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Tuesday, 01 November 2016 21:16

Halving council is biggest decision since amalgamation

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By Pat Warren

            Kawartha Lakes council decided Oct. 17 to cut the number of city councillors in half—from 16 to eight. The historic change will be implemented for the 2018 municipal election, once ward boundaries and representation are ironed out.

            This decision—like it or not—is probably the city’s biggest since amalgamation. And unlike the 2001 amalgamation, dictated by the province, this one is “Made in

Kawartha Lakes.”

            Ward 4 Councillor Andrew Veale proposed the motion to cut to eight councillors (seconded by Isaac Breadner—W11), and to ask staff to detail the pros and cons of two options for implementing the change.

            Council was elected to make the tough decisions, said Veale. If council is asking everyone in the city to do more with less it should include itself in that challenge.

            The first option would see four wards with two councillors each, and the second would have eight wards with one councillor each. Staff were asked to report back by the end of January.

            The motion passed 13 to 4, with councillors John Pollard (Ward 8), Emmett Yeo (W2), Heather Stauble (W16), and Brian Junkin (W7) voting against it.

            Breadner said the majority of constituents he has spoken with favoured the cuts, a comment that was echoed by Pat O’Reilly (Ward 11).

            Before the Oct. 17 decision, council heard from the public through an online survey, letters and emails, and Mayor Andy Letham’s numerous “town hall” meetings late last spring. Staff said they received input “from all wards, providing a reasonable cross section of the municipality.”

            In the online survey, staff reported, 74 percent of respondents wanted to cut back to either eight or 12 councillors. Thirty percent wanted two representatives per ward, and 20 percent wanted to keep the16 wards and councillors.

            But Stauble felt a survey response of only 300 people was not enough. She said urban and rural representation is critical and does not believe the reduction will save money.

            “The people don’t understand that their representation will be diminished,” said Junkin. “They need to elect better councillors, not less.”

            Yeo argued that representation should actually be increased, while Pollard favoured a 25-percent reduction rather than 50 percent.

            Ward 6 Councillor Doug Elmslie’s friendly amendment seeking more public consultation before voting was not accepted. Ward 5 Councillor Stephen Strangway’s motion to defer—to allow more time for consideration on such a major decision—also failed.

            “We didn’t ask everyone about wind turbines,” noted Ward 10 Councillor Pat Dunn. “Delaying isn’t going to make a difference.”

            Mayor Letham said the eight-councillor option—with a new support system—is the best way to create a more efficient team. “We will be offering an efficient streamlined government. We are going to make it work.”

            Gord Miller (W3) said he felt that fewer councillors may actually speed up council processes, while Gord James (W12) noted: “we were elected to make decisions.” Mary Ann Martin (W15)—who originally said she would prefer a reduction to 12 councillors—also spoke for the motion.

            The choice to reduce the number of councillors cannot be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board—but ward boundary decisions can.

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