Jeff Green | Mar 26, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - March 26, 2009 South Frontenac CouncilBy Wilma Kenny
SF Township: Nearing Amalgamation
At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday night, CAO Gord Burns brought forward for discussion the recommendation that Council agree to end area rating in 2010. In introducing it, he noted that when the Township of South Frontenac was created over 10 years ago, the council of the time decided to use area rating for parks, roads, fire, etc. This meant separate budgets for each of the four districts. Since then, fire services have been amalgamated; North Frontenac Arena has been accepted as a township facility; and all members of council have voted on matters pertaining to Sydenham water, as part of the process of accessing federal and provincial grants for that project.
However, local roads, waste management, recreation programs and allocation of reserve funds are still managed on an area basis.
Burns emphasized that by expressing an intention to amalgamate, the township would not immediately work out all the details, but it would provide a goal and a focus.
"I firmly believe every council member wants to do the right thing," he said: "if we can just pull the whole thing together, I think South Frontenac will be stronger."
Each councilor spoke to the issue, in alphabetical order.
John Fillion (Storrington) began, saying he saw amalgamation as the formation of a “giant bureaucracy” in which spending would skyrocket, and local contractors would no longer be hired to work for the township. He expressed a concern that the districts would lose their historical autonomy, and if a majority of socialists were elected to an amalgamated council, all the reserves might be spent.
David Hahn (Bedford), agreed that local residents did have more control “in the old days”, when smaller, independent townships allowed government to be more personal. "But," he added, "That ship has sailed. In order to prepare for provincial downloading, we did what we had to do, and joined forces. This new world is not necessarily better, but we’re here, and we can’t go back".
He noted that the present system of running four fragmented systems at once was perhaps "the worst of both. We need a more unified system for more effective management: are we really spending the public’s money in the best way we can?"
Jim Hicks (Portland) feared that with amalgamation, the districts would lose all control of roads, with the result that smaller roads would never be improved.
Mayor Davison responded, "We have an ongoing five-year roads plan", but Hicks replied, "We would have no control (over the public works manager)".
“But he works for us,” Davison said.
"He lives in Loughborough,” Hicks shot back.
Al McPhail (Loughborough) said he thought that having a five-year capital roads budget was good planning, and allows for regular input from all councilors. He expressed concern that without consistent upkeep, some of the township buildings now managed by district might become liabilities. He agreed that there was an ongoing role for local committees, saying they know their areas best, and he had no problem with waste site reserves staying with the districts that had amassed them. However, he agreed that council had been spinning their wheels too long by postponing amalgamation.
Bill Robinson (Portland) came out in strong support of the Portland waste site, saying that his job was to work for his people, and they cared about their dump, and were proud of it. With amalgamation, he feared Storrington would want to dump their waste in Portland. "I’m for amalgamation, but let’s not stuff it down people’s throats".
Del Stowe (Bedford) noted that he had been on council for eight years, and "the lack of amalgamation’s starting to get to me." Originally, he said, he had been opposed to amalgamation because it appeared that everyone was trying to grab everything they could.
"Maybe now we need to look at the whole picture. There’s no camaraderie or teamwork on council. I’m sick of it – we’re behaving like a bunch of kids. It’s time we realized nobody’s trying to steal anybody’s anything." As for reserve funds, "I don’t want to touch anyone else’s money. We all have a responsibility to South Frontenac as a whole".
Ron Vandewal (Loughborough) said he could see no reason why amalgamation hadn’t already happened. "What are we afraid of? We’ll continue to have a say about the roads. Why would all the garbage go to Portland? Loughborough has a good waste site, too. If we were amalgamated, perhaps council would work more as a team, looking at what’s best for South Frontenac, rather than having a ‘me’ attitude all the time. Central fire was so simple to budget this year. Many people don’t realize we’re not amalgamated. Why hasn’t it happened? No reason".
Larry York (Storrington), reading from a prepared text, said that there had been checks and balances put in place in ‘98, to give all districts a say. He expressed concerns that seniors, independent local contractors and the disadvantaged would suffer if "all the money were in one big pot, and harder to get out." He feared the individual councilors would lose their say in an amalgamated system: "It would be like a big octopus". He ended by asking that the question be taken to the voters.
"I campaigned on the platform of completing amalgamation, and I won the election," replied Mayor Davison, "I see that as a mandate from the people." He added that under amalgamation, each area would still have two elected councilors, and "They will know their areas best; that won’t change".
The mayor called a straw vote: "We’ve all spoken: do we have the will of Council to go on?" (i.e. to take a motion re amalgamation to the April 7 council meeting, for formal decision).
The vote passed with five councilors voting in favour.
"I feel this is the right road for this township” said Mayor Davison. “There are no evil demons coming out of the woods – we’re an intelligent group of people, if we can’t make this work, there’s something wrong".