| Mar 27, 2008

Feature Article - March 27, 2008

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Feature Article - March 27, 2008 Councilors give warden's vision the cold shoulder By Jeff GreenFor the past three months Frontenac County warden Jim Vanden Hoek has been promoting a plan for a new economic development role for Frontenac County. One of the pieces in that plan is the establishment of a fund to be used as seed money for viable projects which could enhance tourism and address the lack of commercial property assessment in the county.

Part of his plan has been to engage township councilors from throughout the county. To that end he visited each of the four township councils during the winter, and also made a presentation to a joint council meeting in Sharbot Lake that was attended by at least half of the township councilors from Frontenac County.

Last week, at a subsequent joint county council meeting at Fairmount Home, Vanden Hoek put some questions to the township councilors.

He prefaced his request by projecting a sharp increase in municipal taxes in future years if the tax base in the county is not broadened through commercial assessment. “The premise that I've been coming at is that our tax rates are going up, have been going up for a number of years, and unless we do a number of things, they will continue to go up,” Vanden Hoek said.

He then listed three ways to reverse this trend: “One, the province invests heavily; two, we invest in economic development and spur growth in investment; and three, we cooperate on service and administrative delivery to create operating efficiency. We need to be aggressively pursuing all three strategies.”

Strategy number two was dealt with at the meeting.

Vanden Hoek asked for a show of hands on the plan in general, and received majority support thanks mainly to the councilors from South Frontenac and Frontenac Islands. The vote was 11-7.

However, asked whether they would support a $50,000 special levy as part of the county tax bill, which Vanden Hoek said would amount to $2.50 per ratepayer, there was no support.

There was some support to a further request that the fund be established using county-controlled gas tax rebate money, even though this would limit the kinds of projects the fund could support, but even then most of the councillors sat on their hands.

To a final question, how many of the councilors were opposed to the initiative entirely, no hands went up.

A second aspect of Warden Vanden Hoek's initiative has to do with the makeup of county council. His decision to go directly to township councilors with his financial request is coupled with a stated intention to seek a reform of the council structure. The issue of reform has been more warmly received by township councilors than the financial request.

Currently, the mayors from the four Frontenac townships make up the county council. This even number complicates voting procedures. In effect, if more than one mayor opposes any proposition, the proposition is killed. Other concerns have been raised about the small number of councilors, and from the perspective of South Frontenac Township, which contributes 60% of the assessment base but has only 25% of the vote on council, the issue of fairness has been raised.

David Hahn, a long-time councilor from the Bedford District of South Frontenac, said. “We're doing way better now than we did seven years ago. I think it's a good effort, and I appreciate it”, he said.

Gary Smith, from Kennebec District in Central Frontenac, said, “The four-member board, with a rotating chair, is not a good structure. When the name was changed from Frontenac Management Board to Frontenac County in 2003, the functions had changed. The magnitude and responsibilities of the county had changed, and the political process should change as well.”

Warden Vanden Hoek said that he would be bringing the subject of the makeup of council forward. “My understanding is that any changes must be approved one year before a municipal election in order to take effect with that election,” he said, “so we do have some time to consider what we want to do.”

The next municipal election is slated for November of 2010.

South Frontenac Mayor Gary Davison said that Jim Vanden Hoek's initiatives of the past few months have been important, and point the way to future reform of the county. “I'd like to thank Jim for having the courage to try and engage the councilors. I commend him for this process; it is now a more open forum than we've had in the past.”

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