Killaloe — Rumours that future amalgamations may be forced on lower tier municipalities by the provincial government has at least one municipal leader in Renfrew County voicing strong opposition to the idea.
Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards (KHR) Township Mayor Janice Visneskie Moore made it very clear last Tuesday night she will vehemently oppose any future amalgamation involving her municipality, after the subject was raised during the April 2 meeting.
The item was not on the actual agenda that night, but during the correspondence portion of the meeting, a letter from Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, dated March 20, addressed to the mayor, sparked the response.
In his letter, Mr. Clark announced the province was providing a one-time payment in the 2018-19 fiscal year “to support small and rural municipalities’ efforts to become more efficient and reduce expenditure growth in the longer term”.
“While this investment is unconditional, it is intended to help modernize service delivery and reduce future costs through investments in projects such as: service delivery reviews, development of shared services agreements, and capital investments,” it continued.
The letter later announced KHR would receive $448,797 as its one-time payment.
Councillor Debbie Peplinskie, who chaired the meeting in the physical absence of Mayor Janice Visneskie Moore, who was participating by phone, said the letter was welcome news.
“How good of news is it?” questioned Councillor Ted Browne. “I know it seems good, but are they going to make cuts elsewhere?”
“It’s all up for grabs, so we won’t know that,” replied the mayor. “Let’s take the money and run.”
Coun. Browne suggested to be careful how the money is spent in the event the province makes cuts to other areas.
“Then we’re going to be looking for money for other stuff,” he stated.
Mayor Visneskie Moore recommended council allocate the money for the proposed new fire hall in Killaloe, saying it does qualify under the conditions of the grant.
“If we don’t put it there, we’ll have to borrow the money, so then it’s taking it from Paul to pay Peter,” she remarked. “So in the end, yes, if there’s cutbacks, we’ll have to re-address that as it goes along.
“But why would we borrow the money if we could put it there, and, if we do run short, then maybe we have to borrow the money for something else,” she added. “But I just think we should put it towards that, we don’t have to borrow as much, and when everything comes down the pipe, then we’ll know. It will be less of borrowing and then we can pay it off sooner and then we can get ready for the hit that might be coming.”
At that point, the mayor said she had been hearing rumours the province might be looking at future amalgamations.
“So we may in fact not be a council the next four years,” she stated. “It very well may be that we’re swept up.
“I also hear the County of Renfrew will look a lot different and that we’ll be forced into those amalgamations,” she added. “So very likely KHR maybe not even exist in four years. But it’s all rumours. I know we should be cautious but I think borrowing the money just to be cautious isn’t a good idea.”
A More Heated Discussion
That concluded that discussion but later in the meeting, a letter from Bryan Martin, CAO in Bonnechere Valley Township, sparked a more heated discussion on the topic.
In his letter, Mr. Martin noted staff had prepared a report for council recommending “That a working group of all 17 lower tier municipalities be struck to find greater efficiency within the county as a whole”.
It added, “That the county assists in a collaboration of the lower tiers in undertaking service delivery reviews within the County of Renfrew”.
Sue Sheridan, Acting CAO, explained BV council was recommending the County of Renfrew and City of Pembroke work together to undertake the above service delivery review.
“I recommend we absolutely not,” the mayor interjected, her voice absolutely charged with opposition. “Let’s not even dip our toe there.
“That would say we’re interested in looking at it,” she continued. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not interested in amalgamating with other municipalities. We’re one of the best run municipalities and I don’t want to be talking with others that I’m a little more nervous about.”
The mayor said if council forced her, she would go and sit at these meetings.
“But I’m going to tell you, I don’t believe in this, and I’m going to tell Mr. (Premier) Ford that when I see him,” she stated. “I don’t think we should be talking . .. That’s absolutely saying , okay, you’re going to hit us, we’re waiting for you.
“I think we should be fighting neck-and-neck not to do that,” she continued. “That’s just my recommendation, we tell him no, we’re not interested. We’re not interested right now in amalgamating with anybody.”
Coun. Peplinskie suggested council not do anything with the letter but the mayor urged council to reply saying they were not interested in the proposal to conduct the review.
Mrs. Sheridan suggested the matter would likely be taken to county council.
“I think we should still, with council’s permission, write a letter telling Mr. Martin that Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards is not in favour of forming a committee to talk about this issue. Unless the province forces us, let’s look at it then, but going out and saying we have to start talking about amalgamation before we even got the word…”
Coun. Peplinskie suggested Mayor Visneskie Moore take some time to review the letter further as she had not personally seen it.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because you’ll see the details that he has put into it,” Coun. Peplinskie responded.
“So what, I’m not interested,” the mayor replied forcefully. “I don’t know what he could offer me that I’d be interested in.”
She said if council was interested, they needed to tell her to “shut-up”.
“Why would we even open the door and listen to it, why would we let the letters slide? Let’s let them know up front, we’re not interested.”
Mayor Visneskie Moore asked councillors if they were interested in having county council set up committee to look at the possibility of amalgamation.
“And what I heard through the grapevine is they’re looking at nine regions in the county out of 17,” she noted. “I so don’t believe in this.”
The mayor said the lower municipalities may in fact lose everything and it may move to just the county level.
“I think we should be right up front and tell them we’re not interested. Then we have to live with whatever the decision is. But I don’t want anyone thinking that I personally . . . and I will be voting against it at the county and I have that right.”
She said a similar report was brought to county council 15 or 20 years ago and they opposed it then.
“I just don’t believe that this is the best thing for the taxpayers of our township,” she stated emphatically. “There’s nothing in there that you could possibly send me that’s going to change my mind.”
Council unanimously agreed to send the letter back stating it was not interested in a committee being struck.