boddy and mayors

- Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

The theme of this year's Leaders' Forum – four local mayors and the warden of Grey County -  was “On What Can We Agree?”

The annual event hosted by the Owen Sound District Chamber of Commerce (OSDCC) began with a certain amount of polite language from the mayors of Meaford, Chatsworth and Georgian Bluffs about cooperation and organic collaboration, but the bigger questions and cultural differences between the municipalities soon emerged.

Will the future be one of selective sharing of resources between municipalities for efficiences  – such as the bio-digester, fire and police services –  or will there be amalgamations in Bruce and Grey counties, voluntary or otherwise?

Warden Selwyn Hicks cited the example of the Grey Bruce Heath Unit as an effective bi-county agency, but went on to ask whether leadersforumeconomic development, tourism and transportation would also be more effectively planned and managed at the Grey-Bruce level. He proposed the idea of a Grey-Bruce Social Planning Council, something other jurisdictions have had for decades, in part to compile good quality data to make the case with funders for the needs of our region.

Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy pulled no punches in saying if it were up to him he would “erase the county line in a heartbeat.” He reminded the audience that municipal governments were created in 1849 by the Baldwin Act, and used the fact that he had just checked that date on his smart phone as a reminder of how much had changed in those 170 years. A single Grey-Bruce County, with perhaps somewhat different boundaries, and maybe four lower tier municipalities might be appropriate in future, he said, citing both duplication of departments at the county level and limited staff capacity at the lower tier to accomplish their priorities.

He continued by saying that the provincial planning document states that houses should be built in urban settlement areas where the services exist. Yet while Owen Sound has a water treatment system that cost almost $30,000 per household to build, people are building houses with wells and septics in surrounding municipalities “where their taxes are nice and low.”

Owen Sound councillor John Tamming, who has encouraged the City to be judicious in its use of consultants, nevertheless expressed frustration at the lack of process for examining issues of restructuring. He asked whether an external professional shouldn't sketch out the costs, savings, and other benefits of any amalgamation proposal, which municipalities could then take to the public in a non-binding referendum.

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