Pembroke – A delegation from the County of Renfrew will be invited to attend a meeting with the City of Pembroke to discuss the shared services budget between the two municipalities.

City council passed the motion last week after wrapping up a series of budget meetings and approving the city’s 2024 municipal levy which has been set at about 7.94 per cent.

However, one of the major factors driving the large increase is the fact the city will be paying $4,856,125 to the County of Renfrew for shared services which represents a one-year increase of  $989,393  over the 2023 budget or a levy increase for county shared services of 4.3 per cent.

Treasurer Angela Lochtie-Crispim told council since 2021 there has been an overall increase to the county from $3.7 million to $4.8 million with the largest increase being in land ambulance services. Another initiative driving the increase is a $2 million project related to homelessness, mental health and addictions.

Councillor Pat Lafreniere said it is frustrating the city has no say in the shared services budget and other members echoed her sentiment.

“I sat on the Renfrew County liaison committee for many, many years and we discussed different things  we have in common or shared services, that type of thing,” she said. “What has always disturbed me, however, is we do not have a vote on the budget. We go to the meetings, we can listen to the information, we can give our input, but we don’t really have a say when it comes to budget.”

She said she wasn’t aware what other municipalities do when it comes to a shared services agreement.

“Basically, we should be on a weighted assessment when it comes to voting rights and we are not.”
Coun. Lafreniere said she understood the city didn’t share all services with the county, such as roads, but added there should be some kind of way that gives the city some input into the decision making at the table.

Councillor Ian Kuehl felt there should be negotiations leading to an agreement on shared services budget items the city is paying for with a veto option.

“There needs to be a fairness element and basically we are saying the people of Pembroke don’t have a say,” he said. “It is frankly quite undemocratic.”

He moved a motion requesting the county come before city council which Councillor Troy Purcell seconded.

However, Councillor Ed Jacyno jumped in on the discussion explaining the reason why the city doesn’t have a vote is because Pembroke is a separate city.

“Looking for weighted assessment can only happen if you’re a member of the county,” he said. “Otherwise, the agreement was made by (former mayor) Angus Campbell withdrawing himself and the City of Pembroke from their particular venue. We were at one time contributing to county expenses and I think the mayor of the day said, ‘we’re paying way too much money so we will pull out and look after ourselves’.

“So this is what we are faced with now. Whether the county would want us back there or not is another question. We have had to negotiate issues with them in the past. I think it has been brought forward under various mayors to rejoin the county and I think the actual comment from them was ‘no’.”

Coun. Jacyno said having a veto process means the city would have to be part of the county.

“That puts us in a limbo, purgatory situation. We have to pay, but we have no say.”

He said he was sure county representatives would be more than happy to explain to council how the process works.

“But until we are members of the county, I don’t know how you are going to change that.”

Coun. Purcell said a 30.4 per cent increase over last year for shared services is a huge increase. He noted an application was submitted to Health Canada for $2.5 million in funding for additional supports for paramedics, mental health, homelessness and addiction treatment services and said one question he would have for the county is if the application is successful, will the city and county be reimbursed for paying for the services up front?

Coun. Purcell said the services were being considered at the health committee, but no formal strategic plan was put forward.

“I was quite surprised when I read it was already implemented or being implemented by the county without having good negotiations at the health committee,” he said.

In response to Coun. Jacyno’s comments, Coun. Kuehl said he was in no way suggesting the city rejoin the county.

“In fact, at the moment I would be rather opposed to that,” he said. “The fact that we control most of our own city ourselves without having to go cap and hand to other municipalities and try and trade votes and get things done for us, I’m certainly not suggesting we rejoin them. It’s just there needs to be in this shared services reality…more democracy for the people of Pembroke and there needs to be some form of better input.

“And I only feel even worse about it with Coun. Purcell’s comments just a second ago that we were barely even consulted on things.”

On specific shared services, Pembroke should have more of an actual say, he continued, with the city included in more of the budget discussions.

In budget deliberations, Coun. Lafreniere suggested the city provide residents with the facts about what percentage of the 7.8 municipal levy increase is attributed to shared services and how much of the increase is for city core services.

“I really think that’s an education piece for our residents,” she stated.