With Woolwich signing on this week, the region’s four rural municipalities have now all agreed to look at ways they can work together to offer services more efficiently and with lower costs.
Township councillors meeting July 30 approved plans to hire a consultant for a joint service delivery study as the first step in a new working agreement. It makes formal an undertaking between Woolwich, Wellesley, Wilmot and North Dumfries townships.
“It is anticipated that a series of studies could be undertaken through to 2022, subject to the success of this initial study. The intent of the study is to improve the understanding of the services currently provided by the respective townships and to provide better information, which will allow the councils and staff the opportunity to make more informed, strategic choices regarding those services,” wrote Woolwich chief administrative officer David Brenneman in a report presented Tuesday night.
The first study will focus on five areas seen as the best chance for finding common ground between the townships: fire services, emergency management, library services, information technology and corporate communications.
“These were the five areas we thought we could make the best impact with,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz of the findings of longstanding meetings between the mayors and CAOs of the four municipalities.
Brenneman noted the conversation among the four townships began before the province announced its regional review, seen by many as a prelude to another round of amalgamation talks.
While amalgamation isn’t being highlighted, much of the feedback from municipalities during the review – conducted by special advisors Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling, the latter the former chair of Waterloo Region – have opposed that prospect.
By working together, said Brenneman, the townships can demonstrate efficiencies can be found without reducing the region to a single-tier government from the current system.
“It’s a process that can show that ultimately the two-tier system can work,” he said, noting the agreement moves the process beyond simply talking about changes. “It clearly documents that we can walk the walk.”
While agreeing it was a good idea to collaborate, Coun. Larry Shantz expressed some concerns about the prospect of taking on library services as “a pretty big chunk to bite off.”
Under the current system, the townships provide and maintain library buildings, with the Region of Waterloo Library operating them, a budgeted expense of $3.2 million.
Brenneman noted having the townships take over the libraries would give each greater control over both capital and operating costs, pointing to rising administration costs in recent years.
Pointing out that Woolwich has a more pronounced relationship with neighbouring Wellesley Township – the two even share the village of Heidelberg – Coun. Patrick Merlihan inquired if the new joint commitment precluded Woolwich from working with just one other on certain efforts, with Brenneman noting there would be no such restrictions.
As a bonus, the cost of the joint study would be covered from one-time funding the province provided to all municipalities with fewer than 25,000 residents in support of finding efficiencies and modernizing how services are offered. Woolwich’s share of that pie was $725,000, cash that’s already in the bank, Brenneman said.