| Mar 12, 2009

Back to HomeEditorial - March 12, 2009 Bedford District: from poor cousin to cash cowEditorial by Jeff Green

Back in the mid-1990s, when amalgamation was forced on Ontario municipalities by the Ontario government, there was a real question in Frontenac County about where Bedford Township should go.

A good chunk of its population work, shop, and send their kids to school in Westport, but Westport is in Leeds Grenville County so that was off. Bedford borders both Hinchinbrooke and Oso, which joined Central Frontenac, and in some ways it resembled the townships that became Central Frontenac. It is dominated by lakes, including the massive “dammed lakes” (Bobs and Crow) and its population is mixed between farming and seasonal waterfront dwellers. But, If Bedford had joined Central Frontenac, it would have made for a huge township with five large under-populated districts, extending from the edge of Division Street north of Kingston almost all the way to Highway 41, 60 kilometres north of Napanee.

The third option, and the one that was ultimately chosen, was to join South Frontenac. This made sense because Bedford borders both Loughborough and Portland.

But the politicians that negotiated amalgamation in South Frontenac did not want to take on the liabilities of their soon-to-be amalgamation partners, and they were particularly wary of Bedford. While the three other townships that became South Frontenac, Storrington, Portland, and Loughborough, all bordered Kingston and contained suburban-style subdivisions and medium-sized villages with schools and businesses, along with their farming and seasonal populations, Bedford is mostly made up of seasonal residents with some farmers. It has few paved roads, and no garbage pickup. Politicians from the other districts did not want their residents to pay for bringing Bedford’s services up to their standards, which is what full amalgamation would have entailed.

This was one of the factors that led to the area rating system in South Frontenac. While policing, central administration and other costs were paid out of South Frontenac taxes, each district paid for their own roads, waste management, recreation, and fire services.

But, over time things have been changing in South Frontenac. Fire services were fully amalgamated several years ago. While budgeting for services has remained area-rated, the services are mostly run centrally.

At the same time, Bedford has become the source of a lot of revenue for the South Frontenac. The new property assessment regime taxes waterfront properties heavily, and there has been a building boom in Bedford over the last 10 years as seasonal properties have been converted to year-round homes. Bobs Lake in particular has become a highly prized location and nowadays, more money flows from Bedford to the township office in Sydenham than flows the other way.

The poor cousin has become a cash cow.

Bedford District’s riches are also tied in with plans to build a new library in Sydenham. The township would like to revamp its existing offices in Sydenham, and take over the space currently occupied by the library. This would allow all departments to be based in one building. The plan to do this is tied to a plan to build a brand-new, larger library on the same site.

All of this costs money. Bedford District has been accumulating money for years through the sale of road allowances. This is an offshoot of all the building that has been going on. By provincial regulation, this money can only be spend on “Parks and Recreation”, which Bedford has little of, and there is little demand from the Bedford population for new facilities. Putting the money towards building a new library would be an acceptable use, but as long as recreation is area-rated, Bedford money cannot go to a library in Loughborough District where Sydenham is located. However, under amalgamation the money could be used anywhere in South Frontenac.

Bedford District councilors are supportive of a five-year roads improvement plan that was brought forward by the public works manager. Among other things, it would see a major paving program in Bedford and an increase in taxation for Bedford residents, all with a view towards amalgamating the roads budgets in the township as a whole by 2010. With Bedford recreation money helping to pay for Sydenham library and a new township office, the other districts are less likely to object to some of their ratepayers’ money helping to pave roads in Bedford.

Last month, CAO Gord Burns presented Council with a draft proposal to amalgamate recreation and roads. The proposal was defeated, but at the end of the meeting one of the councilors who voted against it, Ron Vandewal from Loughborough said, “I would support amalgamation if it was proposed, but nothing else”.

Two weeks later, amalgamation was brought forward at a Committee of the Whole meeting, and Vandewal said he supported it. He is, in effect, the deciding voter, because Mayor Davison and Councilors Hahn and Stowe from Bedford, as well as the other Loughborough councilor, Alan McPhail, are all onside.

At this point, it looks like it might be done against the will of the councilors from Storrington and Portland districts, which presents a real problem since they represent 50% of the residents in the township

The objections from councilors in both Portland and Storrington are partly philosophical, but they are also focused on waste management, with Portland councilors in particular wanting to protect one of their major assets, the Portland dump.

There are a series of other complications as well, particularly in relation to reserve funds that the districts currently control, but if there is not yet a green light, there is at least a yellow, proceed with caution, light glowing for amalgamation in South Frontenac. It was the subject of a debate this week at a Committee of the Whole meeting on March 10. (see Wilma Kenny’s article)

With 18 months to go before the next municipal election and the current mayor having made a commitment to doing this during the previous election, and with CAO Burns slated to retire in a few months, there is a bit of a legacy question for both of them.

If the political decision to amalgamate services in South Frontenac is not made within the next four months, it will be put off for at least four years. 

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.