Collaboration vs. amalgamation
By Jenn Watt
Interest has been growing in recent years for county council to look at the way the two-tier government is structured. Perceived inefficiencies and potential collaborations make the prospect of rejigging the system appealing to some.
Last week, county council received a report from chief administrative officer Mike Rutter outlining where collaboration was already happening with suggestions on additional shared efforts.
Council is now considering whether to conduct a third-party governance review.
Arguments have been made in the past that the county should consider uniting its four lower-tier municipalities into a single-tier system – one that is more efficient and, some believe, less expensive.
However, amalgamation is also not always the paragon of cost-savings that people think it would be. A study done in 2015 for the Fraser Institute, a conservative think tank, looked at three rural municipalities that underwent amalgamation under the Harris government.
“We find significant increases in property taxes, compensation for municipal employees, and long-term debt in both amalgamated and unamalgamated communities, suggesting there was no tangible, financial benefit from amalgamation. In fact, many of the claims put forward by those favouring consolidation failed to materialize,” the report notes.
The study is by no means the last word on whether savings can be found in amalgamation, but it makes the point that reducing government size does not always bring the savings people expect.
That said, there are many ways in which our county could be better integrated, offering standard service to all residents regardless of which municipality they live in.
Our landfills and waste management, as well as roads, are both good candidates to be uploaded to the county.
The flipside of the coin, however, is that too much integration can lead to loss of representation. The smaller places with the fewest people could end up with a smaller voice than they have now. When council representation is trimmed or services centralized, it’s the places with the fewest people that will feel that change the most.
This is a topic that can’t be fully explored in one story in the newspaper, one study, or one council meeting. It needs to be fleshed out over time and through plenty of deliberation and discussion.
Finding efficiencies and making municipal government work better doesn’t have to mean amalgamation. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation.
Council should be open to a third-party review of government operations and willing to make the changes that make sense, but that doesn’t need to be a single-tier model.
The county would be best served with an approach tailor-made for our residents and our environment, one that provides the best, most integrated services possible, while still preserving the voices and perspectives of all of its populations, from Cardiff to Oxtongue Lake.