COLUMN: First step in the right direction

SOUTH DUNDAS — The United Counties of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry have finally started in the right direction, by consolidating departments and trying to do more with less. Ok the last part is a bit of a stretch, but the County is at least consolidating the Transportation and Planning departments under one umbrella. It’s a good first step.

The move to merge the two departments together comes after the retirement of county planner Michael Otis. Merging the two departments together means that only a “mid-level manager” will be hired instead of a department head. That will save a few dollars, but to be clear there is no published plan that that cut will contribute to lowering the tax load for county residents.

The County and the municipalities that comprise it, need to take a hard look at consolidation, and the elimination of duplication between the seven entities. Planning and Transportation are only part of that picture.

Basic services such as road maintenance and plowing, have such boundaries and fiefdoms between the two levels of government. An example given to this writer from last year was that a county snow plow cannot plow on a township road, and a township snow plow cannot plow on a county road. This is even if the county plow has to take a township road to get to the next part of the plow route, or vice versa.

Why not devolve the snow-clearing from the county to the municipal level, and lower the taxation from the county. Yes, the municipalities would have to do more work and therefore their expenses would go up, but there would be efficiencies as well. The plows in South Dundas or North Glengarry would be responsible for all plowing on all roads, period. The routes would be more efficient and therefore there would be a net cost-benefit.

That is one example, there are many others. Road maintenance, economic development, planning, and treasury are all functions that could be better coordinated and shared between the two tiers of government. It is great that the county has taken this first step towards it, it will take leadership and commitment to proceed further on this long-needed path.

Roads are great, but…

The Public Works Department for South Dundas has presented their road repair plan for 2015 and to not much surprise, most of the work being done will be in the rural portions of the township. These projects are based on what little “life-expectancy” is left in the roads, repairing them before the cost to fully rebuild them is too high. Unfortunately, many of the streets in the villages within South Dundas are not being looked at again. What’s even more disappointing is, that there will be less to repair, maintain or build sidewalks.

Roads are great, but there needs to be a concerted effort around the council table and in administration, to repair and look after the sidewalks in the villages, and to build new ones. The municipality joined up with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit to create the “Charter for Active Living”. The first clause in explaining the need for the active living charter, as on the South Dundas website states, “Encourages a community-health approach by promoting a supportive and barrier-free environment where South Dundas residents can choose to adopt healthier behaviors and be physically active.”

Note the barrier-free environment. When sidewalks in the villages are falling apart, and the sidewalks that do exist are not all cleared in the winter, how is that a barrier-free environment? It is not. Walking on the roads are an option, but as the snow banks get higher in winter, and the roads narrow, cars come first and drivers are not always vigilant to who else is using the road.

Spending more on sidewalks will cost money, everything does. It also does not mean that road repair should take a back seat to sidewalks. What it does mean that municipal leadership should look at what has signed on to within the framework for the “Charter for Active Living” and start removing some of those barriers. If they cannot do that, then the charter isn’t worth the paper it is printed on, and should be scrapped.

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