County working to streamline services: warden
In the next year, county council plans to face challenges including the question of governance, physician recruitment and provincial changes to public health and paramedicine, and celebrate successes such as the expansion of cell and broadband service, the development of a shoreline preservation bylaw, and work toward better preparation for climate change.
In a speech she delivered at this year’s Haliburton County inauguration after being named warden for a second year, Warden Liz Danielsen, also Algonquin Highlands deputy mayor, spoke to the year past and the year ahead while surrounded by fellow members of county council, and an audience of politicians and well-wishers.
“Given the voices that we heard loud and clear during the election, urging amalgamation and questioning the costs of municipal operations across the county, one of our first priorities was governance and streamlining of services,” said Danielsen. “However, before any decision on governance can be made, the delivery of services and who should be providing them has to be determined.”
Danielsen said “no small amount of work” had been done by management and staff to ensure financial sustainability across all departments, noting a comprehensive asset management plan that was passed earlier this year.
“In addition, a lot of hard work has been done by staff across the county in all four municipalities to look at those services that are already shared and what opportunities there might be for further sharing or streamlining,” said Danielsen.
“We are now poised to put out a call for services to look at service delivery which we hope will guide us in our final discussions on a governance model that will work for us all. Thankfully, the province has provided modernization funding which will be used to aid this process. Hopefully our goal of making a final determination on governance will be achieved within this term of council.”
Despite council choosing in this past year to “place a major transportation project on hold,” Danielsen said there had been successes as well: “Both the federal and provincial government have finalized the funding for expansion of both cell service and broadband and that work should commence in 2020, with other projects in the planning stages ... all so key to the economic success of the county.”
She also spoke to the lidar program initiated in the past year, the acquisition of both daycare centre properties in Haliburton and Minden, the hiring of a climate change co-ordinator, and “in the area of physician recruitment we are waiting for the final piece of paperwork from two physicians who have committed to practice in the county. This will help immensely to fill some of the shortfall we’re experiencing in the number of health professionals practising in the county and surrounding area.”
While the province suggests what Danielsen said were “some fairly significant changes over the next year,” in the delivery and governance of public health, paramedicine, planning and other areas that impact municipal administration, “the province is also looking to all municipalities to do our part to reduce costs to address the fiscal challenges that exist.”
“To that end this year council approved cost cutting recommendations that offset almost all of the changes to provincial funding, and we will continue to look for ways to ensure that services are maintained at the levels the public expect without large property tax increases.”
Danielsen thanked her colleagues at the table with her, for their trust in her leadership as warden for a second year, as well as the county’s management team and staff and those in Algonquin Highlands for their support.
“In particular I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Mike Rutter, our CAO, who truly is doing an exemplary job on our behalf,” she said. “It’s interesting to note that Mike is one of five CAOs across the county who are all examples of local successes, all of them being Haliburton born and raised. We’re proud of you all!”
She also thanked supporters from around the county.
“While I have said this before, there are people in this room, throughout the county and elsewhere, who have helped me in so many ways, whether it is by being a mentor, a friend with good advice or simply a shoulder to lean on or an ear to bend,” she said. “And speaking of mentors, I would like to thank [former politician] Murray Fearrey, who helped me from the day we met with solid advice. I sincerely thank you all for your offers of friendship and for your guidance.”
Danielsen ended by noting county council would face challenges in the coming year, “but if we work together as a team, I am confident that we can deliberate and make decisions that will benefit all residents across the county.”