Though the province has ruled out the prospect of forcing amalgamation on Waterloo Region, the four rural townships are moving ahead with a review of services that might satisfy the Ford government’s drive for cost-cutting measures.
Meeting this week, Woolwich council signed on to a joint service delivery review, agreeing to pay a quarter of the $100,000 contract awarded to KPMG to carry out a study. The money will be drawn from the $725,000 in modernization funding the township received from the province.
The study will focus on areas previous meetings between the townships identified has having the best chance for finding common ground: fire services and emergency management, library services, information technology and corporate communications, explained chief administrative officer David Brenneman.
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. By working together, the townships hope to demonstrate efficiencies can be found without reducing the region to a single-tier government from the current system.
The regional governance review process wrapped up last week when the province declared it would not impose top-down on the municipalities in its study.
Brenneman stressed that working on efficiencies would send a signal to Queen’s Park that there’s no need to revisit the amalgamation debate.
“If we don’t do enough, the province can always reverse course in the future.”
Councillors endorsed the township-led service review during the summer, and were generally supportive Tuesday night, though Coun. Patrick Merlihan remained unconvinced and ultimately voted against the expenditure.
He balked at spending $100,000 on a consultant, noting the municipalities could find common ground in direct discussions. Furthermore, he was skeptical about the possibility spending the money would return at least $100,000 in reduced expenses.
“Where are we going to find $100,000 in savings?” he asked.
Brenneman noted the price tag was part of the summertime discussion, adding that finding commensurate savings wasn’t part of the original equation.
Instead, the four township will look for ways to streamline services and for ways they can support each other.
For example, Woolwich has been ahead of the curve with emergency management efforts, so there’s an opportunity to bring in some revenue by offering that expertise to the other three townships, which in turn get to provide better emergency services to their residents, he said.
With library services, the townships see the potential to save money by offering the services themselves rather than letting the region do so, Brenneman added.
“I think at the end of the day, this will end up costing us more,” Merlihan countered of the library proposal, noting the province’s review of regional government was fuelled by the pursuit of cost-savings. The same is true of the Ford providing funding to municipalities to boost efficiencies.
“I’m not seeing the spirit of efficiencies here,” he said.
“I think $100,000 is a little rich. I’m not going to support this contract.”
Other councillors signed on, however.
“It’s a little late in the game to reverse course,” argued Coun. Larry Shantz, who noted the joint projects could help Woolwich work with other townships to present a united front at the region.
In response to a question from Shantz, Brenneman said he expects the consultant would have a report ready for the first quarter of 2020.