COLUMN: Go big or go home

MORRISBURG — Since the dawn of the county system in Ontario in the 1800’s, there has been a two-tier governance system to municipalities. The upper tier, or county, controls certain aspects, the lower tier, or township/municipality, controls the rest. In the past, I have questioned the need for having a county level of governance in Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry when we have six lower-tier municipalities that duplicate the functions of the county. Perhaps the better way to approach streamlining municipal governments is to cut the lower-tier out all together.

From a duplication standpoint, this makes sense. There are currently seven chief administrative officers (CAO), one for the county, six for the municipalities; same with treasurers, clerks, roads departments, recreation, etc. If this was consolidated into one governance model with one administration, not seven, there would be significant cost savings in administration. The ones who work on the ground, the parks department, the roads department and such would be streamlined in management, but it is a big place so there should be no reductions there. The counties already administers the library system, policing, EMS, and many other functions. By consolidating, you reduce administration and also streamline the tax bill.

Each of the six municipalities that make up the counties are not naturally born entities. If you look at South Dundas for example, it was two villages and two townships merged into one township. South Dundas is not a “historic” entity anymore than North Dundas or North Stormont or South Glengarry. Each were arbitrary line drawings. By removing the boundaries between the six municipalities, services can be located where it makes sense due to population usage.

Electing officials would be streamlined as well, reducing the number of elected officials. With exception of North Glengarry, all municipalities elect the mayor and councillors at-large. New boundaries and wards would be required as the county as a whole is too large to allow for at-large councillor elections. The ward boundaries could be based on population, rather than historic, areas. While the table at County Council would grow, the streamlining of municipal councils would be a cost savings.

In the end, the two-tier governance model for counties is in need of an overhaul. There is too much duplication between upper and lower tier government, and the current county system is not directly answerable to the voters who pay for it and use the services of it. Either the upper-tier needs to go, or the lower-tier needs to. Two tiers is no longer required.

Opportunity Knocking

At the last county council meeting it was announced that the county-owned building in Morrisburg, which currently hosts the Service Ontario and the Land Registry Office, is surplus. By declaring the building surplus, South Dundas has the first opportunity to purchase the building. If the municipality does not, then it will be offered for sale on the open market. This is a great opportunity knocking on South Dundas’ door and hopefully the current council will choose to purchase the building.

Outside of the post office, the municipality owns all other property on the block. It resides next to the South Dundas Justice Building, formerly the Morrisburg Civic Centre. The Justice Building holds the local court, utility office, fire and OPP Station. The surplus building is the only other structure on this block. If the municipality purchased it, the cost would not be a severe burden for the taxpayers, not with the $388,000 surplus currently on the books in South Dundas.

By purchasing the building, it keeps the municipal options open for future growth and needs in the community. It also provides a better chance of the Service Ontario office staying in Morrisburg. If the municipal leadership decides not to purchase the building and a commercial developer purchases it instead, it increases the chance that the Service Ontario office would relocate elsewhere, along with the land registry office. Many in South Dundas appreciate not having to drive to Prescott, Cornwall or Winchester to use a Service Ontario office.

Purchasing the building is a good long-term investment in the community for the municipality, and keeps options open for the future. It is an opportunity knocking.

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