development, planning, etc., but these initiatives have yet to catch the imagination of local councils.
The Councils see any money the county spends on these new initiatives as money that is drifting away from their ratepayers at a time when services are more and more difficult to maintain.
Giving the councils a direct representative at the county table will also provide the County with an opportunity to promote those initiatives to the township Councils.
After proceeding in fits and starts and spending months
promoting an ethereal sustainability plan, Janet Gutowski has ended her year as county warden by pushing the right kind of reform through a relucant County Council.
If the proposal is defeated in Sydenham next week it will not be through any fault of hers.